SWAT Team Plays Key Role For PD In Drug Battle

Members of the SWAT team prepare to leave the Jamestown Police Department prior to the execution of two search warrants early Friday. The searches resulted in numerous arrests on Forest Avenue and Bassett Street. Members of the SWAT team practice at least once a month. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Members of the Jamestown SWAT team huddled in the basement of the police department early Friday, meticulously going over their objectives. On a white board were instructions written in marker for each member of the team, comprised of officers within the department, as well as pictures of those sought by police.

On this day, the SWAT team — with members of the Jamestown Metro Drug Task Force, state police and FBI also present — planned to execute two search warrants first thing in the morning, one at a well-known home on Forest Avenue visited often by police for various raids over the years, and another at a lesser-known property on Bassett Street.

What resulted in the hours of planning preceded by an investigation by the task force were the arrests of seven city residents and the seizure of methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription pills and cash.

Invited by the police department, The Post-Journal observed as SWAT officers began arriving shortly before 5 a.m. to begin donning gear and reviewing the search warrants. The SWAT team decided to enter 238 Forest Ave. first, a location they have been to multiple times already in the last few years.

According to Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings, who attends SWAT briefings as well as the execution of the warrants, the tactical team gets a lot of its information regarding the layout of homes through routine investigations, including the task force. When certain locations are visited often, that knowledge can be used to prepare for entry and searches by officers.

Members of the Jamestown SWAT team discuss plans to execute search warrants early Friday in the basement area of the Jamestown Police Department. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

“Everything is planned out,” Snellings told The Post-Journal moments before officers breached the front door of the Forest Avenue home. “They want to know as much as possible before going in.”

Within in 15 minutes of entering the home, an “all-clear” was announced with three in custody. Investigators would later find methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and cash inside. The three city residents are now facing drug possession and endangerment charges.

Snellings said officers always follow what’s specified in the search warrant while also assessing each situation separately when the decision is made to use the tactical team.

The SWAT team, according to JPD’s website, is made up of about 15 volunteers from the department trained in the use of specialized weapons, safety equipment and other “devices” to be used during potential life-threatening situations. In addition to aiding the task force with search warrants, SWAT also can be called to assist with hostage situations, drug interdictions and security details.

“We do risk assessments, and there is certain criteria we use when making these decisions,” Snellings said of using the team. “When (SWAT members) make entry, they try to make it safe for everyone else involved.”

Members of the tactical team in the garage at the Jamestown Police Department prior to Friday morning's raids. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Shortly after exiting the Forest Avenue location, officers regrouped and traveled to 22 Bassett St. where it was believed drugs were being sold. SWAT members — who train once a month as a group — used a back entrance and stormed a second-floor apartment where meth, cocaine, suboxone and cash were found.

Police later charged three people living in the home with drug possession. Because a child was in the residence, all three were also charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

SWAT leader Sgt. Robert Bender said officers were told Thursday of the search warrants. At that point he said the team began its “reconnaissance in terms of knowing where we’re going and what doors we’re going to hit.”

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into it,” Bender said shortly after the SWAT team deemed the Bassett Street property secure. “We rely heavily on our narcotics investigators and our investigators in general. Their investigations goes weeks, days, months. Some of them (take) multiple months. It depends what the overall mission is.”

Officers don’t always know what they will find when entering a home for the first time. On Bassett, Bender said it took at least two SWAT members to pry open the door with a Halligan bar, a tool used by both police and firefighters to force entry, due to several locks.

A SWAT member readies Friday. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

“We had a very tight staircase and real tight landing area,” Bender said. “The door was outward swinging, which is inherently harder than a push door because you need multiple people and multiple hands. … We had that obstacle right off the bat.”

Police weren’t done Friday, however. Around 2:30 p.m., an Ellicott resident was taken into custody before officers found cocaine, marijuana and guns in his Willard Street Extension home. The man is facing federal charges as well as locally following his arrest, police said.

Snellings said he was pleased to see the drugs and guns seized as part of the department’s “ongoing investigations.”

“They went extremely well,” he said. “Seven people were arrested, and we recovered some guns and drugs.”