Niles' Special Response Team is a multi-jurisdictional task force designed to handle serious emergency situations. The team is composed of officers who are extensively trained in the use of special weapons and tactics. This team is called upon to handle emergencies such as hostage or barricaded suspect situations, high-risk warrant services, and other situations involving anticipated extreme danger. S.R.T. members are also trained and used to assist in the protection of visiting dignitaries.
In August of 1998 the Niles Police Department re-activated the Special Response Team (SRT) after nearly a decade of inactivity. A need was recognized by the City for specialized police training and response for situations that could include barricaded gunmen, active school shootings, bank robberies, civil unrest and other extremely hazardous situations. Much of the initial start up costs for required new equipment was generously provided by various local businesses and individuals. The department has also acquired additional used equipment from the U.S. Military at no cost.
Since that time team members have participated in over 95 regular training sessions and 31 call outs. This is in addition to individuals being sent to various tactical schools throughout the region. Our team has trained with the Berrien County Sheriff's Department and South Bend tactical teams on several occasions. The exchange of ideas, methods and procedural understanding is recognized to be an important part of maximizing taxpayer dollars and officer safety.
In the spirit of the professional exchange of ideas, several commanders of local special response teams have organized the Michiana Swat Challenge. Elkhart County Sheriff's Department hosted a recent year’s event and the Niles City Police Department was invited to attend and compete against other local teams. Berrien County Sheriff, Indiana State Police, Elkhart County Sheriff, Elkhart City Police, South Bend City Police, LaGrange County Sheriff and St. Joseph County Sheriff (includes Mishawaka City) were all represented with some departments choosing to enter two teams.
The specific exercises were not announced in advance. Teams consisted of a five person entry team and one additional precision rifle shooter (or sniper). Three exercises involved tactical movement and shooting while the fourth task was an extended obstacle course. Each task required the use of heavy tactical vests and helmets. Each team member was required to be proficient in the use of entry rifles, handguns, gas masks and radio communications. While outfitted and performing the event, each team member was carrying an extra 35-40 pounds of equipment. Team members for Niles City included Lt. Mike Stanton, Det. Rick Krueger, Officer Scott Swanson, Officer Amber Walters, Officer Chad Mitchell and Officer Kevin Kosten.
Each exercise had detailed and specific instructions to properly complete the task. Listening skills, firearms proficiency, team movement and tactical safety were all thoroughly tested. Members found themselves shooting the 40mm gas gun at a window size target, patrol rifles at 7" paper plates from 100 yards and handguns at similar targets at 25 yards. Each exercise was scored on both time and accuracy.
The obstacle course required the wearing of all the heavy equipment, carrying rifles and heavy ballistic shields, low crawling, scaling a 6' wall, use of balance beam, pole carrying, deploying a sniper/observer, moving through a section of woods avoiding booby traps, fitting gas masks, entering and searching a building locating several "bad guys" and rescuing a 180lb "hostage". As you can imagine, this was quite a strenuous event. All the obstacles and movements were completed together as a team, again with deductions for errors.
The City of Niles SRT team finished in second place, nipping at the heels of the Berrien County Sheriff's Dept. They competed against some very well established teams from departments much larger. After the awards presentation, several members of those teams approached to congratulate the Niles SRT on their fine showing. To make a special response team work well in a department the size of Niles requires effort from many City employees. Non team members are frequently called upon to accent the work load during training and call outs. Our SRT has two full time Niles City firefighters who serve as paramedics. Residents should feel confident knowing the Niles Police Department operates a competent SRT team to assist in times of trouble.
Pictures by Captain James Merriman