The flash grenade went off with a burst of brilliant yellow light and the building was filled with a thin smoke and the smell of magnesium. The corridor erupted with short blasts of gunfire, followed by shouts of “Clear!” as the boots made their way down the hall, sweeping one room at a time with more gunfire.
It sounded like chaos. But it looked like surgery.
The Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office was sweating out a hot April afternoon last week, putting their Tactical Team through a series of exercises in building clearing techniques at a training ground in an undisclosed, highly secure area. It was a sort of companion piece to the training undertaken earlier last month, the “active shooter” drills held at both Fairfield Central High School and Richard Winn Academy while the schools were on spring break.
The first round of exercises, known as “shoot/don’t shoot” drills, involved a team of deputies entering a structure and being faced with several potential targets. Some targets were hostile, others were civilians. The objective, of course, is to identify and take out the hostiles while preserving the civilians.
“It’s about identifying a target and evaluating the threat quickly,” said Capt. Brad Douglas.
In a real life situation, this technique would be applied to the execution of drug search warrants, Douglas said.
“We always assume there are weapons in drug searches, ” Douglas said. “We use our Tactical Team in about half of our drug search warrants, and any time the threat level has risen significantly.”
And in certain scenarios, the Tactical Team relies on information and intelligence gathered from their eyes in the sky — strategically placed snipers who have a bird’s eye view of the situation. Contrary to popular belief, Douglas said, the primary responsibility of snipers is actually to gather and disseminate intelligence, and not to just pepper away at suspects.
Last week, a pair of snipers and their spotters were perched high above the training grounds in an observation tower. With their sights focused on a pair of “suspects” — two blue, helium-filled balloons tethered to the ground approximately 100 yards away — the snipers awaited the signal. Nearby, a Tactical Team surrounded a mock dwelling — plastic barrels stacked together to signify windows and a front door. The objective of the sniper team was to coordinate their shots, after which the Tactical Team would make entry.
The countdown hit zero. The shots went off perfectly; two shots that sounded like one. The targets in the distance exploded and sank into the brush. On the ground, the Tactical Team announced their presence to the “occupants” of the “home” and raced through the doorway, pelting hostile targets with live fire.
In a real life situation, Douglas said, the training would come into play if a situation arose where an armed, hostile suspect was inside a home and the sniper could see that suspect draw down on an officer or a civilian. At that point, the snipers are authorized to make the shot. And upon hearing the shot, the Tactical Team makes entry.
It’s all part of what Douglas called a “worst case scenario,” one for which officers train twice a month, but hope they never have to encounter. But if it does happen, the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office appears fully prepared.