The needle of the Escalade’s speedometer pushed past 100 miles per hour as its driver fled the lights and sirens trailing him along the southbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway. Realizing the charges against him were piling up and the parkway offered little means of escape, the driver and his stolen ride exited to the side streets of the barrier island where his attempts to lose the police became more desperate. A few fast turns down one-way streets and narrow alleys gave him some separation, and at the first sign he may have gotten away he abandoned the vehicle and started off on foot.
Officers never completely lost the trail, though, and pulled their cars in his path before ordering him to surrender. Refusing to be arrested the suspect drew a semi-automatic handgun from his waistband and fired in the officers’ direction as he ran the opposite way and sought cover in the alleys between nearby houses. Three hours after the chase began the police tracked and cornered the suspect on the roof of a garage where a standoff ensued. Negotiators worked long hours to end the situation peacefully, but in the end the suspect turned the gun toward his temple and ended his own life. The incident highlighted the need for a larger pool of specially trained officers and equipment and caused the county’s chief law enforcement officer, Cape May Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor, to call on the area’s police chiefs to support a regional SWAT team that would combine the manpower and resources of every municipality in his jurisdiction.
Sunny beaches and historic homes define Cape May, the “Nation’s Oldest Sea Shore Resort” located at the southernmost end of the famed New Jersey Shore. Easily mistaken by visitors as always quiet and crime-free, this image is one that the county prosecutor’s office does its best to maintain. But when swelled with thousands of visitors during the summer, the calm can quickly disappear as crime rates rise.
Cape May Caseloads
Responding to the worst and most dangerous of these events is the Cape May County SWAT Team. First established in 2006 the part-time regional team pools the resources and manpower of nine separate departments to create a combined group of 35 men and women responsible for high-risk law enforcement operations throughout the county’s 620 square miles. Situated on a peninsula that extends into Delaware Bay their area of operation is divided between a heavily forested mainland and more urban barrier-island communities along the Atlantic Coast. The geography and disparate terrain require dividing the team into two squads—Mainland and Island—though when required they can seamlessly combine to bring their full number to bear. Both squads train together for active shooters, hostage situations, barricaded suspects, high-risk warrants and other significant events that would necessitate the callout of the entire team. Much of their caseload is related to narcotics warrants served in response to the importation of heroin, cocaine and marijuana from Philadelphia and New York to tourists descending on county beaches in the summer. Operating in predominately rural areas the Mainland team dedicates additional hours to tracking fugitives through dense foliage and open terrain, while the Island team focuses more on the close-quarters battle tactics necessary to move safely through multi-story office and apartment buildings.
Creds And Firepower
To be considered for assignment each prospective officer must pass a fitness exam and receive qualifying scores on static and combat firing courses for their handgun and rifle. Those meeting the high standards then undergo an oral interview and review of their service record before being offered the job. In addition to performing regular duties with their parent departments, officers joining the county team are expected to attend a minimum of 12 hours of SWAT-specific training per month and participate in up to three annual exercises with the full team. Each will maintain their department issued sidearm, nearly all of which are .45 Glock 21s, and will be provided a Colt M4 Commando by the county. Chambered for 5.56x45mm this selective-fire rifle has been adopted by tactical teams throughout the U.S. because of its power, light weight and short length, which provide the lethality, mobility and speed required when operating as a team to clear interior areas of threats. Fitted standard to every county procured rifle is a Meprolight M21 self-powered reflex sight that provides constant, all-light aiming capability without batteries. Using a tritium light source in darkness and a fiber-optic light collector during the day, the optic features a 4.3 MOA bullseye triangle reticle that allows rapid and parallax free target acquisition with both eyes open. An additional modification is the SureFire M500A mounted weapon light that replaces the original handguard and features a 9-volt shock-isolated incandescent lamp with an output of 125 lumens. Three beam switches are integrated into its forend and afford the shooter options for activating the light based on their individual preference, including a constant-on rocker, a momentary-on pressure pad and a system-disable rotary switch.
To promote uniformity and create an air of intimidation that helps with suspect compliance officers are provided with BDU-style uniforms in a dark digital-camouflage pattern that includes a combat-style shirt with uniform rip-stop nylon sleeves and cotton-acrylic chest and back, to address the heat of wearing a full blouse and equipment. For ballistic protection officers wear a MOLLE-compatible Protech Titan Assault Enhanced plate carrier with NIJ Level IIIA soft armor under Level IVA ceramic plates, the latter for stopping rifle rounds which soft Kevlar—designed only to protect against handgun calibers—fails to do. The carrier supports user customization and offers detachable yoke, groin, bicep and throat protectors. Protech Delta 4 Level IIIA ballistic helmets, weighing less than 3 pounds and secured with an adjustable three-point retention chinstrap, complete the armor system.
All new members attend the five-day SWAT I Course at the U.S. Training Center in Moyock, North Carolina, where they develop the marksmanship and tactical skills for close-quarters battle that allow them to integrate with the existing entry team. Many will later complete the company’s SWAT II Course, which focuses on more advanced tactics and techniques required for hostage rescue. Officers excelling in these courses are then provided opportunities to fill unique roles requiring additional training including grenadier, breacher and sniper. The team’s grenadiers are responsible for the deployment of 37mm munitions including smoke, gas and rubber rounds and distraction devices that they command-detonate using a bang stick.
Breachers rely on mechanical methods like rams, halligan tools, sledge hammers and pneumatic spreaders to create entry points for the team and are also one of the few agencies in the state permitted to use explosive methods, with two officers qualified to use circle charges against reinforced doors and walls. A four-man sniper element is organic to the team and provides standoff cover for entry teams and precision fire for hostage situations with shooter and spotter pairs. Each carries a bolt-action .308 Remington 700P fitted with a Leopold Mark IV M3 10x40mm telescopic sight that can effectively engage targets out to 1,000 yards.
For transportation and cover an Armored Group Ballistic Armored Tactical Transport (BATT) with a top speed of 80 miles per hour and a 12-man capacity was procured.
Another capability procured and available to the team is a mobile Packbot 510 robot by Robotex. Often thought of as only used for responding to explosive devices, Cape May’s robot is employed for a variety of functions to support the SWAT team and limit the risks to officers. The robot has conducted close-in surveillance of targeted structures, deployed throw phones to barricaded and emotionally disturbed suspects and much more.
Following SWAT standards created by the National Tactical Officer’s Association (NTOA), Cape May County SWAT excels at incorporating the latest tactics and gear into its program. County Prosecutor Robert Taylor, his Special Operations and Planning Section Supervisor Lieutenant Ken Super, and Joe Murphy, a Sergeant with the Wildwood Police Department and Commander of the SWAT Team, have done an exceptional job of creating a forward-thinking, adaptive and well-prepared team. Now working to create a chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear (CBRN) capability and develop even higher standards of marksmanship and tactics through formal training, the team is poised to become a model for others in the state and nation.