(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
BENTON -- SERT, the Scott County Sheriff's Department special operations team, is expanding to include members of municipal police departments.
The team began in Scott County about four years ago as the Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, according to Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter.
"We established that team right after I first took office," Walter said.
The team was not immediately active, however.
"Before going into operation the guys went into training," Walter explained.
Training started with a week-long Army Special Response Team course in Cape Girardeau taught by traveling instructors from the U.S. Army.
Ron Merideth, a deputy with the sheriff's department who leads the team, and reserve officer Chris Moore then went to Massachusetts for a week of instructor training with Special Operations Tactical Training International
SOTT-I instructors later came to Jackson to teach the entire team for a week-long course.
SERT team members have also completed a two-day course on responding to active shooters. "The training was geared toward schools," Walter said.
Following a bank robbery in New Madrid County during which the two sheriff's departments worked together, Walter decided to expand the team into a multi-jurisdictional unit.
"We kind of put our heads together and saw the need for a special team like this in special situations," said New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens.
Since August 2007, Scott County Sheriff's Department team members have trained with New Madrid County Sheriff's Department team members, Merideth said.
"I'm really pleased with the results," Stevens said.
"I think it's working out really good," said Jeremy Hill, a deputy with the New Madrid County Sheriff's Department who serves as a lieutenant for the SERT. In the summer of 2007, Hill completed a week-long SWAT instructor's course at the Point Blank Tactical Center in Jackson.
"They've come up and helped us on quite a few search warrants," Merideth said of the New Madrid County members.
Walter said in October they decided to take the SERT to the next level by inviting members of municipal police forces in the two counties to join the unit, rechristened now as the SEMO Emergency Response Team.
"Now we're expanding," Walter said. "We're starting to get these other departments on board."
So far, the Chaffee, Scott City and New Madrid police departments are all sending one officer to train and operate with the SERT. Scott City will have a second officer participating when he returns from active duty overseas in the armed forces.
The Miner Police Department was invited Tuesday to participate with two officers. The Miner Board of Aldermen is now considering the purchase of required equipment.
"We've taken it slow and easy to get everybody up to par on training," Merideth said.
Training is an ongoing commitment for team members.
"They've done a lot of in-house training -- they train every month," Walter said.
Merideth said the regular training is an eight-hour session held once per month during which members typically do close quarter combat drills and qualify with their firearms.
"We do 50 rounds with pistols and 50 for long gun, be that rifle or shotgun," Merideth said. "We've also done bus/car assaults, we've done building clearing -- we use several different houses to do building clearing -- we've worked in a couple of the schools. We've done a little bit of live fire shoot-house training but those places are hard to come by." Merideth said the nearest shoot house is located in Jackson.
"I think it's important to have these guys trained," Walter said. "When working with the other departments, if you work with them and train with them you are going to have better cooperation."
In addition to attending the monthly training sessions, those joining the team have to be equipped by their department.
Team members are outfitted with a basic black battle dress uniform known by those in law enforcement as "BDUs," according to Merideth, along with fitted entry vests designed to withstand rifle rounds, helmet and goggles, nylon duty belts with drop-leg holster and pouches to hold extra magazines.
SERT members who carry long guns such as rifles or shotguns are also equipped with an additional drop leg magazine pouch and flash bang pouch.
One of the most important and expensive pieces of equipment team members have are special radios with earpieces for hands-free communications.
"Your normal radio speaker would be blaring," Walter said. "This way it's more covert -- you can get close and no one will hear you coming on the radio."
So far the team has primarily been used to serve warrants but is prepared for "any major incident," according to Merideth, such as "barricaded suspects, hostage situations, major searches and manhunts."
Stevens said there are obvious benefits for both sheriff's departments and police departments to "pick a few men and get them some training, pool our resources to come up with this specialized unit."
One benefit, Walter said, in addition to the extra training, is financial: departments won't have to tie up their entire staff and pay overtime when warrants are served. "If you have one or two from each of the departments, you have a pretty good sized team," he said.
"I think it's going to benefit both counties tremendously and it is going to be a great asset -- especially for small towns that don't have the manpower and resources that we do," Stevens said.
Walter said the men who participate deserve a good part of the credit for the SERT.
"There's a lot of volunteer time," he said, noting many team members have even spent their own money on equipment. "It says a lot about these guys' character to do this."