The shooting range is a deafening place, and on this day, it’s eye-opening as well.
“You can see two penetrating rounds through the front of the vest and again two perfect penetrations right through,” said Major Michael Dimaggio of the Broward Sherriff’s Office, as he shows reporters a bullet-proof vest that is anything but bullet-proof when shot by an AR-15 rifle.
The BSO SWAT team sharp-shooters fired various guns at police armor and cinder blocks to show the assembled news media examples of the firepower cops regularly face on South Florida’s streets: AR -15’S, AK-47’S, hunting rifles, guns that blast through regular police vests, and even through concrete walls.
“No place to hide from these kinds of weapons,” said Dimaggio, holding a cinder block that now has a gaping hole in it.
There’s no place to hide unless you have a Bearcat. It’s a vehicle that functions as an armored troop carrier. It’s designed to get the SWAT team into and out of harm’s way as safely as possible.
“It gives us cover, it gives us concealment, it gives us protection,” said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.
The SWAT team does the riskiest of police business: rescuing hostages, dealing with barricaded persons, serving search warrants on the most dangerous criminals, and more.
“There’s an old adage that says when the public needs help they call the police, when police need help we call the SWAT team,” said Israel.
The BSO literally let the local media play cops and robbers Thursday night. BSO set up a SWAT scenario for reporters to go through at its training facility. There’s an armed robbery in progress, a criminal inside, several hostages, and NBC 6’s Ari Odzer has to take out the threat.
He takes over the story from here:
I’m wearing heavy-duty body armor, carrying a rifle that shoots soap pellets. There’s a real SWAT team member coaching me through the drill. Deputies I can’t see are firing ear-splitting blanks near me just to get my heart racing, to simulate real-life conditions.
“Now let’s go, remember time, speed is everything. Right now, gotta take that corner. Let’s go!,” yelled my coach as I carefully approached a door opening inside the building.
Even in a practice drill, adrenalin is pumping, it’s nerve wracking, and I have to avoid shooting hostages who are running at me, panicked, trying to get out. I have a split second to determine if they’re really trying to escape or if they’re bad guys.
“Help! Help! He’s back there. He’s back there. He’s got a kid,” one hostage screamed as he ran past.
I come around the corner and spot the bad guy. He’s a picture on a poster; a man holding a gun to a child’s head. I fired one shot from a sharp angle and hit the poster on the bad guy’s neck. The little boy hardly seems to notice. The SWAT team applauds. I’m drenched with sweat after a drill that took less than three minutes.
It’s a small taste of SWAT life.
“The more equipment we have better prepares us to resolve situations without firing a shot,” said Israel. “This equipment allows us to go places, to insert our folks into harm’s way without possibly having to fire that shot and without having that violent encounter.”