MANCHESTER — Forty police officers and U.S. Marshals participated in a SWAT training Friday, an exercise that allowed them to practice their response to an active shooter scenario.
As they practiced techniques for clearing the mock college building — the old Manchester Police Department on Chestnut Street — some of the participants had to be thinking about Brentwood officer Steven Arkell, who was shot to death as he opened a front door, responding to a complaint about a loud domestic argument May 12.
Merrimack police Lt. Matthew Tarleton, a 19-year veteran, said Arkell’s death on a routine call reminds every officer that anytime an officer opens a door, there could be someone with a gun behind it.
“I think that reinforces the need for going slow,” Tarleton said.
The lieutenant is one of eight Merrimack officers in the two-week SWAT training. “This is new to our department,” he said.
Three other officers will train later, he said, as the department prepares to establish a SWAT unit.
“In this day and age, it’s needed,” he said. “Even in a community our size.”
Merrimack has 36 sworn officers and Tarleton said: “We’re going to share everything with guys on patrol.”
For the time being, he said, the trained Merrimack officers will operate as a containment team, calling on either Nashua or Manchester SWAT, if the need arises.
“Once we have a chance to prove ourselves,” he said, the department will establish a formal SWAT unit. He said Chief Mark Doyle is a strong supporter.
Manchester police have had a SWAT unit since 1975, with the current co-leaders Nate Boudreau and Sgt. Brandon Murphy.
Boudreau, who is also training officer for the New Hampshire Tactical Officers Association, said while the 40 officers come from different departments, they are getting uniform training so that units from anywhere can work together.
He said standards are set by the National Training Officers Association. When changes in techniques or response are made, as the result of incidents like the Connecticut school shooting and the Colorado school and movie theater shootings, those changes are passed down.
“We make sure that we’re doing what everybody else is doing, using the safest and most prudent tactics,” said Boudreau.
One of the key elements of the advanced training is communication, he said. With multiple teams on multiple floors, it is critical for a successful resolution of the situation. “We’re all on the same sheet of music,” he said.
The importance of the coordination was evident when Manchester SWAT assisted in the search for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev April 19, 2013.
Manchester worked with the Lawrence, Mass., SWAT and New Hampshire Seacoast Emergency Response Team doing house-to-hour searches in Watertown until Tsarnaev was found.
Friday’s active shooter exercise was the final field test, after two weeks of classroom and field practice.
As the five eight-man teams, each with a training leader, moved into and through the building, it was stop and go, sometimes to correct a major error.
“Did you clear the bathroom?” the team leader asked. Nobody had as the team was moving past the closed door. They were stopped. There were no angry words, simply a command. “Clear the bathroom.” It was done, properly.While the team leaders communicated with eachother by radio, getting commands for their teams, they were focused on their team’s actions and sometimes stopped them in their tracks and had them repeat a move.The orders were direct: “Play your corner. . . Roll off his shoulder. . .Do not get choked up here.”
The team leaders were dressed simply in black shirts and camo pants, unlike the fully outfitted trainees who carried weapons with the trigger area tied with yellow tape, so anyone seeing them would know it was a practice.
Boudreau said the training, which he has been doing for the past five years, is designed to provide a baseline tactic. “We lay the foundation, they customize it,” he said.
Participants were from Manchester, Nashua, Keene, Strafford County Regional
Special Operations Unit, Belknap County Special Operations Unit, Seacoast Emergency Response Team and the U.S. Marshals.
Boudreau said the training is a major commitment on the part of the departments sending members, because their normal work shifts have to be covered for two weeks.