College students were glued to their television sets on April 16, 2007 when news broke of the Virginia Tech shootings. And with a tragedy that hits to close to home, we think, “Was there anything we could have done to stop this?” Well, no. But, there are ways that we can help to prepare for future situations and maybe even save a few lives.
At UNC Charlotte, the Campus Police and Public Safety Department are taking measuring to make sure their squad is prepared to match any dangerous encounters on its campus. So, in 2010 the first UNC Charlotte Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) was formed.
“The purpose for creating the UNCC SWAT Team is to protect the community and prevent the loss of life,” said Lieutenant Josh Huffman of Campus Police. “We must be prepared to respond to high risk situations such as those tragedies that occurred at Virginia Tech and Columbine.”
Comprised of 13 officers, or SWAT Operators as they’re referred to, these men were chosen specifically for their distinctive qualities. None of them were simply appointed to their positions; they had to earn them. Each member had to show high levels of marksmanship and proficiency with each assigned weapon, attend numerous training schools and be able to respond to any unforeseen emergency at any time.
“The UNC Charlotte SWAT Team is a core group of officers that are specially trained with specific skills in the areas of marksmanship, tactical response specific to our university and crisis negotiations,” said Police Chief Jeff Baker. “The purpose and intent of the UNC Charlotte PD SWAT is to serve as a specialized, flexible and mobile unit, activated to assist in the containment, de escalation and control of situations beyond the capabilities of patrol operations.”
Each of these 13 men have attended specialized SWAT training in Salemburg, NC and are certified by the North Carolina Justice Academy. The academy has produced thousands of criminal justice personnel across the state. There these men train under its Tactical and Traffic Center where they are taught not only academically but practically in “real world” settings.
Their training doesn’t stop there, however. Every month they’re required to perform further training to refresh their memory and gain additional training. During these monthly refreshers, the men are sent to different locations for practice, including some on campus.
“Recent SWAT training has focused on building searches, high risk vehicle takedowns and downed person rescues,” Huffman said. “Over the summer the SWAT team utilized the now abandoned Phase 3 Apartments, Smurf Village, to practice building entry and breaching techniques. Training that involves the use of live firearms is often conducted at CMPD’s firing range.”
With all this training it would seem these men would be anxious to use it, but they’re not. Considering the conditions needed for the men to utilize their past training, many, including Baker, never hope to see that day.
“I would be the first to admit that I hope we are never placed into action,” Baker said. “However, it is critical to be prepared to respond to a variety of serious/high risk incidents that have occurred on campuses throughout the nation.”
For the average student, the main question would be, “What makes the campus SWAT team different from the normal Campus Police squad?” That answer is simple; just look at the first two words of this famous acronym – “Special Weapons”.
Those 13 men are trained on weapons such as S&W MP40 sidearms, S&W MP-15 rifles and Remington 870 shotguns. Some of these weapons are used for target shooting, which makes them vital assets in situations like the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings. The others are a pump-action guns that help the shooter with marksmanship without the cost of coil.
Though their specialized training is on an as-needed basis that hopefully never comes, they do make themselves useful on campus every day.
“Our focus is solely on preservation of life and the ability to resolve serious incidents safely,” Baker said. “We have integrated SWAT Officers into the squads that serve our campus day and night. Our SWAT officers are also cross-trained in emergency management in an effort to respond to extreme conditions that may all affect campus safety and security.”
In future plans for the team, they hope to also send a few men back to Salemburg to the North Carolina Justice Academy to become trained hostage negotiator. For now, they’re simply prepping for an incident that might and hopefully won’t ever come.
“It’s important to note that our UNC Charlotte PD SWAT Team is centered on the safety of our students, staff and faculty,” Baker said. Our training is predicated on the best practices to safely resolving serious situations that could occur on our campus.”
The SWAT team is made up of:
Lt. Josh Huffman
Lt. Rodger Hughes
Sgt. Matt Fior
Sgt. Shawn Smith
Sgt. Chris Perini
Detective Steve Westphal
Detective Angela Ortiz
Officer Nick Safrit
Officer Marc Fleming
Officer Eric Cox
Officer Andy Kerr
Officer Heather Burch
Officer Wesley Gryder