CHAPEL HILL – Tragedies like the Boston Marathon Bombings and the Newtown Shootings have put personal safety in question more than ever before.
On a local level, there was a suspicious package found on UNC’s campus last week, and Duke University recently experienced a bomb threat. Small incidents in comparison, but ones that still keep us on edge.
The Chapel Hill Police Department’s held the final day of the Citizen’s Police Academy Sunday. Some attendees, like Cindy Williams, asked officers questions about how they would handle a bomb threat or shooting.
Williams and other participants got a behind-the-scenes look as SERT: the CHPD’s Special Emergency Response Team. SERT went through several real-life simulations, from rescuing a citizen with life-threatening injuries to tracking-down a suspect on the run. One of the scenarios involved deploying flashbang stun grenade. It’s a non-lethal explosive device used to temporarily disorient an enemy’s senses.
“Knowing that they have a response team like SERT that can respond along with the regular patrol officers working an event is comforting,” Williams said. “I think particularly on a football Saturday where there’s a lot of traffic already—there’s no doubt in my mind that these guys can get somewhere quick.”
Cpt. Danny Lloyd explained that last year, SERT acquired the massive Armor Personnel Carrier from a federal surplus.
He says the vehicle allows for faster response times in emergency situations when seconds mean the difference between life and death.
“It allows us to move into a situation or an environment where there is still risk to officer safety as well as to civilians,” Cpt. Lloyd said.
SERT is made up of 10 members—all volunteers from within the CHPD. Members have 16 hours of special training a month in addition to their required officer training.
There are three SERT sharp shooters; to keep that position, shooters have to be able to hit a 1-inch target from 100 yards away once a month. They train an additional 18 hours a month to sharpen their skills.
And it’s a key time for local law enforcement with UNC athletic events, races like the Tar Heel 10 Miler, and major university gatherings like graduation happening around the town.
Cpt. Lloyd explains that for big events—like the Tar Heel 10 Miler which brought more than 5,000 runners to Chapel Hill— the CHPD and UNC Department Safety will work together.
After incidents like Boston Marathon Bombings, Lloyd explains that SERT evolves their strategies and training so that they are prepared if something similar happens in Chapel Hill.
Another key component of keeping the public safe during big events is the K-9 Unit.
The CHPD does not have a bomb-sniffing dog but they do have three trained dogs to search out the drugs, find evidence and hunt-down suspects evading arrest. UNC DPS has one bomb-sniffing dog.
“It’s vital to the safety of all of our officers,” said Srgt. Gabe Shinn. “It’s crucial that we have the dogs to find somebody hiding somewhere, particularly if they want to do us harm. Dogs can sniff out suspects hiding in a wooded-setting, building, or anywhere really. The dogs have the ability to detect that odor long before we see that person—because we may not see them.”
The CHPD’s three dogs are named MJ, Jax, and Kernie, and they actually live with the officers. CHPD has the budget for four dogs. MJ is retiring soon, and Srgt. Shinn says they’ll bring-in two more dogs sometime this year or next.
The CHPD will hold another Citizen’s Police Academy this fall.