Sheriff’s Office SRT closes in on 40 years of service
This year marks 33 years of service for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office’s (LISO) Special Response Team (SRT).
Back in 1985, following a federal court ruling, members of the Chippewa native american tribe began exercising their right to spearfish in ceded territories, prompting protests at boat landings in northern Wisconsin. Lincoln County’s SRT was formed that summer by then Chief Deputy Bob Lee, with its initial mission to assist in responding to incidents of civil unrest related to Native American spearfishing.
“They didn’t have the equipment they do now,” remembers former sheriff and current Lincoln County Coroner Paul Proulx, “but they made the best of what they had. I remember when the team was first started, they used a school bus for their transport vehicle. They gutted the bus and modified it as best they could for their purpose. And I must say they did a pretty darn good job with it, they made it as functional and useful as possible for what they needed.”
Retiring Sheriff Jeff Jaeger was a member of the first team consisting of seven deputies.
“So much has changed now, compared to when the team was first formed in ‘85,” Jaeger explains. “The biggest difference was we weren’t really as organized as the team is now. The concept of any sort of organized, specially trained team was unheard of back then. But when the protests about spearfishing began to heat up, other agencies asked for volunteers to respond to the unrest mainly for crowd control. So that’s what Chief Deputy Lee asked of our agency; for anyone who was willing to volunteer for some specialized training and respond to the unrest. That’s what we did. Our training was primarily in crowd control and disbursement.”
When the unrest settled, sheriff’s office administration saw value in the future of the response team and decided to make it a permanent element of the sheriff’s office, complete with regulations and policies regarding membership, training and response.
Along with the evolution of training and standards for the Lincoln County SRT, is that of equipment. The most recent addition being that of a new armored Bearcat response and rescue vehicle, in early October.
While there are many variations and names given for such specially trained units; ranging from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) to Critical Response Unit (CRU) they share identical, or very similar goals; to enhance or complement overall effectiveness of law enforcement services and respond to unusual occurrences or activities.
“When you’re at home and you find yourself in a situation you aren’t prepared to handle, you call the police,” explains former LISO SRT commander Ken Schneider (2006-2016). “The same applies to SRT and law enforcement. When patrol officers or deputies find themselves in a situation they aren’t prepared to handle, they call for the assistance of the SRT. The SRT is a team of highly trained deputies who can and will respond to a variety of circumstances from a high-risk situation involving an armed person to a mass casualty incident or a rescue operation.”
Since its inception, the team has grown to now include 10 members (team leader, assistant team leader and eight entry team members). The team is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. While some instances may require all 10 members to respond, that is not always the case. The number of members necessary for response depends on the nature of the incident at hand. While the execution of a search warrant may only call for a handful of SRT members to respond, a mass casualty incident or critical response incident could call for the entire team to respond, and even the possibility of calling on assistance from neighboring agencies.
In addition, the team is complemented by five crisis negotiators, each being graduates of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation School. The team now trains on a monthly basis with a goal of at least 100 hours of training per year, often times with teams from surrounding agencies. Each training session can last from 8-10 hours and covers a variety of criteria including; room clearing, woodland searches, executing search warrants, hostage rescue, critical/high-risk incident response and rescue operations.
“Given the rural landscape and terrain of our county, a strong emphasis has always been placed on land navigation, even from the early days when I was a member,” Jaeger explains.
That emphasis paid off on Dec. 28, 1989 when a private plane was thought to have crashed in Marathon County but was later discovered to have crashed in the Newwood area of Lincoln County. The sheriff’s office’s SRT was one of the first units to respond to the scene. The team would prove instrumental in the coordination and execution of search and rescue efforts.
“That was really a defining time for the team I think,” Jaeger adds. “That was one of the first large scale incidents the SRT had really been called upon to assist with, and its value was truly realized.”
While no specific tracking regarding the number of SRT responses over the years is kept, Jaeger indicates the team has responded to well over 200 incidents since formed 33 years ago.
Key incidents of note the team has responded to recently, include active shooter incidents in the Village of Weston on March 22, 2017 and the Town of Pine River on July 26, 2016.
The March 2017 incident resulted in the death of Everest Metropolitan Police Department Detective Jason Weiland. During that incident, the Lincoln County SRT was first on-scene and operated in conjunction with other teams from Marathon and Oneida counties. As a result of their efforts, the Lincoln County team was jointly recognized as co-SWAT Team of the Year along with the Oneida and Marathon county teams, by the Association of SWAT Personnel.
The July 2016 incident occurred on Hillview Road south of Merrill in the Town of Pine River. The incident was initiated by the actions of 50-year-old Scott Minard of Eagle River. Minard reportedly shot at a City of Antigo Police Officer in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 26, before fleeing and leading law enforcement officers on a pursuit into Lincoln County where he was eventually confronted on Hillview Road.
As current LISO SRT commander Lieutenant Andy VanderWyst explains, incidents such as those in 2016 and 2017 are rare, but overall incidents involving armed persons requiring the response of Special Response Teams is on the rise as of late.
“The idea of people being armed isn’t new by any means,” he said. “It’s a matter of a certain segment of our population willing to use their firearms to threaten the welfare of others, while being defiant toward law enforcement.”
Regardless of the incident at hand, from search and rescue efforts to responding to active shooter incidents, Jaeger and VanderWyst agree; the end-goal remains the same.
“The ultimate goal with each and every SRT response is to bring a peaceful resolution to an incident and assure the safety of both bystanders and those directly involved.”