“We execute over one hundred high-risk drug search warrants per year and focus our patrols in the high crime areas of St. Louis County,” says Capt. Kurt Frisz, commander of the department’s Tactical Operations Unit. Tactical officers of special enforcement patrols target local gang-related crimes against persons as well as drug offences and burglary.
Known in history as the nation’s “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis County is currently a spread of about 590 square miles with a population of 1.2 million people. Even with such a large population and 750 commissioned officers, St. Louis County’s crime rate is among the lowest in the nation, with an average of 30 homicides reported each year. Strategic focus and training are used to prevent a shift towards the trend of metropolitan violent crime.
Starting with Chief Jerry Lee and Maj. Robert Trittler, the department is very supportive of the Tactical Operations Unit. Together, they are very generous in approving the funds needed for training that takes place outside of the agency, as well as allotting time for in-house training.
The most recent project is a tactical training course built for all of the department’s SROs (School Resource Officers). The mandatory three-day course consists of a school violence trend update, both domestic and international, scenario training, force-on-force, active shooter, and a very intense combat pistol course.
The Division of Special Operations complements the patrol division by maintaining units of specially trained officers to respond to unusual situations. Among these is the Tactical Operations Unit, assembled from select officers and trained to execute high-risk search warrants and conduct hostage negotiations.
Prepared for Terror
The St. Louis County Tactical Operations Unit has taken proactive measures in preparing for the risk of domestic terrorism, with a focus on preparing for violence in the schools. Each officer studies research on terrorism activity and maintains direct contact with the department’s intelligence detective. The information gathered is used to seek and plan the training used to develop the unit’s special capabilities.
Like many other LE agencies throughout the country, St. Louis County is continuously working to develop communications and train with other agencies and first-responders. The Tactical Operations Unit is currently working towards establishing a medic program, working with two local fire departments that provide paramedics.
“We have assisted the St. Louis Metropolitan PD, St. Charles County SO, as well as many Federal agencies,” says Frisz. “We consider our unit to be a regional resource, with primary response in St. Louis County, and available to assist neighboring agencies.” Medics who become part of this unit meet predetermined guidelines and participate in mandated training.
Tools Of The Trade
Like many full-time S.W.A.T. teams in the United States, St. Louis County’s Tactical Operations Unit has evolved since its inception in 1975, with modern equipment supplementing traditional law-enforcement techniques. The S.W.A.T. van and armored vehicles are equipped with all the necessary breaching tools, throw-phones, etc. Capt. Frisz says, “I see each one of these as a tool in the team’s tool box. Using them in conjunction with the officer’s training and experience is what gets us to a successful conclusion of a mission.”
A Lenco BEAR S.W.A.T. truck and a Ford E350 van both deliver the Tactical Operations Unit to each call-out. “The BEAR has been a great asset to the unit,” says Frisz,“a great multi-purpose tactical vehicle. Our van is the workhorse. We utilize it as our primary vehicle for warrant service. We are in the process of replacing our current van and will design it to improve on what is already good.”
Gaining entry on a warrant delivery is accomplished by the unit’s primary breaching tool: a home made 75-pound two-man ram made in the 1980s. “We have welded a couple of different plates on the front, but other than that it has stood the test of time,” says Frisz. The unit does have a couple other smaller rams that can be used for one-man operation. “Sometimes using the skills within the unit you can custom-build your own equipment better and cheaper than what is on the market,” he concludes.
The weapons used by members of the Tactical Operations Unit are carefully selected and serve specific purposes. The unit has deployed for many years with the HK MP5 and the HK UMP subguns. “The HKs are great weapons,” Frisz reports. “Reliable. Dependable. We are starting to bring the UMP on board.” The department chose to equip their tactics team with subguns chambered in .40 S&W, the same cartridge used in their primary duty gun, the SIG P229. A St. Louis County police officer reported, “Our sidearm is the Sig Sauer P229, .40-caliber. We are very happy with this gun. I have no noteworthy ‘life-saving’ incidents to speak of but it gives each officer the comfort of having a dependable sidearm.”
New Patrol Rifle
More recently, Rock River Arms’ Tactical CAR UTE2 has been reporting for duty with the team. “Are you guys already switching from the HKs to the UTE2’s,” I asked. “It’s not that we are switching from the UMP to the UTE2, we are adding it to our ‘tool box’,” Frisz replied. “We are seeing more and more bad guys with rifles and body armor so we wanted to add that .223 capability. The training and transition was smooth, no issues.” After a strict selection process, the Rock River Arms was labeled a “quality gun and very reliable.”
In what may seem like an exception to the optical trend, most of the tactical team officers prefer using open iron sights on their weapons. A few officers do utilize the Aimpoint CompM3 on the carbine or UMP, but optics are more common among the four-man sniper teams. Each team uses two types of optics on their Remington 700P precision rifles: a Leupold Mark 4 LR/T with an illuminated Mil-Dot reticule and ITT Generation 3 night vision scopes.
The Sniper Element
Snipers are deployed with the St. Louis County Tactical Operation Unit on nearly every barricaded suspect call-out. They are trained to engage threats out to 600 yards. They perform overwatch duty, protecting the assault and containment teams. Occasionally, snipers must also be utilized for dignitary protection when visits by those such as the President require counter-sniper security at the airport and various locations.
In addition to the callouts, the snipers are activated to dispose of hazardous anhydrous ammonia tanks (a poisonous gas used to manufacture Methamphetamine) from safe distances. Disposal is achieved by a round penetrating the containers to vent the gas.
All precision marksmen on the Tactical Operation Unit receive 40 hours of in-house basic sniper training. This initial training is followed by an off-site training course. In the past, these marksmen have trained with retired U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Rangers, or in specialized training specific to urban settings. Several department snipers have attended the NTOA (National Tactical Officers Association) precision marksmen instructor school, helping the team during practice, drill and training at least 10 hours each month.
Comfortable operating in both urban and rural settings, team snipers are specifically taught how to make hostage-rescue shots, engage multiple targets, and engage with command fire and sniper-initiated assaults. Primarily deploying with a Remington 700P bolt action rifle, they also carry an AR-15, night vision binoculars, 100 rounds of ammunition, camouflage, flash bangs, smoke grenades and a first aid/trauma kit.
Preservation Of Life
Tactical officers draw their weapons [almost] on a daily basis during the execution of a warrant or felony car stops. These officers are highly trained in their ability to shoot, but equally, trained not to shoot.
All officers in the St. Louis County PD are issued pepper spray. CIT officers and tactical officers also carry Tasers. “The Taser has been a very effective tool both on the street and during tactical situations,” Frisz says. “Several non-compliant subjects have been subdued during the execution of search warrants with the result being no injury to the officers or suspect.” Also used in search warrants is the latest technology in chemical munitions. Generally deployed during a barricaded situation, chemical devices will often get compliance from a suspect that needs a little motivation to surrender. Supervisors are issued less-lethal shotguns just in case.
In the last two years, every ballistic vest, helmet and holster has been replaced and the tactical unit is fully equipped for a Level B response to a WMD or HAZMAT event. As part of the Special Operations Aviation Rescue (SOAR) team, the tactical team works jointly with two area fire departments and the police-operated air support unit on high-rise and swift water rescues. When a dignitary visits, this same team works directly with the U.S. Secret Service and other agencies in providing protection.
In Their Words
“Preservation of Life and Absolute Professionalism” is the unit’s philosophy. Just as the unique digital pattern of their tactical uniform suggests, training and technology has increasingly enabled the unit to live up to their words.
“We execute over one hundred high-risk drug search warrants per year and focus our patrols…
by Tactical Weapons / Jan 15, 2009