St. Charles County SWAT team negotiators work together in high pressure training exercise

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ST. CHARLES COUNTY (KMOV) – The St. Charles County SWAT team responds to dozens of high-risk calls each year, ranging from drug seizures to warrant executions and barricaded suspects.

The multi-jurisdictional team of more than 45 agents is accompanied by 16 crisis negotiators from St. Charles County departments. Often, by the time the SWAT team responds on the spot, the work behind the scenes has already begun, thanks to the negotiators.

“The person on the inside is the one who’s really in control,” said Lt. Pat Doering, commander of the St. Charles County Regional Crisis Negotiation Team. “Being in law enforcement, we’re used to being the ones in control, but it’s really the person on the inside because whatever their actions are, they determine our actions.”

The team was formed in 2005 and has evolved, along with technology, to keep officers and other innocent civilians as safe as possible.

“At the time, we had an old corded phone that we had to pull out and go to the person’s house and plug in their phone because everyone had phones in the house back then,” he said. “Now we can communicate with cell phones, Alexa, drones, really anything.”

A negotiator will work on the phone, trying to get the person in question to talk to them. Another negotiator listens, takes notes and helps his counterpart on the phone. Other members will scour local media and speak with neighbors or people nearby to gather additional information that they can pass on to the SWAT team.

“The most dangerous part is in the unknown, not knowing what someone is capable of or what possibility they are armed with, explosives, that sort of thing,” said Lt. Ryan Streck, commanding officer of the St. Charles County SWAT team. “That’s why we try to have as much information as possible in these high-risk situations.”

On Wednesday, SWAT team members and county negotiators worked together in a high-pressure training exercise, during which they responded to a home with a man wanted for murder. The man was reportedly barricaded inside the house, possibly with family members and heavily armed.

“When we started, we didn’t have this theory that anything could be discussed,” Lt. Doering said. “So the whole concept of de-escalation has evolved over the years.”

However, every situation is different, and Doering said results vary.

“You bond, you’ve been talking to someone for five or six hours, you have a report, and then that person decides to kill themselves, it’s a lot of burden on that negotiator,” he said. “We’re aware of that and making sure the negotiator knows that’s not what they said, that’s that person’s ultimate decision and that’s what they decided to do.”

Each year, the St. Charles County SWAT team and some of the negotiators are deployed to 40 to 50 high-risk search and arrest warrants and an average of eight to 10 barricaded person situations.

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Richard V. Johnson