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Special Report: Inside Albany SWAT

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May 19, 2008

Albany -- A deranged student goes on a shooting rampage at school. Someone takes hostages in a house in your neighborhood.

A man with a grudge and a bomb walks into a government building.   If one of those frightening scenarios happened in Albany, We'd depend on the SWAT team to save lives.  

Not long ago, Our SWAT team was in disarray. After major changes, is it ready to respond now?

SWAT team members never know when they'll be called out, or what kind of emergency they'll face.

But they know lives will be on the line. "When the citizens need help, they call police. When the police need help, they're gonna call on SWAT," said SWAT Team Member  Capt. Tim Hannington.

The Albany Dougherty SWAT team trains twice a month to make sure they're always ready for that call.

"Our ultimate goal is the safe end to any situation," says SWAT Team Commander Maj. Derrell Smith.

But last summer, Some city and county leaders and law enforcers doubted the team's ability to reach that goal.

Sheriff's Captain Tim Hannington was one of several veteran SWAT members who resigned, Concerned over leadership, communication, and chain of command problems.

Today, You won't get Hannington or anybody else on the SWAT team to talk much about those problems. "The only way this team's gonna get to move forward is to put that behind us and build from starting now," he said.

"The main thing we're geared towards is the success of today's Albany Dougherty SWAT Team. We don't too

"What happened in the past is in the past. We're moving forward," Smith said.

Major Derrell Smith is leading that movement forward.  "Things are going really well with the Albany Dougherty SWAT team."

During the trouble, A shorthanded team still responded to dangerous calls like this hostage situation while major SWAT changes were negotiated.

Now, A new board oversees the team. It's made up of the head of every local law enforcement agency in the county from the D. A. 's office to the school police department. They put Major Smith, The drug squad commander who's used to dealing with various agencies, In charge.

"It's been real positive. We've got the board that's working hard for us. We've got the guys that are working hard for us," Smith said.

And they have more guys working on the team. The number got down into single digits last year.

Now, 22 officers from a half dozen agencies are on the team, And they plan to add a few more.

Tim Hannington is back and is pleased with the new members too. "They have a true commitment to provide the ultimate service to the city of Albany and Dougherty County. They take it to heart. They come here, and they train hard. They're ready to respond."

Every new member must pass a physical test and a firearms test. Board members check out their background and do an in-depth interview. And other team members must give them a thumbs up, It's got to be unanimous. That helps build unity, Trust, And confidence.

"All the confidence in the world. I'd go in a building any day with each one of them with no fears, no worries. We're all gonna come back out alive," Cpl. Tyrone Griffin, SWAT Team Member.

The team also enhanced its training. "You never know what we'll face, so we want our officers to be prepared for anything that they encounter," said Sgt. Allen Brock. SWAT Team Training Coordinator.  Brock comes up realistic drills. "We set up scenarios where the bad guy is compliant and where the bad guy is not compliant."

And they have new training equipment, like guns that shoot pellets and allow force on force training, where pretend bad guys really do shoot back.

"This piece of equipment keeps them honest. If you get shot with it, it will hurt. It stings," said Brock.

The equipment also allows for better training in buildings Say a school, Where the SWAT team might really be needed one day.

"Clean up is real simple. Just sweep it up with a broom," said Brock.

Team members say that new training has them better prepared for the real thing.

"Everyone knows, how you train is how you gonna play," Griffin says.

"You train how you're gonna act," Hannington agreed.

And team leaders insist SWAT has made a quick and dramatic turnaround.

"If a situation happens in Albany or Dougherty County right now, I have 100% confidence that this team can go out and handle the situation that's put in front of them," says Commander Smith.

And hopefully reach that goal of saving lives and bringing a safe end to any emergency.

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