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SWAT explained at local meeting

ALBANY — Since the late 1970’s, Albany has been home to an elite band of of law enforcement personnel, ready for extreme situations. Tim Hannington, commander, and Michael Persley, district commander, of the Albany/Dougherty Metro SWAT Team spoke to members of the Dougherty County Rotary Club about SWAT recently.

In Albany, SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics, is a 22- person law enforcement group which uses military-style light weapons and specialized tactics to assist more conventional agencies, Persley says, including police departments and sheriff’s offices. According to Persley, members may come from those county agencies, EMT’s, the District Attorney’s Office or the Dougherty County School Police, all of which have a hand in directing SWAT. Albany Police Chief John Proctor serves as board chairman for the organization, with Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul as co-chair.

“We used to be a secret organization,” Persley said. “but when we were going to some of the high schools we asked the students if they knew what SWAT was. Some of them thought we were a death squad.”

Contrary to those initial impressions, Persley says SWAT’s primary purpose is to save lives — not to take them. According to Persley, in recent years the organization has tried to get the word out as to the group’s real mission.

Persley said it used to be that SWAT team members were all ex-military people, with training to suit the precision high-risk needs of the group. These days, there are enough well-trained members that the military requirement has been eliminated.

In addition to being called on by other law enforcement groups when special needs arise, SWAT may be employed in hostage rescue situations, for counter terrorism assignments, when criminals are barricaded or to serve high-risk warrants. They were even called to protect former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney when he visited the area for bird shoots, Persley said.

According to Persley, the volunteers train twice each month in various locations, including houses to simulate hostage or other emergency situations. Members are taught to shoot in a number of positions, including lying on their backs, while wearing a 30-pound vest and other gear.

“When you need us, we can’t afford to send you substandard people,” Persley said.