Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Proposed Special Response Team Gets Official Nod | City Manager Backs Police Chief's Plan; Experts Raise Questions

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Proposed Special Response Team Gets Official Nod | City Manager Backs Police Chief's Plan; Experts Raise Questions

Article excerpt

NORTH PORT

North Port City Manager Jonathan Lewis supports his police chief's plan to create a SWAT-type team for the city.

An article in Sunday's Herald-Tribune reported that North Port Police Chief Kevin Vespia wants to create a "Special Response Team," which he said would handle SWAT-type calls, except for the most dangerous ones involving armed and barricaded suspects, for the city.

While all of the details about Vespia's proposal, including the size, are not known, SWAT experts say the department would need at least 25 members for a SWAT-type team, which would constitute one- quarter of the department's sworn personnel.

"The Chief has presented the SRT proposal at a public meeting. He has made public his reasons for requesting the SRT and based on those reasons I have supported the proposal," Lewis said in an email in response to questions about the proposal.

Lewis declined to be interviewed for this article. Vespia did not return calls seeking comment.

SWAT experts contacted by the Herald-Tribune raised questions about the North Port department's ability to field a team, as well as the chief's rationale for establishing it, as the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office maintains a well-qualified SWAT team.

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, including 10 years as a member and supervisor of LAPD's SWAT Team.

LAPD pioneered the Special

Weapons and Tactics concept in 1968. Reitz also has trained and worked with Tier One Army Special Forces and Naval Special Warfare units. He now works as the lead firearms and tactics instructor at the International Tactical Training Seminars, which operates a SWAT school in Southern California.

"LAPD SWAT guys, from 1968 to the present, have 10,293,000 hours of experience. That experience comes into the decisions we make," Reitz said. "If you take some other SWAT team, form it up, give the guys rudimentary training and they get involved in something that goes sideways, there are people out there who sue police departments -- lawyers who know more about tactics than the officers."

Reitz, like some local experts interviewed, questioned the North Port department's ability to follow through on Vespia's idea.

"The level of training needed for a proper SWAT operator is eye- watering," he said. …

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