N.J. special unit rolls out the latest equipment for rapid response

Training includes the use of advanced protective equipment, weapons and breaching tools
The Star-Ledger 
WESTFIELD, N.J. — The old county police headquarters building on North Avenue in Westfield was under siege yesterday, as five police officers in black tactical outfits armed with automatic weapons pulled up in matching SUVs.

Lining up single file behind an officer holding a black shield, the men approached the front door and used special tools to quickly cut the chain holding the door closed from the inside before rushing up the stairs to subdue a man on the second floor.

The incident was only a demonstration, but it showed some of the tactics employed by the new Special Operations Unit of the Union County Police Department, formed and trained eight months ago to improve public safety at county-owned facilities, including the jail, juvenile detention center and courthouse, but now assisting local police with rapid response to emergencies involving firearms.

"The officers in the new unit are also assigned to regular patrol duties, so they are available immediately to contain violent situations until a SWAT team arrives, according to Chief Daniel Vaniska.

He said the officers will already be out in the field and can be deployed faster in an emergency.

The Special Operations Unit is also available to assist local police departments in executing emergent searches and warrants when an immediate need for action is necessary.

Lt. Martin Mogensen, unit commander, said most of the officers on the team "are specialists in various fields, such as paramedic training, and in weaponry instruction, or have military experience."

The unit is trained in responding to gun violence, entering buildings under high-risk situations, and gaining access to locked or barricaded buildings and vehicles. The training includes the use of advanced protective equipment, weapons and breaching tools, said Vaniska.

He said it cost $25,000 to equip the team, with additional money coming from federal Homeland Security grants.

"Last year's shooting at Virginia Tech University shows that every community should have these advanced public safety services available," said Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski, who attended the demonstration.

"This added layer of protection will enable municipalities to maintain coverage during any crisis," she said.

"Public safety remains one of our highest priorities, and the Special Operations Unit can provide swift, lifesaving assistance to local police in an emergency," Kowalski said.

The county created its first Emergency Response Team in 1993. Deploying trained responders, including a SWAT team, a medic support group, a trauma surgeon and hazardous materials capabilities.

Over the summer, the county launched its first homeland security water craft, UC Marine 1. The 36-foot vessel, manned by county police, patrols what public safety officials have dubbed "the most dangerous two miles in America" because of the transportation and industrial facilities adjacent to the county's shoreline.

Copyright 2007 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
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