The Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) will add an eight man SWAT team to its force in the coming months. The team’s formation is the culmination of over three years of work by the administration to increase emergency preparedness and safety on campus.
In order to fund the development of the force, GTPD received an expanded budget from the Institute and additional grants from other sources. The funding provided for the development of the SWAT team and also for the procurement of more vehicles and equipment for use by GTPD.
Despite the additional resources provided for the creation of the force, there are still some constraints placed on the team, such as limited manpower. Members of the team currently perform regular patrol duties in addition to maintaining SWAT responsibilities.
“At this time we’re allowing SWAT guys to do double duty… as we expand our personnel, we’re hoping to eventually to become a full time SWAT team. But we want to have a bit more people on patrol first, we don’t want to take away from our primary duties as patrollers,” said Lieutenant Marcus Walton, leader of the SWAT team.
In overall command of the team is retired Atlanta officer Anthony Whitmire, who has been policing since 1979 and is a ten year veteran of the City of Atlanta SWAT team. Whitmire arrived at Tech two years ago and has been heavily involved in the development of the team for one and a half years.
“The commander’s job is to be more or less outside and directing making sure they are getting the support and equipment they need and making sure the plans are being carried out,” Whitmire said. “A successful SWAT operation incorporates a whole lot more than just what is going inside [the actual operation].”
The SWAT team’s role on campus has been greatly influenced by prior campus shootings around the country, like Virginia Tech.
“Years ago, Virginia Tech had [a] school shooting … not to mention all the school shootings before then. A lot of school shootings are going to be resolved by patrol officers on the road with an active shooter type situation. However, if the incident turns into a stand off with a barricaded suspect then that’s where we come in,” Walton said.
Additional considerations such as homeland security and dealing with possible terrorists, providing protection for visiting dignitaries and providing better overall security played a role in the team’s development.
“Some of the first questions they [dignitary representatives] ask are [concerning] what type of security can [the university] provide for this person,” Walton said. “So with us having a SWAT team we can bring more dignitaries to the campus.”
Aside from its on campus duties, the team could be called on to operate off campus in conjunction with the Atlanta SWAT team. If an operation were to occur on campus, the campus SWAT would likely take the lead, since they have the most experience operating on campus.
The team is required to have at least 24 hours of specialized training per month in addition to a week long training seminar with other agencies such as the Atlanta SWAT School.
Each member undergoes drilling related to repelling, movement, entry, hostage rescue, storming barricades, shooting and physical fitness.
“Because we’re starting fresh, those [requirements] will actually become more stringent as we go along,” Whitemire said.
Maturity and experience of the officers were also important considerations during the selection process for team members.
“On TV you just see the gunfights and shoot outs. SWAT, they have to be a little more mature. They have to have good common sense to be able to make good rational decisions under stressful situation so you want guys who are a little bit older and a little bit more mature,” Whitmire said. “I can get them in shape, but I can’t necessarily teach maturity and that’s what I’m looking for.”
Equipment on the SWAT team consists of an entry vest with ceramic plates designed to withstand multiple rifle rounds and a ballistic helmet totaling forty to fifty pounds. They are equipped with a Colt M4 rifle and an H&K 45 caliber handgun.
As for future potential expansions of the SWAT team, “We’d like to see it get bigger,” Walton said.