ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - In an effort to increase police and public safety, APG's Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) Special Reaction Team (SRT) has acquired a new police specialty vehicle to be used in the event of a dangerous, high-risk situation occurring on post.
Police Sgt. Jim Toscano commands the SRT, a group of law enforcement officers who handle all tactical and high-risk issues for the garrison. Toscano said he is confident that having the armored vehicle at police disposal will allow officers to utilize non-lethal and fewer lethal options when confronting highly dangerous situations.
"We're trying to establish an environment that allows us to safely effect an arrest or defuse a violent situation," Toscano said. "Safely effecting that arrest means we have to have all the tools to do that. So not only do we have our personal armor, weapons and equipment, but we also go out and find other equipment and training that allows us to generate that safe environment. That's what the armored vehicle is about."
Toscano said the vehicle is required not only to protect police and the public from small arms fire and other threats but also "to get close to hostages, to retrieve people who are injured or to separate a shooter from others."
Unlike other armored vehicles, the specialty vehicle detects dangerous environments, such as those containing explosive gases or radiation.
Officers have the ability to evacuate, decontaminate or conduct operations from inside the vehicle if necessary. In addition, the vehicle has a self-contained breathing apparatus, like those used by firefighters. This provides SRT members with additional time in low-oxygen or dangerous environments.
Inside the vehicle, protectants are in place to enhance the safety of its occupants. It's safety down to the smallest detail.
Even "the cup holder is armored; the coffee will make it," Toscano said.
Despite the vehicle's clever gadgetry, Toscano stressed that only trained officers will use the vehicle under specific circumstances.
"There's a very stringent regulation and a use of force policy on how [the vehicle] is used," he said. "We have an on-going training program [and] the team leaders and I have a lot of experience in armor, at various levels."
The vehicle will primarily be used by the SRT however, they will train other law enforcement officers to conduct rescues and conduct other operations.
Toscano said that part of the SRT's training is learning from past incidents and understanding best practices.
He recalled an incident that occurred in Texas in which a team of two deputies, as well as deputies from another county, used an armored vehicle approach a house where a murder had occurred. The suspect shot at the vehicle but was unable to penetrate the exterior.
Ultimately, the deputies remained inside the vehicle, spoke to the suspect on the vehicle's public address system and handled the situation.
"In that instance, those deputies at that time did not have to use lethal force on the subject," Toscano said. "They were able to just contain the situation and leave because they were protected...it's about saving lives, not taking lives."
According to Toscano, the SRT practices before undertaking any operation and prepares for every possible scenario, from most favorable to worst case.
"What we prepare for are those situations that are really too highly dangerous for that patrolman to go in and handle on their own," Toscano said.
"For us, everything is about timing, precision, officer safety, caution and protection for the public. It's almost like planning a stage show or a ballet. It's intricate."
He added that while the SRT recognizes that most people on the installation are professional workers and that crime is moderate at best, the team remains vigilant and prepared.
"Now we have that ability...somebody's hurt, something bad happens -- we can get right there with safety, right up into the thick of things, protected and reduce the violence in the situation," he said.