SWAT team members train to keep residents safe

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Members of the Carter County Sheriff's Department respond to many types of calls in the course of duty, but when tensions get high and the situation gets dangerous, it is time to call in a special unit.
   There are nine members of the CCSD Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) Team. Each is trained to deal with situations that call for special measures.
   "Anything more dangerous than regular patrol or anything that requires special training, we take care of it," said Sgt. Patrick Johnson, one of the SWAT team's two leaders. "We've dealt with everything."
   Incidents such as hostage negotiations and rescues, barricaded subjects, execution of search warrants, high risk warrant service, and felony arrests where subjects are known to be armed are only a few of the cases SWAT team members handle. Volatile situations such as these call for extra care from team members.
   "Most situations we get called on, you don't know what is going to happen until you get there," Johnson said. "You have to have the training to make decisions on the spot."
   Members of the team spend numerous hours each year maintaining their skills and learning new ones in order to respond to high level incidents. Each month, members spend at least eight hours in training without pay. They also must receive a yearly physical fitness examination.
   Team members attend special training for advanced combat shooting and other roles, according to Johnson. Among the nine members of the CCSD team are a sniper, a hostage negotiator, and two medics.
   SWAT team members receive special training just to join the team. Members are ranked on three levels - basic, advanced, or senior, and, finally, master. Currently, the CCSD team has one basic member, six senior members, and two master level members - Johnson and Deputy Dean Jones, who is the team's hostage negotiator.
   The team responds to approximately 12 calls a year, Johnson said.
   "It is sort of spasmodic," he said. "Sometimes we will have a couple of calls a month and then sometimes, like right now, we will go four months without a call, which is a good thing. But the officers have to stay sharp, so we have to create training scenarios."
   According to Johnson, many larger cities have more than one SWAT team, with each team specializing in one type of incident.
   "With our department and a smaller budget, we have one team that does everything," he said. "We are an un-funded SWAT Team. We operate completely out of the drug fund."
   The drug fund is comprised of the fines imposed from drug arrests as well as any revenue generated from drug, cash or property seizures related to drug cases.
   With that type of funding, it is sometimes hard for the department to purchase equipment that it may need, according to Johnson.
   Sometimes the team will respond to a call and, after the situation has been handled, the team will see the need for a new piece of equipment and will use the situation to justify the purchase of it. Recently, the team acquired a decommissioned rescue squad truck and are in the process of converting it to serve as a deployment vehicle for the team.
   Carter County Sheriff, John Henson, said the SWAT team does a good job protecting the citizens of Carter County.
   "I'm proud of my SWAT Team," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, I've got as good of a SWAT Team as there is in the state of Tennessee, and I'll put them up against anyone."
   In addition to helping keep Carter County safe, the team also lends a hand when others need their specialized skills.
   "We do offer our services to smaller departments in the area," Johnson said, adding that among the counties they have assisted are Unicoi and Johnson Counties.
   The SWAT team is comprised of Johnson, Jones, Deputies Shannon Deloach, Todd Hamm and Brad Hamm; Investigators Chris Pierce and Laverne Julian; and tactical medics John "Pee Wee" Burleson and Rick Riddle.