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In high-risk situations, officers use HEAT

April 16, 2009
Jenn Brookens — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - It was all over in less than a minute.

A deputy was down, and two men were holed up inside. Suddenly, bright pink smoke filled the air. Then the troops stormed the building. A K-9 dog (muzzled) was barking like crazy, going after the "suspect" on the ground. The two "suspects" complied, and everyone was walking away.

In this instance, everyone then began going over what the next scenario would be as part of the monthly drill Wednesday in Fairmont.

Article Photos

TEAM DRILL — Members of the High-risk Entry and Arrest Team (HEAT) practice their skills Wednesday during a training session in Fairmont. The practice scenario involved team members rescuing a downed officer and apprehending the “suspects.” Photo by Chip Pearson

"That's what we do," said Brent Shatto, an Estherville, Iowa, officer and member of the regional HEAT unit. "We go in, we make the arrest, and the suspect is immediately turned over to the local authorities and we leave. We don't stick around after the arrest unless they need us to."

HEAT stands for High-risk Entry and Arrest Team. The unit was first created in 1996 after sheriffs and police chiefs in the southern Minnesota and northern Iowa areas saw a need for such a unit. They also saw a need to be able to work across state lines.

"There's all these concerns about crossing and working across state lines," Shatto said. "But both states received the authority from the office of the attorney general and it shows we can work together."

About 20 agencies from southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa compose the HEAT unit. Some agencies are in HEAT without actually having an officer serve in the unit. There is a membership fee these police departments and sheriff's offices pay for belonging to HEAT.

Since its inception, the team has evolved from "bring what you got," to having many tools of the trade.

"We don't have thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to throw around," said Eric Milburn, who also is from the Estherville Police Department. He then shows the "throw phone" and "negotiator phone," both made from basic elements found in any electronics department.

"We just had someone with some electronic wiring know-how help us put this together," Milburn admitted.

Many of the team's other tools of the trade were on display Wednesday. A nylon pack displayed numerous launchable and throwable canisters that contained tear gas, smoke screens and sponge rounds. Other canisters were flash devices used as a distraction in order for the team to make its approach.

Several of the items were obtained by Homeland Security grants and money from forfeitures from the drug task force units.

"These ballistic vests are the same as the ones being used overseas right now," said Michael Hunter of the Fairmont Police Department. "With the proper plates and everything, these vests end up weighing about 45 to 55 pounds."

This was evident as the men in their gear kneeled for a picture, then needed some help from the other guys getting back up.

Finally there were the weapons.

"Our goal is to use all this other stuff before we need to use these," Hunter said.

The HEAT unit is only called in when the situation is believed to be high risk.

"The event must meet our criteria in order to respond," Shatto said. "We respond if the situation is determined to be dangerous, if we have an active shooter, or if someone is holed up or believed to be armed."

The situations the HEAT unit has practiced are sometimes the worst-case scenarios.

"This is stuff that could easily happen any day of the week," said Sgt. Mike Anderson of the Martin County Sheriff's Office.

"We've practiced in all kinds of weather," Shatto said. "We've been freezing, we've been hailed on. We practice at night, and in the middle of the day. We even practiced on a boat with the Queen Mary at Arnold's Park."

Some of the practices in the past have had some citizens wondering if police are using too much force.

"A lot of times, just our presence there is a force," Anderson said. "I'd rather have too much than not having what we need."

"Today, we actually have our weapons marked to show that they've been checked and they are safe," Shatto added.

Each situation is unique, thus how the unit responds also is tailored to the situation at hand. Being able to do this means the working together is a must.

"It's really amazing that we can take 21 people from 20 different agencies and they can get along and take care of business," Shatto said. "In most situations, you've always got someone that isn't getting along with someone else. So the fact we can do this sends shivers up my spine."



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