By West Hartford Local Editor Ted Glanzer
Things looked a little bleak when the West Hartford Police Department first held the Connecticut SWAT Challenge at the Metacon Gun Club in Simsbury in 2005.
Teams were told to report at 6:30 a.m.
The problem was, no one had shown up by 6:25 a.m., leaving West Hartford Sgt. Chris Chappell and Lt. Jeremy Clark, who organized the event, to wonder if the whole thing was a bust.Popular Stories
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“I said, 'I don’t think anybody is coming,'” Chappell said on Wednesday.
Then, like the closing scene in the movie “Field of Dreams,” a line of cars started showing up.
Fast forward to 2013, and the Connecticut SWAT Challenge has grown into the second-largest event of its kind in the United States.
Indeed, 600 officers comprising 28 teams from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are taking part in the 3-day event, which kicked off on Tuesday at the gun club and the state police shooting range and finishes on Thursday at the Metropolitan District Commission reservoir in West Hartford.
It’s an impressive turnout, particularly during a time of shrinking municipal budgets for these types of events, Clark said.
“The first thing to go [during budget cutbacks] is SWAT training,” Clark said. “To get this many SWAT [teams] is just fantastic.”
And while it’s nice for the winning team to have bragging rights, participants said that there is a deeper, more important function of the SWAT Challenge.
Middletown Police Sgt. Sebastian Bartolotta said that his team of 17 officers receive “knowledge, training and team camaraderie.”
“The main purpose is to better train ourselves,” said Bartolotta, adding that Middletown has participated in the event for the last seven years. “It’s great every year.”
The challenges in the competition included an officer rescue, multi-gun, sniper, combined arms and a “mystery” event.
West Hartford Chief of Police Tracey Gove noted that there are always ways to improve on a response to a critical incident. The SWAT Challenge’s events are ways to highlight a team’s strengths, but also point out its weaknesses.
Clark put it even more succinctly.
“When you need to get the training, it’s too late to get the training,” he said.
While some have criticized the increased militarization of municipal police departments, Clark and Slifka noted that incidents such as Columbine, Virginia Tech and, more recently, Aurora, Newtown and the Boston Marathon are proof that highly trained and well-equipped SWAT teams are necessities.
“With each passing year, the relevance and necessity of this event becomes more obvious to all of us,” Slifka said.
Author Mark Donald, a retired Navy Seal and medical officer, praised the participants for their work in keeping their towns safe. He said that events like the SWAT Challenge make them all better prepared for critical incidents.“The more training you get, the more you realize you don’t know,” said Donald, adding that if they remain calm, are confident and communicate, then “you will win every situation.”
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- New Britain
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