Special Response Team trains in Keystone with mock hostage situation

KEYSTONE, S.D. – Multiple law enforcement agencies were near Keystone on Thursday for a Pennington County Special Response Team training exercise.

Deep in the Black Hills National Forest in Keystone, officials were engaged in life-saving training. In hostage situations, or if someone’s making dangerous threats, the Pennington County Special Response Team (SRT) needs to be prepared for all possibilities.

“When somebody is in crisis, they don’t care who comes to the door and saves them,” said Capt. James Johns with the Rapid City Police Department.

That’s why the SRT held a mock hostage situation in Keystone, to keep the specially trained forces on their toes.

In the simulation, a convenience store robbery in Wall goes wrong, and police track down the suspect with hostages to a cabin in the woods. SRT officials then work to communicate with the suspect, de-escalate the situation and rescue the hostages.

The SRT is trained on negotiations, reconnaissance and even taking questions from local journalists.

Two members of the SRT receive a briefing from Captain James Johns of the RCPD on Oct. 11, 2018.

Members of the Pennington County Special Response Team are briefed by Capt. James Johns of the RCPD before taking questions from the media.

“Tell us about the suspect,” said one reporter, “Do we know who this is? Do we have a name?”

“That is also information we’re aware of,” said Christian Sigel, one of the SRT leaders.

Crisis situations can happen anywhere, anytime, in rural or urban settings. Training in the forest poses an entirely different challenge than in an urban setting, like communicating with the suspect and other law enforcement. That’s something officials said they needed to work on after a police standoff in Box Elder in August.

“Communication was our biggest flaw, and it’s not a bad thing,” said SRT Commander Tony Harrison. “It’s one we needed to work on the most, and it’s one we’re working on today.”

During their operations, the SRT makes their choices using the “priority of life” model, meaning their priority is civilians, then law enforcement, and then the suspect.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect hostages and innocent people,” said Johns. “If that means putting a SWAT member’s life in jeopardy to save a hostage or an innocent, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The SRT doesn’t just work in Pennington County, however. Officials say having a skilled team benefits all of West River.

“We’ve worked up in Meade County, down in Fall River County to help with agencies that may need a higher level of response to help resolve some situations,” said SRT Entry Operator Chris Hunt.

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News