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Willmar, Minn., Police Department, Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office conduct SWAT training

Nearly two-dozen officers from the Willmar Police Department and Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office participate Thursday in SWAT training at a home along the 1600 block of Litchfield Avenue Southeast in Willmar. The goal of the law enforcement training was making tactical entries into the building and search rooms for drugs, weapons, suspects or hostages. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

WILLMAR -- There's no place like home, or in the case of law enforcement, there's no place quite like a house to use for tactical training.

A total of 23 officers from the Willmar Police Department and the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office participated in SWAT training Thursday morning at a home along the 1600 block of Litchfield Avenue Southeast.

While the local agencies can and have built portions of walls that contain doors and windows and used them to simulate officers entering a building, training in a real house is much preferred, according to Police Capt. Jim Felt and Sheriff Dan Hartog.

"It's better because it's real," Hartog explained. "There are more places for someone to hide, there are shadows."

"It's a lot more realistic," Felt echoed.

While each of the law enforcement agencies have their own special weapons and tactics teams, more often called SWAT, the teams train together because each team serves as backup to the other team. The agencies often work together and have mutual aid agreements, the required paperwork for working in the other jurisdiction, already completed. The Sheriff's Office started its team in 1990 and the Police Department's team began in 1994.

The opportunity to use the house for the training came when the county purchased the home, and was going to sell it, but found no buyers, Hartog said. County administration then offered the chance to use the house for training.

"Whenever we get the opportunity, we take it," Hartog said, adding that the agencies usual have a couple of training opportunities inside houses each year.

On Thursday evening, the Willmar Fire Department used the house for its own training purposes, starting and extinguishing several fires before burning the entire structure, according to Jeff Gilbertson, the Fire Department's interim fire chief. The firefighters also used the house for an earlier training session on crew rescue, so got two good training sessions from the house, Gilbertson said.

The goal of the law enforcement training was making tactical entries into the building and rooms and searches of rooms for drugs, weapons, suspects or hostages. As much as it is practice in those tactics, Felt and Hartog say, the goal is also to familiarize officers with their equipment, which is different than their daily gear, and develop teamwork amongst the officers.

There are no full-time SWAT officers in either agency, with team members including officers and deputies whose daily jobs are patrol shifts, detective work or working as school resource officers. The officers volunteer for the team and have to pass training and testing before donning the helmet, rifle and other specialized gear.

The SWAT teams are used only when law enforcement has identified a known threat -- via risk assessment that includes the presence of weapons, drugs, hostages or suspects with known violent histories. "Generally, when SWAT is used, it's a high-risk situation," Felt said.

On a typical call for service, three officers could respond to the call. In contrast, 10 or more officers are typically part of a SWAT action, requiring much more orchestration and teamwork for the safe execution of a search warrant, capture of a suspect or the liberation of a hostage.

"They've got to work together, build trust with the other officers, and know what the other guy is going to do," Hartog said.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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