I walked into the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday about 4 p.m. to get the arrest reports for the blotter, just another daily and somewhat monotonous routine for me.
But that day I wandered into something quite unexpected.
Deputies were outside loading weapons and gear into a covered truck. Armed in bullet-proof Kevlar from their vests to their helmets, the men were weighed down by about 60-pounds of gear.
I go into the sheriff’s office almost every day of the week and see the deputies leave for training exercises pretty regularly. But I knew that this was not a training exercise because of the focused look on the mens’ faces.
Gone was the friendly and even joking demeanor I often experience with the officers. Instead, my waves and questions of “How are you today?” were reciprocated by an absent nod or flick of a hand. These were men on a mission.
So I quickly shifted my purpose from getting the arrest reports to figuring out what exactly was going on, finally learning it was a SWAT mission.
Sitting in Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor’s office, in a pair of heels and a sweater dress, I asked him if he could give me the details of the SWAT mission later that day, and maybe even let me ride along another time.
To my surprise, he invited me along in that moment, telling me I had about five minutes to arrange it with my editor and be ready. I quickly called and got permission, ran to my car for the emergency pair of boots and bottle of water I keep in the trunk, and was picked up by Sheriff O’Connor himself.
And we were off, driving down U.S. 59 North with the sound of the radio in the background and a 12-gauge shotgun in the seat next to me.
For Sheriff O’Connor, who was a member of the SWAT team for many years before becoming Sheriff, we left on yet another “house call” meant to keep the peace in the community.
But for me, it was my very first SWAT ride-along.
I have to admit, I had expectations of that day that were far off the mark. I kept picturing scenes from the movie SWAT and Speed, where the action is constant and the danger always imminent.
But that wasn’t quite the case.
Instead, we pulled up to one of three “staging areas” where the teams were set up. And we waited. We waited for hours — we waited in cars, we waiting outside, we joked and waited, we talked and waited. But mostly, we just waited.
The team waited for “go time” with much more patience than I did, even in all of their hot and stifling gear. They sat in their truck or stood around, all carrying their M4s and ready at any moment for the call.
Despite the hours of waiting, Capt. Phillip Dennis with the Sheriff’s Office said the actual raid takes almost no time at all.
“If everything goes as planned, 15-20 seconds and our job is done,” Dennis said.
But those short 20 seconds carry inherent risk, Dennis said, as the SWAT team members step first through the door and into unknown and dangerous situations. Tuesday, the SWAT team led the arrest for two men, one wanted, now facing multiple drug and illegal weapons charges. Thankfully, the raid ended safely and no one was injured.
A member of the Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team, who wishes to remain anonymous for protection, said the men volunteer for the high-risk position to “get the bad guy.”
“When the bad guy thinks he has come out on top of society, to have this come knock on his door,” he said, pointing at his 60 pounds of gear, guns and Kevlar, “that is what gives me the satisfaction – to take the bad guy off the streets.”
O’Connor said although he always wants to get criminals off the streets, watching the families’ reaction to the arrests is always difficult. That evening, for example, a 1-year-old child in the house and other children in the neighborhood had to watch the men being taken away in handcuffs.
Those are the parts you don’t see in the movies — the family standing outside the house, staring in shock at the guns and the masks and the men and women milling around in their home.
You don’t see the look on the officers’ face when they see that the kids don’t understand, because they can’t possibly understand what is happening. You don’t see how much everyone wishes it could have been different.
In all of my recent follows with the Victoria Sheriff, Police and Fire Departments, I was struck by how much they all care.
So thank you, Victoria law enforcement, for the little glimpses you have given me into all you do. And thank you for being there for all of us.
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