(Mint Press) – On March 21, the Albany, N.Y. Police Department conducted a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) training exercise in an occupied, predominantly Black neighborhood. The training officers used blank ammunition (bullets without a fireable slug), flash grenades and fake blood in the scenario, terrifying residents, according to the Albany Times Union. Photos of […]
(Mint Press) – On March 21, the Albany, N.Y. Police Department conducted a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) training exercise in an occupied, predominantly Black neighborhood. The training officers used blank ammunition (bullets without a fireable slug), flash grenades and fake blood in the scenario, terrifying residents, according to the Albany Times Union.
Photos of the training scenario at the Ida J. Yarbrough Homes complex spread over Facebook this past weekend, stirring up a tide of public outrage. The police chose an empty building in the complex to do their training; however, the two other buildings in the complex are occupied and are in close proximity to the utilized unoccupied building.
“We wake up to the sound the next morning of literally small bombs,” said an Ida Yarbrough resident, who spoke to the Times Union only on condition she not be identified. “All you could hear was ‘pop, pop, pop’ of an assault rifle, police screaming ‘clear!’ I really thought I was in the middle of a war zone — and I have a four-year-old.”
The building is currently vacant because it is slated to be demolished and replaced as part of a $11.8 million project that will replace 129 low-rise units with 80 more efficient apartments, via New York State’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund.
Officials respond to SWAT incident
Bernie Bryan, the president of the Albany chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), visited the complex Sunday afternoon. He discovered unit No. 175 still open with spent shell casings scattered inside the apartment and fake blood staining the sidewalk outside.
“The folks in this neighborhood might not have the financial means, but are entitled to the same respect,” Bryan said, adding “whoever made the decision to do this was asleep at the switch.”
When contacted about the situation, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings (D-N.Y.) stated “I don’t think it was necessary to do it the way it was done. The training is necessary, but obviously there should be information that should be shared.” After being told about it, Jennings informed the Times Union that he will have someone clean up the mess at unit 175.
Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff has stated that his department was “insensitive” when it conducted its training exercise. “In light of the ever-increasing threats to communities across the nation, I have directed our department to provide the most up-to-date training in a manner that is as realistic as possible,” the chief said. “I certainly did not mean to offend the very people that we are training to protect.
“In retrospect, it was insensitive to conduct this type of training in the vicinity of occupied residences. We will review how we conduct our neighborhood-based training in the future and include the community in evaluating its appropriateness.”
The police said that they did go door-to-door to warn residents of the training session before it happened, but many residents were still caught off-guard by the sound of machine gunfire and grenades exploding.
Training for the unexpected
SWAT is a general term for a police force’s Special Response Team (SRT), a unit or squadron of volunteer officers that are trained and equipped to handle situations that exceed the capabilities of the community police or the detective bureau. This would include responding to and meeting heavy gunfire, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, police station security during civil unrest, entering armored or fortified buildings and high-risk arrests.
Such officers are equipped with military-grade equipment — including submachine guns, assault rifles, stun grenade, sniper rifles, heavy body armor, ballistic shielding and armored vehicles — and bear military or paramilitary training. Many SWAT teams actively recruit officers that have military training and experience.
The first SWAT team in the United States was founded in Philadelphia in 1964, followed by the creation of the first team to call itself SWAT in Los Angeles under former police chief Daryl Gates in 1967. The first SWAT team to gain national awareness was the Delano, Calif. SWAT Team, which responded to César Chavez’ United Farm Workers’ protests in 1965.
As a paramilitary group, SWAT requires that its officers are fit and continuously trained. A key component of this training is “real time” training, in which SWAT officers are put in scenarios they are likely to occur on duty. By using real weapons in real situations, factors such as doubt and hesitation can be factored out and SWAT “operators” can respond efficiently.
How SWAT training sites can differ
For larger organizations, such as the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the New York City Police Department (NYPD), special facilities — such as military reserve facilities, specially-designed courses at the city’s police academy and vacant government buildings that have been retained for police use — are used for SWAT training. However, smaller police forces that do not have the material resources of major city police departments have traditionally used condemned or vacant buildings for SWAT training.
As such, such exercises happen in either publicly-owned buildings or in poorer neighborhoods, which typically have a higher concentration of vacant buildings and houses.
As reported by the Idaho State Journal, the Pocatello, Idaho police department used a vacant housing complex on the Idaho State University campus for SWAT training. The building was slated to be demolished to make room for 29 parking spaces. “Some of the training that [the SWAT team] do could damage a building,” Pocatello Police Captain Rick Capell said. “If they’ve got one that is coming down they can practice some of the entry skills you can’t use otherwise.”
The perimeter of the training site, however, was secured with police tape during the exercise.
The police is not the only group that uses vacant buildings for real world training. Fire departments regularly use vacant buildings for entry and rescue scenarios.
The use of virtual reality and motion detection is threatening, however, to make the need to use real buildings for training purposes an antiquated notion. Motion Reality Inc. and Raytheon Co. have developed VIRTSIM, a public safety training system that uses virtual reality and physical feedback technology to give a near-realistic simulation to combative tactics situations. The technology is already being used for new Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) recruits at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.