SWAT team trains for threats

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WHITESTOWN — The Rome Police Department’s Special Response Team was among eight law enforcement agencies from across the state who got to participate in a SWAT training event this week at the Preparedness Training
Center.

The city’s SRT officers raided pretend hotel rooms to save hostages, chased a wanted terrorist into a warehouse and participated in a host of other hands-on training scenarios put on by the sate Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

“This training is highly effective,” said department spokesman Det. Jeffrey M. Lanigan, himself a member of the SRT. The training took place between Tuesday and Thursday.

“Muscle memory is a big thing for us, so for us to be able to come out here and operate in an environment like this, is a great opportunity for all of us.”

Rome was the only Oneida County agency to participate in the training this week.

The Preparedness Center is the former Oneida County Airport, converted over the past 12 years into a “world class” 1,100-acre training arena, officials said. The Center offers both classroom training and a wide variety of different simulated locations for realistic training scenarios. The Center has its own mobile home park, train cars, a debris field and the sophisticated Cityscape warehouse.

The Cityscape is a massive manufactured city street, complete with storefronts, street lights, and several fake buildings, like a mall, a coffee shop, a bar and two floors worth of hotel rooms.

In a scenario on Thursday, the Rome officers teamed up with the SWAT team from Colonie to raid one of the motel rooms. Coached actors played the roles of an undercover officer being held hostage by a motorcycle gang, and it was up to the teams to move in, secure the scene and rescue the hostage. Other actors stood by as gawking onlookers who also needed to be dealt with accordingly.

“Nothing is ever going to prepare you for the real thing until it happens, but this is as close as we can come to it,” said Lanigan.

“Obviously, when you go into the real thing your adrenaline kicks up, your heart rate is up; we try to get that going up before we go into these scenarios, but nothing is like the real thing. But it’s as close as we can get.”

Rome Lt. Mark P. Liddy, head of the SRT, noted that this level of detailed and intricate training wasn’t available when he started as a police officer nearly 20 years ago. Back then, Liddy said an officer would attend the police academy and receive some in-field training from the department, and that was likely the end of it.

“Now, you’re never going to stop training through your entire career. This is an excellent opportunity to come up and gain more skill, knowledge and some better tactics,” Liddy said.

“The interaction that we have with the role-players during the scenario-based activities here is something we typically don’t get. If we were training on our own, we wouldn’t have trained and coached role-players that will respond to how we respond. The training center here is excellent to give us that. For them to invite us up to partake in this training is an excellent opportunity for us.”

Assistant Director Robert Stallman Jr. said the Center sends out invitations to apply for their training sessions to every agency across the state. They then review all incoming applications to pick which agencies will participate this time around — at little to no extra cost to the agencies themselves.

“It costs the departments absolutely nothing to come here. In today’s day and age, it’s very difficult for teams to train because budgets are hurting,” Stallman stated. “So for them to be able to come here for very little amount of their own money, it’s very helpful.”

Stallman noted that, even though the officers treat each scenario “absolutely as serious as possible,” they could still be jokingly competitive with one another once the scenario was finished and they were reviewing their lessons.

“These officers that are coming here are the best of their agency. So there’s some bragging rights, a little competition, some joking around. These guys have a chance to do things here that they might not have a chance to do at their own location,” Stallman said.

“It’s really good to see that side of these professionals. I’m humbled this week to see the professionalism of the officers that come here for this training.”

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