Police to review 'SWAT' team
Published 5:57 pm, Wednesday, May 23, 2012
In New Milford and other smaller municipalities in the area, police are most often needed for car crashes, burglaries, drug investigations and domestic assaults.
Occasionally, however, there will be a bank robbery, a hostage situation, a shooting, even murder.
For those times, police departments want to be able to call on select, highly trained and well-equipped officers -- commonly known as SWAT teams -- with the resources needed to protect the public without endangering their own lives.
How to do that most effectively and economically appears to be open for interpretation among area police administrations.
In New Milford, the subject came to the forefront recently after the town's six-member Emergency Services Unit team opted to disband over issues related to an inability to fulfill a two-town agreement with the Brookfield Police Department that prescribes protocols for deployment, including equipment, staffing and training.
Shawn Boyne, the chief at the New Milford Police Department, said he understands the team's frustration. The former state police commander, with tactical response experience, said he sees the value in having such a team; he actually expanded the three-member team that existed when he arrived in town 18 months ago to six members.
Yet he and his current command staff have been tied up with other administrative and operational issues -- first and foremost, the department's front-line response critical to everyday occurrences.
This specialty team is only for what Chief Boyne and other chiefs describe as "low-frequency, high-risk events."
Chief Boyne gives assurances the public is not at risk.
Were there to be a need for a team, he said, he need make just one call to deploy either the state police or Danbury police.
The chief said he sees value in having a team. He added the department has been stymied by limited staffing abilities -- a couple of officers assigned to the team have been on extended leaves -- and a lack of forthcoming federal asset forfeiture funds to properly equip them.
A $26,000 van was paid for through asset forfeiture funds for such a purpose, but the vehicle needs at least $10,000 in work to be operational for not only ESU use, but other department services, Chief Boyne said.
Then there is the purchasing of specialty equipment -- high-powered rifles, bullet-proof vests, protective head gear and surveillance devices -- that can cost tens of thousands more, he said.
Since he has been chief, the full New Milford/Brookfield team has been officially deployed once -- to arrest suspects in a bank robbery.
Bethel police Chief Jeff Finch said his department opted a few years back against joining New Milford and Brookfield for a joint team. He feels such teams require officers who regularly work together for a coordinated response.
Multitown teams can pose operational issues, and Chief Finch determined that was not the best option for Bethel. His town has a five-member team and, if need be, would call Danbury or the state police for back-up assistance, he said.
Brookfield police Chief Robin Montgomery said he would be open to resuming a relationship with New Milford if and when Chief Boyne is ready to do so.
The New Milford chief said he wants time to review the policies and agreement.
"If we're going to have a team, I want them to be properly equipped and properly trained, and we're not there yet," Chief Boyne said.