SWAT teams partner, train together

More than three dozen officers from multiple agencies in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties converged on Burbank's high school Wednesday.

The specially trained members of the Tri-City and Walla Walla regional SWAT teams worked together to find and capture three armed suspects inside Columbia High School.

The simulated school shooting incident marked the end of a three-day joint training exercise -- the first time both SWAT teams have trained together -- and the beginning of a new working relationship between the two groups.

The Tri-Cities has relied on the SWAT team from Yakima County for backup in the past, and the ability to be able to also get help from Walla Walla now is "phenomenal," said Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb

The idea to create a partnership between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla started with Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner, who became sheriff at the beginning of the year.

"We have a responsibility to keep our schools and communities and children safe," he said. "The biggest benefit will be to the community members ... in all the communities we serve."

Turner secured funding through the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington to bring in three trainers with the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team.

The training consisted of classroom sessions and live scenarios, such as the school shooting incident and conducting high-risk search warrants.

Building relationships and training together now -- before a major incident occurs where backup is needed from another regional SWAT team -- is crucial to everyone's safety, Turner said.

"In the middle of an incident is not the time to start reaching out to our partners," he said.

Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane said different agencies sometimes use different equipment and procedures, so it's good to train together to create a plan to deal with those differences in advance.

"The Los Angeles Police Department is one of the busiest in the country ... and their real-world situations help us," he said.

There is no way to know if or when domestic or international terrorists will hit the area, and small communities like "Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities have to depend on each other to get the job done," Keane said.

Capt. Cobb, a SWAT team commander, said it has been a couple of years since the Tri-City team requested help from Yakima's SWAT team.

But, it could become a more frequent occurrence with the propensity of violence in the region -- more people are prone to use it and don't seem hesitant to use it against each other or police, he said.

Backup SWAT teams could be called when there are multiple search warrants at different locations to be served at the same time or if a stand-off stretches on for multiple hours, Cobb said.

Thanks to the joint training, they have "the ability to work closely with neighboring teams," he said.