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HILLSVILLE — After keeping a low profile for months, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office tactical team arrived on the scene when assisting at a recent Galax drug bust.
Though this is the first time the team has been noticed publicly in a law enforcement situation, leader Seth Greer — also a sheriff’s office investigator — said the eight members trained for about a year before going to work in March.
The goal is to keep the community and officers in the commission of their duty safe, Greer explained.
Technically, the specialty team for the constitutional law enforcement agency office is a “STRIKE” force.
That’s short for “sheriff’s tactical response team in key emergencies.”
It’s a comment on the growing violence in rural areas around the country that Carroll County officials should feel the need to have a strike team.
The majority of training for the members — many of whom are also patrol deputies — involves having to deal with an active shooter situation, the likes of which have been happening with alarming frequency, including the September incident at the Washington Navy Yard that left 13 dead.
Greer, who served in the military and spent more than six years in different SWAT teams, knows that disturbed individuals try to take advantage of places where security is lax.
“In my military experience, terrorist cells… target areas they believe are the least protected, and frankly, we don’t want to be one of those areas that are unprotected,” he said.
The strike team can also confront other kinds of criminal activity, such as the illegal drug trade or even serving search and arrest warrants when the subject being sought has a history of violence.
“Another reason we needed a tactical element is the drug trade — with methamphetamine comes violence and guns,” Greer said.
Basic training for the strike team for the deputies is 40 hours, plus the members also continue with regular courses up to 20 hours a month.
Greer has been to advanced tactical school trainings, received instructor status and can train his fellow officers.
Exercises cover topics like sweeping buildings, rural terrain searches, training in schools, hostage situations and joint operations with other agencies, he said. As seen recently, the strike team will aid other localities when they need help with any incidents they may have.
“The surrounding jurisdictions have been great in wanting to train with us so we know what to expect from each other,” Greer said.
While they have trained at different facilities, members found the now-closed Woodlawn School useful for its many different layouts inside and maze-like qualities.
He sees advantages to having road deputies trained, because while it may take a while to call off-duty officers in, deputies are readily available when the need arises.
Strike team members also plan to do community events by talking to children and appearing at career days. After all, he stressed, the strike team is here to serve the community.
This is not the first time the Carroll Sheriff’s Office formed a tactical team. Sheriff J.B. Gardner noted that former Sheriff Warren Manning started one, and Gardner wanted to re-energize the idea soon after he took office.
Tactics and equipment have improved over the years as these teams have continued to respond to terrible incidents, from Columbine High School in April 1999 to Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012, in which Adam Lanza took the lives of more than 20 people, mostly children.
Gardner has heard many talks during his years in law enforcement, including his time as the resource officer for Carroll High, that law enforcement agencies need to make a plan ahead of time to deal with a possible active shooter threat.
“They all suggested you practice the plan and they all agreed that you should realize that nothing goes to plan,” Gardner said.
Law enforcement also saw a need to update active shooter procedures. Measures that officers would use 10 years ago aren’t in practice now.
“Many of the tactics and thoughts of the time that were in place when Columbine High School was attacked have changed dramatically,” Gardner said. “Lessons were learned after each school incident, and our plans have had to change with the times as well.”
The tact team idea has not received universal support, however.
The sheriff heard backlash from the recent drug raid that involved the tactical team in Galax, including the idea that the group will target gun owners.
Law-abiding citizens retain their Second Amendment rights, Gardner stressed, unlike what the gun crackdown conspiracy theory rumors say.
“I am very much pro-Second Amendment, as are most sheriffs,” Gardner said. “I like the idea of concealed weapons permits for those folks who are eligible and willing to jump through the hoops it takes to get one.”
The tactical team’s mission involves planning to save lives in extreme situations.
“Training with thoughts of protecting our children has been our most common theme,” Gardner said. “There is nothing more precious and worthy of protection than our children.”