A call to 911 informing the dispatcher about a hostage situation results in a quick response from Patrol deputies. These circumstances are also likely to trigger a request for assistance from the Special Response Team (SRT). The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team was established in 2005 to support the extraordinary enforcement needs of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the citizens they serve. The primary goal of SRT is to safely resolve high risk/crisis situations while minimizing the potential for injury or loss of life.
At one time the emergency responses for the County were made by the City of Bellingham’s SWAT team. To decrease response time and eliminate the charges to the County and smaller cities, the Sheriff’s Office developed its own enhanced response capabilities. The members of SRT are all deputy sheriffs and participate on the team as a collateral duty to their regular assignments. SRT members serve on a voluntary basis and receive no additional compensation. Members carry their equipment with them at all times, allowing them to respond directly to the scene once a request for SRT has been made. This maximizes the efficient and effective deployment of needed resources.
The SRT is comprised of a highly trained group of dedicated professionals. The team has two specialized components: a tactical element and a negotiation element. Both elements work jointly to safely resolve critical incidents. The availability of a well-trained and properly equipped tactical team has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of injury or loss of life to citizens, law enforcement officers and suspects. Incidents where enhanced capabilities may be the preferred response include, but are not limited to: high-risk warrant service and arrests, barricaded subjects, hostage situations, counter-terrorism response, active shooter incidents and any unusual occurrences within the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.
Emphasis is placed on operational proficiency and physical fitness. SRT members train monthly to ensure that they maintain their skills and abilities. Members must pass and maintain a high level of physical fitness in order to withstand the rigors of tactical operations. The training includes firearms qualification, physical fitness, defensive tactics, less-lethal options, crisis negotiations, hostage rescue, active shooter response, rural patrol tactics and tracking.
The team is equipped with specialized firearms and equipment to enhance the safety and security of a mission. The team has armored vehicles available for its use if needed, as well as air support from the Department of Homeland Security.
The Special Response Team has been highly successful in resolving high risk incidents through the use of negotiations and sound tactics. SRT members assigned to regular patrol duties have handled many crisis situations before they escalated to the point of a full team call-out. In May of 2010, SRT members were able to negotiate the surrender of a homicide suspect and safely take him into custody. This was a very volatile situation that was resolved due to the skill and professionalism of both negotiators and tactical personnel.
The team is highly regarded by other tactical organizations and personnel, for their professional abilities and dedication to their mission. The citizens of Whatcom County can be proud of their team and safe in knowing that the dedicated men and women of SRT stand ready day or night to answer the call to duty.