COLUMBIA — Bang!
Columbia's SWAT team ran through the smoke, two officers throwing the "hostage-taker" to the ground, while the rest rushed four "hostages" out of a two-story garage.
After a few tense moments, the "hostage-taker" walked away — with a cut on his finger but a smile on his face.
The smell of smoke rose to the audience as they applauded from a platform overlooking the mock operation.
"A hostage situation is the Super Bowl of what we have to do," said Roger Schlude, leader of the team performing for the Citizens Academy class at the Columbia Police Department Training Center on Wednesday. "Very fast, very deliberate and very violent action."
The series of lectures held every Wednesday in August are meant to give the public a better understanding of what the Columbia Police Department does. Topics covered include patrol operations, narcotics investigations and SWAT.
“Sometimes the media will skew something to get a better story, and we just want people to have a better idea of what really goes on,” said Richard Horrell, the lecturer and a SWAT team member.
What the audience saw was real: They got the opportunity to handle SWAT weapons, helmets, shields and ram breaching tools, and even to put on the vests used by team members during operations.
The audience also learned why SWAT teams were created and some of the principles that guide its decisions.
SWAT teams appeared in the U.S. after incidents in the 1960s revealed that regular patrol officers were often insufficiently equipped and trained to deal with “situations outside the realm of ordinary patrol response,” Horrell said.
"If you're going to a gunfight you've got to have the right weapons, strategies and tactics,” he said.
As far as strategy, the most important thing is saving lives, Horrell said. Highest priority are the hostages, followed by innocent bystanders, officers and then suspects.
Horrell said the team monitors its performance in an effort to improve. "There’s always an after-action report to learn what we did and what we didn't do.”
A high-profile operation in Columbia in February 2010 prompted adjustments to local SWAT policy. The raid, which turned up a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, was conducted with a child present and resulted in one dead dog and another dog injured.
Policy changes include continuous surveillance once the department determines a warrant will be requested and an extra level of review before a warrant request is submitted for a tactical operation, Horrell said.
Schlude noted the devotion SWAT team members demonstrate. They endure 20 hours of rigorous training each month.
"I could get emotional about it because they do put their hearts into it,” Schlude said of his team.