They go by various acronyms – SWAT, TST, ERT, ERU, TRU. Most large police services have either full or part time tactical units, which have become integral to safely and effectively dealing with today's policing environment.
Smaller municipal services typically rely on established teams due to personnel and cost restrictions but not so in the Pembina Valley area of Manitoba, located 100 km south of Winnipeg. During the summer of 2014, the Altona, Morden, and Winkler police services took the first steps to creating their own unique multi-jurisdictional regional team, a first in Manitoba.
Cst. Jon Goertzen of the Morden Police Service began the process in December 2013 after noticing a trend. The three services had executed 14 CDSA search warrants over the last year. The warrant writers were busy and making headway in combatting local drug networks, which at that time were primarily handling cocaine.
This was an alarming trend given that the three services combined police about 40,000 people. The members executing the warrants did the best job possible with the resources available, but like every small police service, issues were visible. Member availability and equipment wasn't always ideal and training varied based on when the constable had attended the police academy or their last course.
The three services did a great job at sharing members and resources to execute warrants, but that also created an issue of working alongside someone you were not familiar with. Procedures and approaches differed slightly between services, which also lead to constant learning and adaptation.
Goertzen proposed an answer to these increasingly dangerous and complex situations. Create a joint specialized team of nine members drawn from the three police services and task them with safely executing and containing planned and unplanned high risk situations. This would include CDSA search and entry warrants and weapons, armed and barricade calls.
The idea was to provide a fast response to resolve the situation or contain it until further specialized support could arrive. Over the course of the next eight months Goertzen met with the three chiefs to work out the logistics, manpower and support required. There were plenty of things to work through based on the individual needs of each service.
The next big question was who could help answer all these questions? The answers came in the form of the Winnipeg Police Service Tactical Support Team (TST), which immediately embraced the idea of helping out and took on a big brother role to the emerging team.
Things were looking good on paper by the summer of 2014. Officers from all three services competed to be part of the first team. Each candidate was required to pass an interview process and meet physical fitness and firearms standards. By the end of September the first members of the Regional Support Tactical Team (RSTT) were selected.
The team was long overdue, said Altona Police Service Chief Perry Bachelor. "What has changed is the mindset of many and the realization that bad things happen to good people. At the end of the day the police are called upon to sort out sometimes dangerous situation in a safe and professional manner. This is when a well-trained team is not only a nice to have; it is a need to have."
The first official training began in November 2014 when the team spent a week with the WPS TST to learn the basics of dynamic entry and clearing. This was only the beginning. Members also trained on surround and calls, controlled clears, breaching and tactical carbines.
The newly formed team board, made up of supervisors from all three services, provided oversight and a minimum of one training day a month, allowing members to regularly work on and sharpen their skills.
Training sessions are rotated to a different locale each month. Each community has an active volunteer fire department with excellent training houses. These locations allow the team a chance to practice their skill set. Off duty members assist as actors during the scenarios.
The team also uses local schools and commercial buildings as a training ground in the evenings. This allows members to remain familiar with layouts and practice in hallways. The RSTT board recognizes the importance of regular training and the positive impact it has on how the team conducts itself.
Each team member takes a turn at planning and running a training day, which has the added benefit of focusing on areas the member feels may need improvement.
Members also debrief their previous warrants, discussing the good and the bad, and either hand out or dream about new equipment.
"The RSTT is one of the very first long term regional efforts between the three police services and has been a positive experience throughout," says Winkler Police Service Chief Rick Hiebert. "Our unified goal to provide a greater level of safety for all during high risk situations has been met with resounding success."
As the first multi-agency tactical team in Manitoba, the RSTT will continue to break new ground with its multi-jurisdictional responsibilities. Members are key to the team's success. Their dedication to training and conducting themselves in a professional manner has gone a long way with towards keeping the team useful.
Given the small area in which they operate, it is not uncommon to see a team member "switch hats" once the all safe has been called and dive into the investigational side of things. This helps in getting the job done faster and reduces overtime expenses.
The RSTT will continue to train hard to ensure members are up to the task of providing a safe resolution when called upon. With the help of a generous grant through the Manitoba Justice Criminal Property Forfeiture program, the team has been outfitted with the basic equipment necessary to fulfil its role.
Members look forward to increasing their skill sets and expansion, which will allow flexibility for call-outs.
"Through continued training, the RSTT will grow in confidence and numbers," says Morden Police Service Chief Brad Neduzak. "There has always been a need for a team such as this with the work that we do. The number of warrants that the RSTT has been involved in so far, as well as the interest shown by other officers, suggests that the RSTT will continue to be a successful and important part of the Pembina Valley region."