Rolla's SWAT team, trained as well as any metro team, deals with emergencies as dire as those in any big city, Police Chief Mark Kearse told the Rolla City Council Monday night.

Rolla's SWAT team, trained as well as any metro team, deals with emergencies as dire as those in any big city, Police Chief Mark Kearse told the Rolla City Council Monday night.
"We deal with everything that everybody else does here in little Rolla," Kearse said in a presentation about SWAT that he noted the council had requested through City Administrator John Butz.
Hostages, barricades, drug labs, serving of high-risk warrants—all of those potentially lethal situations occur in Rolla, Kearse said.
Fortunately, they don't happen as often here as they do in Los Angeles, Chicago or other urban settings.
"About two a month" is what Kearse replied in response to a question about the average number of high-risk calls requiring SWAT attention. Some of those responses are outside Rolla in assistance with other agencies.
The team of 16 has received the same training that urban teams receive, he stressed.
Using prepared remarks and a slideshow, Kearse told the council about the formation of the team, its training, its weaponry and its mission.
Started in 1997 by former Chief David Pikka, then-Sgt. Kearse headed up the team for 10 years until he became chief.
The team was started for a couple of reasons, Kearse said. For one, it was needed to "resolve incidents outside the realm of the ordinary patrol response." Uniform patrol officers, while highly trained in their specialty, have not received the training needed for those emergency and potentially lethal situations that require highly developed skills and tactics.
"The team was also created due to RPD joining a drug task force and the need to serve search and arrest warrants on the drug dealers in the task force area," Kearse said. "The fact is that other SWAT teams are not available to respond to our community due to manpower and budget restraints as well as liability and politics. If they do respond, it takes over three hours to get them on scene."
Kearse said that in 1997 after being charged to form the team, he contacted other Missouri SWAT teams to learn what Rolla should do.
"I first contacted Springfield, a full-time SWAT team, and went to several of their training days, looked at their policies and procedures to improve my knowledge," he said. "I also contacted Columbia, Jefferson City and St. Louis County SWAT teams and did the same."
Then-Sgt. Kearse went to a basic SWAT school and was trained by Los Angeles Police Department SWAT members.
"At this point we became a member of the National Tactical Officers Association, the leaders in training, policy, liability and procedures for American SWAT, and we are still members," he said. "We created a partnership with Fort (Leonard) Wood and for several years trained at their facility and they came to Rolla and trained with us."
Kearse told the council that the training from the national association "is the same training across the board," so Rolla officers have the opportunity to develop the same skills as those officers in any metropolitan area. There is not a tiered system with small cities receiving one training and urban teams another.
"We get the same training that LAPD does," he said.
Rolla's SWAT members have attended thousands of hours of training sessions in basic SWAT, advanced SWAT, hostage situations, barricaded gunmen, active shoots, sniper schools, weapons handling, high-risk warrant service, woodland searches, vehicle arrests, liability, SWAT command and other areas.
Since the founding of the Rolla SWAT, RPD helped create the Central Missouri Officers Tactical Association "to improve the relationship with area SWAT teams and to build up area training standards."
"I'm very proud that the association has stated that RPD has put on by far the best training they have received and would like for us to continue to put the trainings on," Kearse told the council.
In fact, Rolla trained Fort Leonard Wood soldiers in urban combat before the soldiers deployed to Iraq. Since then, the fort has developed its own urban combat program, but Rolla was there at the beginning.
Of the 16 Rolla SWAT members, three are reserve officers. Two of the reserve officers are full-time SWAT instructors at Fort Leonard Wood; the other is a former SWAT instructor who is now the lead police instructor at the post. "We are fortunate to have them," Kearse said.
Kearse said the SWAT team has had "zero liability issues," but he added there have been a "handful of complaints."
Those complaints relate to the SWAT uniform; it scares some people.
"All it is, is protection," said Kearse.
SWAT members wear helmets, glasses, tactical vests, knee and elbow pads, a clip holster for the handgun, gloves and camouflage uniforms.
The purpose of the attire is similar to what a football player wears: "It's protective gear," Kearse said. "There's nothing spooky about it." Still, it frightens some people.
For weapons, the SWAT team uses Glock 40-caliber handguns, Remington 12-gauge shots and M4 shoulder weapons in 223-caliber.
The shoulder weapons use tap rounds "that are made to not go through walls or to pass through human bodies…they are safe for an urban environment. We also have ammunition that we use if we need to do a woodland mission."
Other equipment includes Tasers, bean bag rounds, gas and smoke, flash and noise devices.
Use of weapons and ammunition is determined by the mission, whether it is in town or out in the woods, how near houses are and whether there are bystanders.
"SWAT is about protecting the citizens, officers and suspects," Kearse said.
In the case of barricades and hostages, the police department has a negotiation team to talk to people and persuade them to surrender peacefully.
This year, RPD led the formation of a countywide negotiations team consisting of four Rolla officers, two from the Phelps County Sheriff's Department and one from the Missouri S&T Police Department.
Highly trained, "I'm proud to say (they) went to Kansas City and won first place in a regional negotiation competition," Kearse said.
In the last 16 years, Kearse said, SWAT has handled more than 200 search warrants, more than 100 meth labs, 60 armed barricaded suspects, more than five hostage situations and numerous high risk arrests.
"We have been called upon to assist DEA, MSHP, St. Robert PD, Waynesville PD, St. James, Pulaski County, Crawford County, Dent County, Shannon County, Gasconade County and Maries County," he said.
There is a close working relationship between RPD and the Phelps County Sheriff's Department, he noted.
"We have been on scenes where the suspect shot at officers, shot officers and killed themselves while we were around the corner of a four-inch sheetrock wall," he said. "During this time, RPD has not had any liability issues."