High-risk tactical training sharpens Sarpy County law enforcement

In this exercise, an officer is shot and requires lifesaving transport.
6 News is getting a first-hand look at what goes into a multi-force emergency response.
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 11:01 PM CDT
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SARPY COUNTY, Neb. (WOWT) - On an otherwise clear and quiet October night in Sarpy County, streets were closed off, emergency crews were on the ground and in the air, and hostage negotiators worked late into the night.

It was all an exercise.

Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office, combined with Papillion Police, La Vista Police, Papillion Fire, and county medical and communications units came together on an eight-hour evening training session meant to build a cohesive emergency response team.

6 News was invited to go behind the scenes to gain a better understanding of the training and preparedness needed.

”All the players involved actively in the exercise have very little clue as to what’s going to happen,” Papillion Police Chief Chris Witted said. “That’s by design.”

”Once they get here they have to adapt, they have to overcome the situation, use their training and abilities, and go from there,” Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Teuscher said.

For those in the exercise, there is no live ammunition, but the pressure is real and the action intense. More than 70 personnel across the county are called into action when the exercise gets underway.

“You have tactical negotiations, you have Tac-Meds, which is tactical medicine,” Whitted said. “You have your S.W.A.T. team, you have your drone team, you have dispatching and you have a command post.”

In this exercise, an officer is shot and requires lifesaving transport. A medical helicopter flies in at a nearby location, and teams must safely transfer the injured.

At another location, the possibility of barricaded suspects, hostages, and even an unknown cache of weapons, requiring a full response, including intelligence monitoring and gathering, drones in the sky, negotiating crews, and more, trying to learn what they can, adjust to the scenario as it unfolds, just as they would in a real situation. In this case, lessons learned are beneficial.

“You can really challenge all of those disciplines, put them together, and see how they come together, intertwine and get that symbiotic relationship you want,” Whitted said.

They even held a mock press conference to test an information officer’s responses in the critical exchange of information with the media, a necessary conduit to keeping the public safe and informed.

Law enforcement training usually requires individual travel which is costly time away from the job, while necessary to stay sharp and trained on the latest equipment and tactics. But that doesn’t build or test critical synergy like these exercises can, which also allows departments to save money by pooling resources.

“We do this twice a year, and each unit trains throughout the year by themselves,” Teuscher said. “But when we come together, we make sure that our efficiency... and cohesiveness (is there), which is very important when it comes to a high-risk incident.”

This particular training event, from warrant to resolution, lasted about eight hours, not to mention months of planning. Time spent on teamwork that the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office hopes will keep the community safe, if and when the time comes for a unified response.