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Sheriff's Department prepares for terror

San Antonio Express-News (09/30/2004)

Tracy Idell Hamilton

The Bexar County Sheriff's Department is entering the war on terror.

Twenty deputies, four sergeants and a deputy chief have volunteered for the department's newly formed Critical Action Tactical Team, financed with Homeland Security and local law enforcement block grants.

Wednesday afternoon, the team, four weeks into a six-week intensive training program, ran "active shooter" and hostage drills in a former Edgewood School District building.

The facility, now a textbook warehouse, was transformed for the afternoon into a shooting gallery as teams of sheriff's deputies and officers of the Fort Sam Houston and Edgewood police departments "shot" at bad guys, protected hostages and rescued downed comrades.

At least, that was the idea. In one drill, a "hostage" was hit, blue paint on her shirt indicating where the bullets would have entered her body.

During a debriefing after the drill, instructors with Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, a program hosted by the Texas State University-San Marcos, helped participants figure out what went wrong.

"Remember, in a hostage situation, there's no reason to barrel in there," instructor Terry Nichols explained. "A hostage situation is different from an active shooter."

Deputy Chief Raymond Trevino will head up the new team.

A decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, Trevino said the training the deputies are receiving will allow them to respond to the new generation of threats law enforcement now faces, including school takeovers, hostage situations and even hazardous materials responses.

The team will have its own hazmat suits, he said.

"They'll be able to handle something like the recent train derailments," he said.

Volunteers came from throughout the department.

The most physically fit and those with military training were the first to be picked, Trevino said.

And even though the program is entirely voluntary, many applied.

Among them was Deputy Eric Arevalos, who works in the jail.

Being on a first responder, SWAT-type unit is something he said he'd always wanted to do.

The fact there will be no extra pay for stepping onto the front lines doesn't faze him.