Police forces from around the region came to White Sands Missile Range Jan. 22 for a unique urban training event.
Members of the Las Cruces Police department SWAT team as well as New Mexico State police and military police from Holloman Air Force Base came to WSMR to make use of a section of old houses as a training location. The area, composed of 60’s era quarters is scheduled for demolition, having been largely replaced by new privatized housing. Working with WSMR DES the police forces were able to get permission from Balfour Beatty, WSMRs privatized housing partner, to use the buildings prior to their demolition.
SWAT teams were developed to allow police to better serve high risk warrants like those related to hostage situations, drugs, or counter-terrorism. “Over the past several years we’ve seen a major increase in the need for a tactical team to respond and handle situations that the normal patrol officer is not either trained or equipped to handle,” said Sgt. Ralph Monget, Las Cruces police SWAT team commander. Training for these scenarios can be difficult and costly, as the police require a safe location representative of what they might encounter on duty and have the freedom to operate as they would in a real situation. The WSMR housing allowed the officer to do just that, knocking down doors and walls, smashing windows, and using breaching charges and armored vehicles with only safety requirements and the cost of supplies to worry about. “By using those houses here it allows us to practice those skills that we don’t normally get to in the city of Las Cruces because it’s hard to find residences that we can get in and do this type of work,” Monget said.
With no SWAT team of its own, WSMR relies on support from outside agencies when a situation develops that calls for more than WSMR’s well trained, but conventional, security forces. By hosting the training at WSMR, WSMR DES officers and leadership could observe and get an up close look at what area agencies bring to the table. “If WSMR DES does request outside law enforcement assistance, it is imperative that we know what each other’s capabilities are, what their training consists of, and what resources each agencies will be bringing to the fight,” said Capt. Tom Benavidez, of WSMR DES.
The training consisted of a wide variety of breaching drills to get as many team members experience as possible. Breaching is the act of breaking into a building or room to allow teams to enter or to provide a way to place a line of sight on a suspect or throw distraction devices into a room. A breach can be done many different ways, and each style of breach has a different function. Doors can be battered down by rams, pried open with special tools, or have their locks or hinges destroyed by special shotgun shells. Windows can be broken with heavy tools or torn open with hooks. With the help of vehicles even the buildings walls can be knocked down or the roof torn open. Larger or more fortified portions of a building can even be blasted open with specially built explosive charges.
LCPD also tested new equipment and adaptations to their tactical vehicle. Based on the training; they were able to identify shortfalls with certain equipment and made the necessary adjustments to ensure mission success. While the officers have many different tools at their disposal, some tools like specialty breaching heads for battering rams either can’t be used at a training area, or are too expensive because of the cost of building or repairing a wall to be knocked down. Since the buildings on WSMR are just going to be torn down anyway the SWAT teams were able to take out these tools and experiment, to really determine what they do and how they can best be used in the real world. “I strongly believe that the training provided here today may prevent serious injuries to officers, give officers the capabilities to ensure mission success, and save people’s lives,” Benavidez said.
New Mexico State Police got their own set of testing done by using a new vehicle. The Rook, an armored multipurpose utility vehicle, was taken into the housing area where officers could practice using the vehicle and its various utility attachments. The vehicle can do everything from basic breaching, to advanced breaches like peeling off a building roof, and can even deliver officers to a second story through the use of shielded armored platform. “This is an incredible machine, and the only one in the state. The experience NMSP gained by training and testing the capabilities of the Rook here was invaluable,” Benavidez said.
The training is a real success story of the many different partnerships and agreements WSMR has with businesses and the local community. “The city of Las Cruces and the White Sands community have had a good working relationship for many, many years, we have memorandums of understand that we will assist them with situations of a law enforcement nature, or whatever it is that they need, and vice versa.,” said Monget. WSMR DES would like to thank Balfour Beatty for allowing the training to take place in the housing area, and the participating police units for their ongoing support in keeping WSMR and the region safe. “Jennifer Dixon, Balfour Beatty manager, was very instrumental is providing us with a perfect venue for this training,” Benavidez said.