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SWAT Teams Depend on Practice, Practice, Practice

The dangerous job of carrying out police raids is often given to specially trained squads. They go by different names in different places, but they all depend on constant practice to avoid surprises and strive for safety.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Any police raid is dangerous. Officers have to make decisions in a split second as they deal with people who they hope did not expect to see them and who they are sure would rather not see them.

The dangerous job is usually given to specially trained squads. They go by different names in different places. SWAT, derived from “special weapons and tactics,” is perhaps the most widely known term.

Whatever they are called, however, the officers train hard to hone skills they need to do their jobs effectively—and safely.

Wednesday, the Wake County Sheriff's Special Response Team practiced entering a building. The exercise was part of the hours and hours of training and planning that deputies say it takes to get it right.

Clearly, getting ready for a raid is about more than checking weapons and putting on protective gear, and it starts well beforehand.

“Who do I have coming? Who am I going after? What am I doing?” are the questions that Deputy John Vaughn said are essential.

Pre-raid planning involves learning about the suspect, the surroundings and making a game plan.

“We have a protocol at the sheriff's office; we're not going to run out the door with our hair on fire. We're going to sit down and do a lot of research—all we can,” said Lt. Robert Windsor, SRT leader.

“You still don’t know who’s on the other side of the door. And what helps us is knowing that we are prepared to meet that threat,” Windsor said.

“Hopefully, the person will listen to the commands and you don’t have to resort to the next level of violence, which none of us want. None of us wants to do that,” Vaughn said.

Some people have been questioning how teams like Windsor’s work since a New Hanover County SWAT team raid in Wilmington ended with the death of a Durham teenager earlier this month.

The Wake County deputies say their jobs all come down to training.

Each county has different protocols and policies about when and how to use SWAT teams.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison formed his team in August of 2003. Most of their missions involved people barricaded in their homes and occasional hostage situations.

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