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SWAT team deals with major criminal events
They consider themselves just another unit ready to respond when needed
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Photo by THOMAS MICHALSKI
Officer Doug Weaver of the Pinellas Park police SWAT team, who spent 15 months in Iraq, fires automatic weapon at local range.
PINELLAS PARK – There is a small group of highly-trained city police officers and firefighters who respond to major events more often than most believe.

They are the SWAT Team, SWAT standing for Special Weapons and Tactics that includes everything from the use of snipers to talking people out of suicide.

Headed by Capt. Michael Haworth who also is patrol commander, the team aids road officers who face situations for which they need supplemental help.

“We are just an arm of the police department like the narcotics officers, detectives or patrol division,” Haworth said. “We are all on the same team.”

But SWAT officers are skilled in such things as using powerful weapons and hostage negotiations.

Besides police officers, the team has three city firefighters headed by EMS Lt. Michael Elder. They receive the same training as their police counterparts, but can provide on-scene medical attention when required.

“We are immediately available in case of a shooting or other injury,” Elder said.

A bullet wound can be fatal. Elder notes that a person can bleed to death within two minutes.

“We must be on the scene to treat a hemorrhaging wound or other injury,” Elder said. “We have to be ready for anything.”

Haworth and Lt. Paul Andrews, co-commander, agree that SWAT members enjoy a deep sense of cooperation with other city officers and those from other agencies. Sometimes they can get called out twice a month. Oftentimes it is more than that.

Sgt. Tony Russo is the SWAT coordinator who generally gets the initial call for help. Team leaders are Officer Ta Ku and Cassidy Perry, a K-9 officer who just recently was assaulted by a man arrested on a variety of drug and other charges.

Besides high profile events, SWAT members respond to a multitude of other situations such as high risk warrant arrests.

Haworth is a former Air Force intelligence officer, a 17-year police veteran and holds a master’s degree in public administration.

“I don’t think there is more crime out there,” he said, “it’s just that there are now more people.”

He joined the SWAT team in 1991, left briefly, and rejoined in 2000 as its commander. There are 16 tactical officers, eight negotiators, four snipers and three medics. They use a restored Public Works van as a communications center on wheels and have enough weaponry to make most criminals think twice. The city just purchased new automatic weapons and military-style bullet proof vests.

SWAT officers undergo two weeks of intensive training with firing range instructions taking up a bulk of the course. They train twice monthly and work with other SWAT teams from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater and Largo.

“It’s a very high-risk business, but so is all of law enforcement,” Haworth said.

Guns, he said, are a part of America’s culture, especially when it comes to drug dealers.

“An event is successful when an arrest is made, no one is injured and everybody goes home,” Haworth said.

So why do cops join a SWAT team when there is no extra pay, but lots of additional hours to work?

“It’s a passion to be better, the best,” Haworth said. “It’s the knowledge that we are making an impact on keeping the citizens safe.”
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