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Area agencies could unite for SWAT effort

Dallas Morning News (12/9/2004)

By Ian McCann

Law enforcement agencies in Rockwall County have begun discussing whether to start a joint SWAT team.

Such special weapons and tactics teams are trained to handle the most dangerous situations, such as standoffs with armed suspects and serving high-risk arrest and search warrants.

"Just 10 days ago, we had a barricaded person on I-30," said Royse City police Chief Tom Shelton. "I wasn't sure what agencies had what tools available. There needs to be some discussion of how we're going to react to a major situation."

He said Rockwall County would have been unprepared had the bank robbers known as the "Takeover Bandits" fled east after a shootout with Richardson and Plano police last month.

Chief Shelton, a former Dallas police tactical officer who became Royse City chief this summer, initiated the SWAT talks with agencies including the Rockwall Police and Rockwall County Sheriff's departments.

Chief Shelton, who's involved with the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association, said that none of the departments in the county would realistically be able to form their own units but that they could pool manpower and money to create a team.

The Rowlett Police Department has a 13-member tactical unit but hasn't been approached by the other departments in Rockwall County, Assistant Chief Matt Walling said.

Rockwall Police Chief Mark Moeller said the SWAT unit was worth considering.

"Because the county is so small, this and other issues are things we can all work on together," he said. "We need to look at it and see if it's something we can do."

The Sheriff's Department is also interested in at least discussing the formation of a team, Chief Deputy David Goelden said, but the cost and manpower commitment would have to be considered. In the last four years, he said, the Sheriff's Department has called in a team from Garland once, although tactical officers would have been used in other instances had they been available.

"We'd be willing to explore it," Chief Goelden said. "It's a big undertaking, but in the long run, we'll probably need something. With the county growing the way it is, there's going to be a need for it."

In addition to equipment for the team � body armor, high-powered weapons and less-lethal devices such as tear gas � training needs are extensive for tactical units. Rowlett's team trains together at least 16 hours every other month.

Tomas Mijares, professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, said it's not uncommon for several departments to work together to form tactical teams. But it does take a commitment, he said.

Dr. Mijares was in Royse City on Tuesday to discuss how tactical teams work and how agencies can form them jointly.

"You've got to have people who are willing to give up some authority � some chiefs might not like having people from other departments in charge of their officers," Dr. Mijares said. "You've got to have people at the top who are committed to doing this."

At the very least, Chief Shelton said, departments in Rockwall County will look at doing specialized training together.

"We'll start having some training sessions, real basic tactical skills," he said. "But once the guys have sat through the training, they'll realize that maybe we need to pull our heads out of the sand and do this. After seeing some incidents happen around the area, it's time that we started looking at Rockwall County, Texas, and saying, 'What could happen here?' "