HELENA — Law enforcement SWAT teams in Montana respond to some of the most volatile and potentially dangerous situations across the state. A week-long intensive training course in Helena gave new SWAT members a look at what they will be facing in the field.
“Generally, if SWAT is being called out, it’s due to reasons, risks and circumstances that rose beyond what normal law enforcement would be able to handle,” Great Falls Police Department Sgt. Matt Fleming said.
Fleming was one of the instructors at the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officer’s Association Primary SWAT Academy. The week-long training started July 31 at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. Almost 50 law enforcement officers from agencies across the state attended the training.
“(It’s) lots of information, long days—most days are 12 to 13 hours,” Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Conner Smith said.
Instructors guided the new SWAT team members through classroom lessons, then students applied what they learned in real-life-based scenarios.
“What we’re practicing todays is when (suspects) come out and how to deal with them if they’re voluntarily surrendering, and if they’re not complying,” Flathead County Undersheriff Wayne DuBois said.
The overarching goal—deescalation. DuBois said, in his experience, SWAT responds to a variety of situations, from calls about felony violence to helping serve search warrants. He said SWAT teams are often entering situations where suspects are armed or have weapons available.
“We have a coordinated effort, and we have all these tools to try and take people into custody without, hopefully, without any force at all, with just our presence,” DuBois said.
In addition to learning and developing skills, law enforcement at the Primary SWAT Academy strengthened inter-agency relationships—in Montana, where agencies often work together, that’s important.
“There are the guys who are our blackout all the time anyway,” Smith said. “Being able to train together in the same environment is ideal for us, and it’s a great experience.”
The Primary SWAT course is just the beginning—law enforcement will return to their home agencies and continue building on the skills they learned to serve and protect their communities.