WILLISTON — Williams County will soon have its own specially trained group of law enforcement officers armed with the skills and resources to respond to a number of different emergencies.
The sheriff’s office is forming a 20-member special operations and response team, designed to handle dangerous situations, offer help during natural disasters and even act as extra security when the need arises.
The joint effort includes members of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, Williston Police Department, Northwest Narcotics Task Force and may extend to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Training and equipment for the elite group will be paid for by revenue from a public safety tax instituted last year.
“This was an opportunity to build or organize something that is greatly needed in our area,” said Capt. Verlan Kvande of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office. He is a key organizer behind the team, which has nearly $370,000 in tax income to work with.
Now, when local police are faced with particularly dangerous situations, the wait time for backup from SWAT teams out of Minot or Dickinson can be up to five hours, Kvande said.
He cited more than a dozen incidents in the last year and a half that presented a need for a specialized local response.
Officers were selected through an application process that scrutinized experience and job performance as well as fitness. Successful candidates now face rigorous training in advance of a certification process holding them to national standards.
Following certification, the team will be available to assist other agencies statewide.
A team commander and team leaders are already in place, and will be headed to Idaho, Minnesota and New Jersey for SWAT training this spring.
Specialized equipment for the group will include an armored vehicle designed to withstand .50 caliber rounds. The steel-frame truck is now being built, and will likely be finished in early fall. Its uses include providing cover from bullets for police, and getting people out of harm’s way.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re rescuing cops or civilians, it can roll up and take rounds,” Kvande said.
The vehicle’s $424,900 price tag will be covered by sales tax income.
Yearly training and equipment costs for the team will total nearly $50,000, an amount that will be requested from the county’s annual budget, he added.