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Special response team provides area law enforcement agencies with another tool

By Sonny Long
May 3, 2011 at 12:03 a.m.

Micah Harmon

SORT RESPONSE

The Highway 77 Regional Operations Response Team operational manual lists the following situations that SORT would respond to:

High-risk arrest warrant service

High-risk search warrant service

Barricaded subject situations

Hostage situations

Sniper situations

Terrorist acts

In-progress workplace or school violence

Narcotics enforcement

Weapons of mass destruction

Any other unusual occurrence requiring an extraordinary police response beyond the tactical capabilities of normal police personnel.

The response team officers gathered and got their marching orders.

Warrants for suspected drug dealers in hand, the group conducted raids on four locations in and around Hallettsville.

The result - nine arrested on felony charges related to drug trafficking.

This action on March 24 was not a drill, but the first use of a newly formed law enforcement tool called the Highway 77 Regional Operations Response Team.

Hallettsville Police Chief Randal Schlauch said the formation of the response team sends a message.

"The local law enforcement community wants to make it clear that the illegal drug trade will not be tolerated in the towns and counties that they serve," said the chief.

Departments represented on SORT include the Hallettsville Police Department, Lavaca County Sheriff's Office, Shiner Police Department, Schulenburg Police Department and Weimar Police Department.

According to the SORT operation manual, the response team was formed to effectively counter increasing occurrences of violent confrontations between police and criminal elements and to address the increasing level of narcotics in the area.

Agencies entered into interlocal agreements to take part in the team.

Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon emphasized the importance of SORT.

"Smaller agencies cannot afford these types of specialized teams on their own because of the expenses involved," Harmon said. "This joint effort between the various agencies gives much needed resources to a large geographical area in the Coastal Bend."

Less than two weeks later, SORT went to work again on an April 5 manhunt.

The team was assembled that day for training when a narcotics courier fled on foot from a Lavaca County deputy and left more than 25 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle.

"We were able to set up a perimeter and after a search with TDCJ dogs and a DPS helicopter, three subjects were taken into custody," he said.

SPECIAL TRAINING

The 12 SORT team members were required to attend a basic special weapons and tactics school that consists of about 60 hours of tactical training, said Hallettsville Police Sgt. Cody Weiser, the team's sniper, who also graduated from the FBI sniper school.

In addition to the special individual training, the team trains together once a month and will receive a week-long refresher course annually.

Harmon said the SORT training has other benefits.

"It also gives the individual officers an opportunity to network with other agency members about crime trends and other activity taking place in the area," he said. "Just like the South Texas Coastal Bend Sheriffs' Alliance, this project shows that the various agencies have a good working relationship and can count on each other in times of need."

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