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NTOA Annual Conference

Written by William Harry Challans

The 2005 conference was the 22nd annual gathering for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA). The conference is a combination of training seminars, practical classes, instructor certification and a vendor show. The conference was co-hosted by the Las Vegas Metro Police Department with members of their SWAT team, Zebra, serving as facilitators.

One of the highlights of the conference was the vendor show. More than 130 companies that provide expertise and material support for SWAT were on hand. Vendors at the show included new and old supporters such as: 5.11 Tactical, ABA Armor Holdings, Blackhawk Products, Blackwater, Bianchi, Colt, CTS, Def-Tec, FN Herstal, TSSI, Omni Explosives, PACA, Royal Arms, Safariland, Second Chance Armor, Surefire, Streamlite and many others.

Of special interest was Defense Control USA, having on display the H.A.R.A.S. rescue vehicle. This is a first-class tool for those in CT work needing quality performance in hostage rescue, aircraft interdiction and other special platform needs. Three ladders allow access or breaching capabilities into compounds, aircraft, and second or third level structures, with a platform on the vehicle roof providing stability, support, mobility and ballistic protection for personnel. The SUVs can be armored.

One of the exceptional learning formats ingrained in the NTOA conferences are the “Incident Debriefs,” which allow teams to share lessons learned through critical incidents that occurred around the country during the last year. The first debrief began with a bone-chilling replay of radio transmissions during an active shooter rampage in Tyler, TX. Sgt. Rusty Jacks gave a dynamic presentation of a gun battle in February 2005 outside the Smith County Courthouse.

The distraught suspect, David Hernandez Arroyo, was waiting in his truck on the arrival of his wife and son for a child support hearing. He came prepared for battle, wearing soft body armor under a military flak jacket and armed with a 7.62 SKS semi-auto with a 40-round magazine, three 30-round mags, 190 rounds of loose 7.62 ammo, along with a scoped hunting rifle.

As his wife and son appear on the plaza to enter court, Arroyo exited his ambush position and shot the wife in the head. Officers from the courthouse engaged the suspect, but the handgun rounds had little or no affect. Arroyo wounded two officers then fled in his truck.

Sgt. Jacks responded to the scene with his Colt AR-15, knowing from radio reports that the urban rifle would be needed to stop this individual. Suspect Arroyo fired at pursuing officers. As Smith County Deputy John Smith attempted a PIT maneuver against the fleeting truck, the suspect suddenly stopped in the roadway and opened fire on the responding officers. Sgt. Jacks fired three rounds from his patrol rifle. The first round pierced the truck’s cab, through and through, and hit the suspect in the back of the head, killing him instantly and ending the battle.

During the courthouse battle, 116 rounds were fired in 2 minutes. The suspect was not a combat veteran nor military trained. The shooting happened in the most “Target Hardened” and secured area of Smith County, to include the Police Department, Sheriff’s offices, Federal Building and Courthouse area including various offices for U.S. Marshals, ATF and other federal agencies.

The lessons learned here are important reminders for all of us. First and foremost is that body armor works, even when worn by the bad guy. Second, all officers need access to a patrol rifle. Any agency without a similar program is putting its first responders at a disadvantage. Another obvious lesson is that Active Shooter training also works. Responding officers took quick, decisive and aggressive action to locate the suspect, work together as a team, neutralize the threat, and protect innocent lives.

Practical, hands-on courses have progressed from the basic 10, such as Hostage Rescue, Barricaded Gunman, High Risk Warrant, Tactical Long Rifle and Sub Gun to such dynamic subjects as Explosive Entry, Linear Assaults, Dignitary Protection, SCBA, Advanced Urban Rifle, Night Vision Ops, Low-Light Shooting, Officer Down/Vehicle Rescues, and (my favorite) Shoot House Instructor. In all, 22 courses were offered between one to four days in length and varying degrees of participation, including a variety of live fire and/or simunitions.

The classroom sessions included “Suicide Bombers,” “Vehicle Bombs” and “Asymmetrical Warfare.” The most intriguing, and emotionally upsetting, was the presentation by John Giduck on “Mass Terrorist Hostage Taking.” Working for the ArchAngel Corp. and author of the book Terror at Beslan, he graphically describes the heinous massacre in September 2004 at the Russian public school by Islamic extremist and Al-Qaeda- affiliated Chechen terrorists, including a preamble of what led up to the attack and implications for LE here and the potential for attacks at American schools.

MHT (Mass Hostage Taking) is the preferred method of attack by the terrorists, as it draws the most publicity. This enemy is not only extremely vicious and lethal, but extremely intelligent and clever. They learn from past mistakes, such as the previous Moscow Theater hostage siege. This time, they came prepared with gas masks to counter knock-out gas, guard dogs to alert on commando raids, command detonation for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and “dead-man switches” for the suicide bombers to guarantee detonation of the explosives.

Giduck and other experts in the field concur that this attack is a blueprint for an impending disaster here in America, and we better be prepared for the worst. The last seminar attended on Friday was an all-day eye-opener by Jim Stinson, one of the top terrorism advisers to the U.S. government. The course, “Response to Terrorism,” was a current, up-to-date real information and trends with Al-Qaeda and other major terror groups. Interestingly, he had a chart of major terror incidents worldwide, which stretched clear across the side wall of the lecture hall. The point is that terrorism is on the rise and headed this way.

The NTOA formal Awards Banquet was held Friday night in the Grand Ballroom of the Las Vegas Hilton. Of note was the Award For Excellence presented to Lt. Don Whitson of the Fort Collins, CO Police. Lt. Whitson is a longtime NTOA Instructor and Commander of his department’s SWAT Team. In September 2006, the NTOA convention returns to its roots in Los Angeles, where SWAT was born.

Officer William H. Challans recently received a degree certificate in Terrorism and National Security Management from Kaplan University. He is a 31 year veteran of law enforcement and still an active patrol officer in downtown Denver, with experience in SWAT, investigations, and the bomb squad. Attending more than 25 specialized tactical schools during his career, he is also an active NTOA member and has published several other law enforcement-related articles. He can be contacted at bchallans@comcast.net.

Published in Tactical Response, May/Jun 2006

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