Teamwork within Sarpy County will be on full display with the formation of the Sarpy County SWAT Team and Crisis Negotiation Unit.
The interlocal agreement to form the unit was approved in recent weeks by the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners as well as city councils in Papillion and La Vista.
“This is historic,” Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis told the Papillion City Council during its April 2 meeting. “I don’t think this is something that could have been done 10 or 15 years ago.”
Davis said cooperative efforts from the three departments paved the way for new SWAT unit. The Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office has had its own SWAT team in place for about 20 years while Papillion and La Vista, along with Bellevue, Ralston and Plattsmouth, were part of the South Metro SWAT Team.
“Ten to 15 years ago, law enforcement operated a little differently,” Davis said. “But over time, we’ve figured out how to share manpower and equipment and training.”
Davis began conversations with Papillion Police Chief Scott Lyons and La Vista Police Chief Bob Lausten in late December, and all three agreed a combined SWAT unit made sense on many levels.
“The timing was right,” Lausten said. “We can take the best of everything from each department. We can double our resources, share equipment. Relations are high between each of us and this was the right time to put this together.”
Lyons said that while they had good working relationships with other units on the South Metro SWAT squad, the opportunity to consolidate one county entity was too hard to pass up.
“The issue with South Metro was that you had three different counties and that was always a little bit of a concern to me,” he said. “These guys in Sarpy County know each other and many of them have trained together. We’ve always been supportive of each other and the sheriff or the chiefs of police have always been willing to help when needed.
“When I came here in 2015, I was blown away by the level of cooperation between the city and the county. This is another expression of that.”
Under the current structure, the Sarpy Sheriff’s Office will provide 16 SWAT officers with LVPD and PPD each providing five.
With 26 officers in place, Davis said it can ideally provide for multiple SWAT teams to be in service.
“You could have a situation where one team would be on call for two weeks, and that would allow members of other teams to know they won’t be called out at a given time,” Davis said.
There are parameters in place should Bellevue decide to join down the road. Bellevue remains a part of the South Metro unit, but has been offered the opportunity to join the Sarpy group.
“We’re hopeful they will decide to join,” Davis said. “There is a structure in place if they decide to.”
Jim Ristow, city administrator for Bellevue, said BPD is considering joining the Sarpy group but hasn’t made a decision yet. He said city officials want to make sure they have the command structure figured out, where the team will be housed and how scheduling will work.
“It is an option,” Ristow said. “We want to make sure we make the right decision for the community, so it’s not off the table.”
Ristow said the city and BPD are looking to make a decision within the next 30 days.
Another component of the team will be the Sarpy Tactical Medic team which will ensure a paramedic from the Papillion Fire Department will be on site each time a SWAT unit is deployed.
“It’s the first time we’ve done this so we’re pretty excited about it,” PFD Chief Bill Bowes said. “There are several departments that are already doing this so we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”
Bowes said that while there have been medical personnel on site at emergency situations in the past, the STacMed Team will be a much more efficient process.
“In the past, whenever there was a high-risk situation, we would have a team a block away, but then that took an entire team out of service,” Bowes said. “With this new concept, we will have one paramedic that will be called out and will meet up with the SWAT team at a gathering point and be deployed with them.”
Members of the STacMed team will go through similar training as SWAT members, but will stay a safe distance from the situation and not be put in the line of danger. Bowes said he already has two paramedics that have gone through the training and has more in line.
“It’s a benefit for us to have people go through this training because it will increase the overall knowledge for everyone in the department,” Bowes said.
He added that lives can be saved in these high-risk situations if someone is prepared and ready to jump into action.
“The biggest thing is bleeding control and we can have someone there in a matter of seconds,” he said.
Lyons said each department is bringing their own equipment with them. He added the new SWAT team will be a fiscal agent of Sarpy County and that each department will make contributions.
Papillion must honor its commitment to South Metro until early May while La Vista’s commitment ends mid-April. Davis said that while the new operation could move along quickly, it’s not something they want to rush.
“We have everything in place to make this happen with people and equipment,” he said. “I see this coming together in the foreseeable future, but it’s not something we want to rush.”
Davis said with the county continuing to grow that having its own SWAT unit will pay dividends going forward.
“We are dealing with things today that we didn’t have to 20 years ago,” Davis said. “This is ultimately going to be safer for our own people and for the public.”