Celina police file

In order to qualify for the Celina Police Department’s Special Response Team, you need to have at least one year under your belt of working with the department, a score of 96 with a pistol and 100 with a rifle, and be physically capable (which comes with a number of requirements, including running 1.5 miles in 16 minutes and 28 seconds).

In order to stay on the team, you have to go through basic SWAT school, advanced SWAT school, basic instructor school, hostage negotiation training, be less-lethal certified and be crisis intervention certified.

With absolutely none of that under our belts, the Celina Citizens Police Academy Class 3 took to the hallways of Celina Middle School the night of Thursday, May 5, to try our hand at one aspect of SRT response.

That night marked the 9th installment of the Celina Citizens Police Academy, allowing its participants to reach the second, more active, leg of the nine-week course. While the CPA began with classes that explored the informational aspects of police work, classes had over time become more hands-on, culminating in a jail tour the previous week.

For this class, things kicked off with an in-person look at the Celina Police Department’s Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle.

Soon after, the class returned to the Celina Middle School library where Lt. John Jackson and Sgt. Colten Raper met to teach us about the ins and outs of the department’s SRT unit. Before them is a table full of tools of the trade, including a battering ram, bulletproof vest, helmet and gas mask.

But first, a little background information. National standards call for 17 personnel to make a SWAT team. Currently, Celina has a Special Response Team of eight that conducts similar types of operations that a SWAT team does. As the Celina Police Department grows, it is moving towards meeting the national standard for a SWAT team.  The mission of the SRT is to “provide for a highly trained and skilled response team (SRT) as a resource for the handling of critical or unusual police incidents,” according to a presentation we receive.

“The use of a highly trained and skilled police tactical unit has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of injury of loss of life to the public, police officers and suspects,” the presentation states. “A well-managed team response to critical incidents usually results in a successful peaceful resolution of these situations.”

For the team, that means being prepared to respond to hostage situations, barricaded persons, sniper situations, high-risk arrest warrant services and narcotics search warrant services.

After learning about the practices of the team and getting a look at the equipment, we split up into teams and take to the hallways of Celina Middle School to learn how to clear rooms during an SRT response.

Sgt. Raper walks us through how to approach rooms and how to visually sweep them for intruders from our vantage point at the doorway. We learn about where to look, where to stand for our safety and how to give verbal commands once we do identify someone inside the room.

With that process comes a litany of factors to think about as we’re in action — our response will drastically change depending on where an intruder is standing, and we have to be sure to think about both what our partner is doing and our own positioning, all while taking in the visual information in front of us. We learn about how best to communicate with our partners and how to give commands with authority.

It takes a few tries, but after multiple attempts, we eventually get some semblance of an understanding of what to do. 

The class took place on May 5 with the understanding that we were learning about this type of response in a school environment for a reason. 

Thinking back to that lesson now comes with the heavier weight of reflecting on what has happened since that particular class. Twenty-one lives were wrongly halted in a tragedy that every community dreads, and the community of Uvalde, Texas is grappling with the heartbreak that follows such a senseless act.

The country is still coming to terms with what exactly happened on May 24 at Robb Elementary as new understandings of the response by law enforcement have surfaced. There are a number of discussions that have filled news feeds about how to move forward, and a clearer picture of how we will respond on a national level is still taking shape.   

But for now, when I think back to the slice of training the Citizens Police Academy received weeks before, I’m reminded of how crucial this type of training is in order to keep communities like Celina safe. The instruction we received from Lt. Jackson and Sgt. Raper that night at Celina Middle school came from two Celina Police Department personnel who clearly knew what they were doing. 

They walk us through the many moving parts that we must think about when approaching such a situation. Their insight comes from the place of officers who have attended multiple specialized trainings and who have been taught to be prepared to take action in exactly this type of circumstance. 

Not only does the experience give us insight into what it’s like to be the officer handling the situation, but it also brings a level of comfort — through how we are taught, there is a confidence that we are in safe hands in Celina.

 

Audrey Henvey is the reporter for the Frisco Enterprise, McKinney Courier-Gazette and Celina Record. Email her with story suggestions at ahenvey@starlocalmedia.com.

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