Today: Jul 03 , 2020

SWAT Teams - Training Together, Working Together

04 December 2007  
The unidentified male prisoner in the Yavapai County jail was hunkered down behind a plastic shield, with a makeshift plastic knife held to the throat of the hostage.

swat2.jpgThe unidentified male prisoner in the Yavapai County jail was hunkered down behind a plastic shield, with a makeshift plastic knife held to the throat of the hostage. The cell block was closed off, locked from the outside, and the prisoner angrily voiced several demands, ranging from better food to a full escape, in exchange for releasing his hostage. The hostage, an experienced police officer, looked really nervous, but stayed calm throughout the ordeal. Other prisoners in the block of cells were yelling crude encouragement and suggestions, all the while banging their bars and throwing things across at each other.

Outside the cell, through the steel grating, a negotiator was trying to obtain the release of the hostage, hoping against hope that there could be a peaceful resolution to the situation, in which nobody got hurt. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to the hostage, the prisoner released his hold and pushed him away. Immediately, the cell block doors opened up and a team of SWAT officers entered and took control of the situation.

Thankfully, this wasn't a real hostage-taking scenario, this was a training opportunity for local SWAT teams, as they planned strategies and practiced techniques for a jail riot scenario. How would they get a prisoner to release a hostage? What is the best way to identify the key troublemakers? Once they are inside the block of cells, what do they do next?

All these questions and more were carefully considered and rehearsed last week by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. The Prescott Police Department's SWAT team joined in the joint training exercise on Thursday, November 29, 2007.

Why train together? Because these agencies work closely together in emergencies all the time. And, if there were a situation where a SWAT team was needed, it is likely that these agencies would back one another up as a matter of custom.

It Takes Teamwork, Planning and Training 

Planning for emergency evacuations started around 1997, according to Lt. Jason Miner, of the Northern Detention Bureau. "We developed a policy after the SWAT team had responded to a riot in 1996. And so we developed our evacuation policy and drills off of their response. So, that's what we are here today to train on. Our officers are doing the evacuation portion, moving the inmates and restraining them, and getting that portion done, and the SWAT team does their training in regards to whatever scenario they've developed to teach their team."


Captain David Starin
Captain David Starin, the Commander of the SWAT team, explained, "The purpose today has a few different aspects to it. One, if there was, a large scale jail evacuation, for any reason, be it  a fire or a flood, or any type of circumstances that would require a full evacuation of the jail, then the SWAT team would be used to help facilitate that, and transfer the prisoners to a safe area. Also any time we have any type of riot incident or any type of high-risk type thing come on in the jail, it's going to be handled in a tactical situation. It would be our team, and quite likely, we would call on the Prescott PD to assist us as well. Therefore we invited them to come up and train together; we're all on the same page, they get familiar with the facility, and it just helps everybody prepare for anything that might happen where we would facilitate a technical response, in evacuations, riots or whatever it may be. Any time we have an interagency training, it helps us understand each other, we  to get to know each other's chain of command, policies, procedures and it will help us work together in any kind of scenario."


Being selected for the SWAT team is not only difficult to achieve, it is an honor amongst their peers. Starin details the process, "When we select team members, they're allowed to come in and they go through a testing process that will include many phases including a physical fitness assessment, a firearms handling and marksmanship assessment.  We go through extensive oral board questioning by the team members, we look at their background, we look at what kind of deputy they've been, we look at their personnel file, see what kind of training they've had, if they've had any type of discipline issues, if they're known as being team players, if they culture well in a team environment, and don't want to stand out as an individual, and all these things are looked at in consideration for team selection."

But, it doesn't end there. Starin continued, "Once they're selected, they are on a probationary period, they come, they train and are assessed by team members for several months before they are actually a full-time team member, and once they are, they adhere to the same standards that allowed them to get on the team.If they fall out of shape, or their firearms handling and marksmanship starts to fall off, they are given 30 days to bring it back up to standard, and if they don't then they're off the team."


Sgt. Bill Suttle
And that's one of the reasons why Sgt. Bill Suttle, a member of the YCSO SWAT team, appreciates the opportunities for training and development that he and other members of the SWAT team are given, "We're lucky here as an agency, because we do receive a lot of training. That's one thing about this agency that I think is completely awesome. If the funds are available, then we go. We've gone to quite a bit of training to get us where we're at. And it's actually surprising to see once we go to the NTOA (National Tactical Officers Association) Conference, you go with SWAT teams from not only this country, but also from Canada, from Germany, different SWAT teams from around the world. I know they call it the NTOA but it should actually be the International Tactical Officer's Association. So, when you get there, you get to see all these international SWAT teams and what they're doing, and even pick up some of the stuff that they're using back in their agencies, and come back and bring it back to our agencies to see if it fits our role and what we're doing here, and see if it fits our policies and procedures."


There are 15 members on the YCSO SWAT team, not including negotiators and command staff. Suttle also noted that they have the only female in the county on their SWAT team. And, he said firmly, she earned it. "She's tough. She's been a team member for probably nine years. She's held to the exact same standard, there's no deviation, there's not any different PT test or different standard for anybody on the team, it's the same all the way across. Does the same amount of pullups, the same amount of bench press for body weight, the same amount of pushups, the same amount of situps, she has to do everything. She's a female officer, that's it. It means nothing other than that.She's just a member of the SWAT team, and she has to keep up with everyone else. She more than does it."

SWAT teams are expected to work closely with the federal government, who sponsors the training they receive. Starin said, "All the training is put on by the government and it's tracked and they do check and see how many of our executive or command level people have been through that type of training. They'll base some of their funding off that, to make sure we're what they call NIMS-compliant to be sure that we're trained up to that level."

As for the YCSO SWAT team? "We've exceeded all the minimum standards and completed a lot more training than we're required to have," Starin said.

Photo Gallery

Click on the thumbnails to view a larger version. These photos were taken during two of the training sessions held at the Yavapai County Jail. 


Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She will be leaving for new adventures on May 15, 2020.