DeKalb County sheriff clarifies criteria on SWAT team deployment
SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County sheriff clarified the criteria for deploying the Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, team after it responded in nine different instances in the past year.
DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said six of those calls were special calls, where the response was not planned ahead of time. Those included a five-hour standoff Nov. 5, when police responded to a call at Haish Boulevard and Bush Street, a Sept. 4 barricade situation that resulted in a soft lockdown at Huntley Middle School, and a Feb. 22 call involving hostages on Fisk Avenue – all of which were in DeKalb.
Scott said his staff usually makes the decision on whether to bring in SWAT during a rural call, where the sergeant talks to the lieutenant and makes that determination. If a local jurisdiction such as the DeKalb Police Department requests the unit to come in, Scott said, usually a lieutenant, commander or another higher-ranking officer makes the decision, and then the team assembles.
“Usually the key is that if there’s a potential of a weapon being involved, whether it’s a firearm or something like that,” Scott said.
Scott said there are two types of situations where the SWAT team gets called to a scene. He said the team is deployed when there might be a hostage situation in which the subject has guns, or if a law enforcement agency is pursuing a high-risk individual wanted on a search warrant, with the latter situation making up three calls in the past year.
“Those are, of course, preplanned,” Scott said. “The others are spontaneous, based on what might be happening at a house or neighborhood or a building where there may be a threat of violence.”
Even if there is no imminent threat of violence to the public in a spontaneous call, Scott said, the SWAT team still is called if there is potential for firearms to be involved, because it’s important to secure the location. If the scene is not secure, the subject could leave the perimeter, where it would become a public safety issue, he said.
“The fact is, you never know what they’re going to do,” Scott said.
Scott said he didn’t have hard figures on how much it costs to send the team for a single call. He said the group is an expensive one to run, however, with officers who might incur overtime if SWAT is called out. Agencies need to pay for each member’s own equipment and a minimum of four training hours a month for each member – and each agency pays for its own officers involved, regardless of where they’re called to.
“But that’s not part of decision-making in whether they’re deployed,” Scott said. “Our decision-making point is the situation itself.”
Scott said the SWAT team has been operating since the 1980s. He said the team was expanded in 2013 to include deputies from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, and the Northern Illinois University, Sycamore and DeKalb police departments.
Scott said it’s important for the public to understand that, once the SWAT team is called out, the local agencies responding to a situation all are actively trying to resolve it after the team is called to the scene. He said it’s not as though agencies call and wait to do something until SWAT team members get there.
Scott said he’s thankful for the law enforcement community in the area and how everyone works together.
“It’s critical that we get it right and people know what we’re doing,” Scott said.