2002-04-17 / Front Page

Tactical units train for crisis situations Police practice response with mock hostage situation

Staff Writer
By dave benjamin

Tactical units train for crisis situations
Police practice response with mock hostage situation

DAVE BENJAMIN  SWAT team members enter Temple Shaari Emeth, Manalapan, after a stand-off with terrorists during a simulated hostage crisis.DAVE BENJAMIN SWAT team members enter Temple Shaari Emeth, Manalapan, after a stand-off with terrorists during a simulated hostage crisis.

Today’s global events have made it necessary for local police SWAT teams and police departments to fine-tune their tactical techniques in order to save the lives of hostages and fellow officers.

Joining ranks and working in a multi-agency training scenario, officers from the Howell Tactical Unit, the Wall Township Emergency Response Team and the Manalapan Police Depart-ment spent most of April 2 at Temple Shaari Emeth, Manala-pan, rescuing a dozen mock hostages (portrayed by local teen-age Police Explorers) in a training exercise which simulated a terrorist hostage situation.

Howell police Lt. Jeff Mayfield, along with Stephanie Samuels, a police psychotherapist, planned the scenario for the mock event.

Samuels said she was willing to help with the planning to help train additional SWAT team members and improve the skills of present team members in order to save lives.

"This is a fabulous learning experience," Samuels said. "It’s really valuable."

Samuels said the training exercises fulfill her mission, which is to save police officers’ lives and to make the officers more tactically sound.

Samuels, who has had some experience in hostage negotiations, helped to design the scenario and portrayed the role of a hostage-taking terrorist.

She was assisted by almost a dozen other mock terrorists including Michael Eng and Manalapan police Capt. Michael Rumola, who had retired from active duty one day prior to the training exercise.

Rich McHale of Middle Township in Cape May County, Detective Mike Vaccare of Aberdeen Township, Len Simicich, a police firearms instructor with Palisades Interstate Parkway Police, and Sgt. Chuck Ward and Sgt. Andrew Demuth of the Freehold Borough Police Department also attended and/or participated in the training.

The exercise began at 9:30 a.m. as the Manalapan police dispatcher received a call for assistance. The training scenario began with a report of shots being fired at Temple Shaari Emeth and victims being reported to the rear of the building.

Within minutes the temple was surrounded by a multitude of responders who sealed off the perimeter.

"Members of the Manalapan Police Department Patrol Division responded to the call and requested assistance from the Howell Police Tactical Unit, which is a member of the Monmouth County Emergency Response Team program and covers Manalapan," Mayfield said. "The Wall Township Emergency Response Team also responded as a backup team to the Howell team, just as it would if an actual crisis incident were to take place in a jurisdiction covered by Howell’s tactical unit."

Mayfield said the shooting call rapidly developed into a hostage scenario with other co-conspirators confronting and ambushing responding officers.

For the hostages, the hours of waiting and not knowing what their fate would be seemed to be endless.

"It’s very boring and scary being a hostage," said Anthony Pompeo. "You really can’t do anything but sit there and be quiet."

Pompeo said he didn’t think he could take it much longer and hoped he would be rescued soon.

Joseph Gurrieri agreed.

"It’s long, tiring and boring, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next," said Gurrieri. "I didn’t have lunch. The last time I ate was last night."

Richard Lin thought the training scenario was very intense.

"You don’t know what is going to happen next," Lin said. "You don’t know if they’re going to try anything."

During the training exercise, Sgt. Donna Creighton and Detective Eric Rice, both of the Howell Police Department, negotiated for the release of the hostages, to no avail.

During negotiations, Samuels said, Creighton told her if that she died, she would be perceived as a martyr, but if she came out alive, she could give her message to the press.

In his dealings with the terrorists, Rice attempted to find out the status of the hostages.

The stalemate continued for several more hours until the SWAT teams began their stealthy move, entering the building, securing rooms and locating mock terrorists and hostages who were then cuffed and identified.

"I did not expect to make it out alive," Samuels said as tactical team members led her and fellow mock terrorists away with hands cuffed from behind.

Reflecting on the experience, Manalapan Police Sgt. Chris Marsala said everyone gained something from the training session.

"It was a positive learning experience for us as well as for the Howell and Wall SWAT teams," Marsala said. "It was the first time we ever trained together."

Marsala said it was good to see the capabilities of each team and to learn how all of the responding officers could work together.

"There will be some improvements made as a result of the training experience," said the sergeant.

"One purpose of the training is to better enhance the working relationship between the various law enforcement agencies that may have to respond to a crisis incident in the future," Mayfield added.

Also participating in the exercise were the Manalapan Fire District 2 Fire and Rescue, the Gordons Corner Fire Department, police dispatchers and members of the mobile command centers from Wall, Howell and Manalapan.

Additionally, observers from the New Jersey State Police and the East Orange Fire Department were present during the training session.

"The Howell Tactical Unit, which assisted in initiating this training scenario, frequently trains with Wall’s emergency response team," said Mayfield. "These two teams have worked together numerous times on training scenarios and on actual crisis incidents. The goal of each of these specialized units is to be prepared for what they pray they will never have to respond to."

Return to top