PERRY — Houston County sheriff’s Lt. M.J. Stokes recited a motto that he says has served him and his team of specially trained tactical officers well.
“Amateurs practice until they get it right,” said Stokes, assistant team commander of the Houston County Sheriff’s Response Team. “Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
True to those words, Stokes had the team of Houston deputies, Perry and Centerville police officers on a 12-hour training exercise recently in Perry. The entry team practiced “vehicular assaults.”
The mock scenario was of a gunman with a hostage in a sport utility vehicle. The tactical team had to swarm, rescue and subdue. The situation was changed up with two suspects and one hostage, or one suspect with two hostages.
The repetition was designed to make decisions and actions in volatile situations second nature to the officers.
“We just want to make sure if we have to do it in real life, that we have everything down as perfect as can be,” Stokes said.
Officers drill in full tactical gear, some of which weighs 40 pounds, or in light-duty garb of camouflage pants, T-shirts and boots.
The training pays off, Stokes said.
Only twice since the team’s 1985 inception have officers been forced to open fire, and neither officer-involved shooting was lethal, he said.
Also, there have been only a few instances in which a barricaded individual has taken his life before the tactical team was able to arrive and attempt to intervene. Stokes also said there has only been one suicide while negotiations were in progress.
Most real-life situations that the team responds to end peacefully, he said.
The bulk of the calls are no-knock warrants on suspected drug dealers or known violent criminals, and half of those end with arrests with no resistance, he said.
“We’re a life-saving organization,” Stokes said.
The goal of every mission is to resolve the situation without a single shot fired, he said.
In addition to training, Stokes attributed the team’s success to the caliber of the individuals on the all-volunteer squad. Members must clear stringent physical and shooting requirements and participate in varied types of training throughout the year.
They must also win the respect of their peers to be voted onto the team.
For Sgt. Kevin Harper, a deputy who’s been on the tactical team for 10 years, the reward comes in a job well done.
Deputy Slate Simons, a tactical team member for nine years, said he also enjoys the element of excitement.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 923-3109, extension 243.