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Local SWAT team takes part in explosives training in New Mexico

Max Hrenda • Feb 18, 2014 at 9:15 PM

After sending some of its officers to an explosives training program at no cost, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office might be trying to get less bang for no bucks.

Last week, nine sheriff’s deputies — more than half the members of the WCSO’s SWAT team — participated in a training program designed to sharpen their awareness of explosives, as well as the ingredients used to make them.

The program was conducted in Playas, N.M., by the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, a research and testing center for the New Mexico Technical College at Socorro, N.M. EMRTC offers the course at no charge for state and local emergency response workers, including law enforcement personnel, firefighters and emergency responders.

Much of the training the officers undertook concerned the recognition of common household items that can be used to craft explosives. Lt. Doug Gregg, who attended last week’s training seminar, said he and his team members were surprised at how many of those types of items were out there.

“We were blown away by the amount of information they gave us down there,” he said. “(There are) a lot of homemade explosives components you can purchase at Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, (and) garden centers.”

Once he and his classmates learned what those components were, the next step in their training was learning to spot them in an environment similar to what they would see on a call.

“They have houses of things pre-arranged with devices and homemade explosive labs in them,” Gregg said. “They run the teams through those houses and you, hopefully, will recognize those things before you get too far into the house.”

Rather than disarmament, the goal of Gregg’s training was to make sure everyone stayed safe.

“To pull everybody out is what the ultimate goal is,” he said.

Though he said his training was informative, Gregg added that he saw parallels in what he was being taught to his experiences on narcotics calls, specifically methamphetamine labs.

“There are a lot of similarities between precursors for homemade explosives and one-pot meth manufacturing,” Gregg said. “There have been a lot of instances where teams have gone in to investigate narcotics stuff and end up finding explosive labs. What they (EMRTC) are trying to gear you into is recognizing the differences.”

Along with recognizing those differences, Gregg said recognizing the placement and quantity of these items can be pivotal in detecting an explosives lab.

“There are things you buy at Lowe’s that you wouldn’t normally see in the kitchen,” Gregg said. “Once you go into the houses and you see those things, it kind of makes the hair stand up on your neck. You don’t see one thing and automatically assume it’s an explosives lab, but it teaches you the combinations of certain things and items used to mix, grind or cook those things together.”

That process, Gregg said, was almost identical to the way he had been trained to spot a methamphetamine lab.

“If you go in and see pseudoephedrine, that’s a precursor,” Gregg said. “But, without the other stuff to go with it, you just have a person who’s using pseudoephedrine. But, if you go in and see pseudoephedrine, and ammonium nitrate, and a lot of empty bottles laying around, and a lot of bottles in the trash can with colored substances in them, then the hairs stand up on your neck and you think, hey, we’re in a meth lab.”

The remaining members of the WCSO SWAT team will attend the same training later this year. When asked if he thought the seminar enhanced his and his teammates’ effectiveness, Gregg replied, “Most certainly.”

“It has a big implication for us, as far as one-pot meth cooks and the resurgence of explosives that have been found in the area here lately,” he said.

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