Emergency Service Unit handles high-risk incidents

Steena Hymes

April 15, 2014

Rarely ever does LaGrange see dramatic hostage negotiations or down-to-wire tactical situations. However, that hasn’t stopped the LaGrange Police Department from assembling a well-trained and prepared Emergency Service Unit made up of a negotiation and tactical team, established in 2001.

Lt. Dale Strickland, tactical commander since its formation, said the agency sees about 4-6 incidents a year where the ESU is utilized.

One of these incidents occurred last week when a man barricaded himself inside the Waffle House on Hamilton Road.

The Sheriff’s Office called upon ESU to assist with negotiating with the suspect.

Strickland said the main priority in that incident was removing all third parties from the area and evacuating the restaurant and the neighboring store.

“A lot of times it’s really challenging to make sure that people that are just curious about what’s going on don’t crowd around and come in, because we have to use a lot of resources to make sure we keep the community safe by keeping them away from what could potentially take place,” Strickland said.

Strickland said in all negotiations, the goal is to contain the suspect and work with them into a peaceful surrender. The last thing agents want to do is to force the suspect out with other measures such as deploying gas, which was used to bring out the suspect at the Waffle House.

According to Strickland, the team has only scene one hostage rescue case since its formation, which occurred near 2001-2002.

In that case, a man had taken his girlfriend and child hostage in a hotel on Lafayette Parkway while armed. Strickland said that incident lasted 14-16 hours before they could take the suspect in custody.

“Our goal is to have them surrender through a negotiation safely,” he said. “We’ll work with them however we can in order to solve it, within reason.”

Other incidents in which ESU will be called out are suicidal threats with firearms, high risk search and arrest warrants, high-risk demonstrations or civil disorder.

The ESU is a part-time team made up of agents from different divisions of the department including drug unit, patrol and criminal investigation sections Strickland said.

Both the negotiation and tactical team go through extensive training. Strickland explained that to apply for the negotiation team, applicants must pass an eight hour tryout process, and upon passing have to complete a 40-hour negotiation class. Following the completion of the tryouts and course, they are on a probationary status for year.

There are five positions on the negotiation team, including the team leader.

The tactical team is comprised of two teams, an entry team and a support team.

LPD’s tactical team includes a team leader, marksman, tactical medic, explosive breachers, mechanical breachers and those who deploy gas Strickland said.

Training for the tactical team is even more extensive than its negotiation counterpart. Applicants undergo a background check into all their training and past performances and then must pass a two-day tryout at a 90 percent rate or higher.

They must then complete 40 hours on in-house training followed by 20-24 hours per month.

Team members also receive quarterly in-house training and ongoing out-of-house training throughout the year relating to their assignment according to Strickland.

Part of the ESU team is working with other agencies, not just on cases but on training as well Strickland said. The ESU will train with different agencies including other police departments just to be prepared in case assistance is needed from either side.

Some of these agencies the team has worked with in the past include the TCSO, Hogansville, West Point, Peachtree City and Fayetteville police.