A domestic case at a residence in Williston where no one could reach the residents inside was among several training scenarios a regional SWAT team worked on Wednesday in Williston, to satisfy a monthly training requirement.
“We ended up making a lot of noise,” Lt. Hugh Benzen admitted. “They basically went in to rescue the hostage and dealt with the hostage taker at that point.”
So-called “flash-bangs,” which are what made all the noise, are just one of several munitions at the disposal of the SWAT team. But it takes a lot of training to deploy these and other specialized munitions correctly.
Benzen said the SWAT team does 12 hours of training each month. Eight hours are tactical, like Wednesday’s multiple scenarios at a residence in the 100 block of Second Avenue Southeast.
The remaining four hours are centered around firearms and munitions training, at a shooting range.
While the officers trained, a drone buzzed around the scene, taking video of the action. The drone was managed by Williams County Emergency Management Director Mike Smith.
Video from the drones is used to later review the training exercise and critique the response.
The SWAT team was formed in 2016. It is a joint effort of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office, Williston Police Department, and the Williston Fire Department, to create a highly trained team that can respond to things like hostage-rescue, barricaded subjects and high-risk search warrants.
“This is what we train for,” Benzen said. “Our mission is to the safety of the public. We are a life-saving resource, not only for the police department, but the public as well.”
The team consists of 21 officers, and includes five medics. Among specialized equipment is an armored vehicle that the team travels in, which can withstand .50 caliber rounds.
The SWAT team has been called out at least 30 times since inception in 2016, Benzen said. The last time was to serve a high-risk search warrant.
“It is a regional response team, not just for Williston and Williams County,” Danielle Hendricks, public relations officer for Williston Police Department added.
The service area includes Williams, Divide, Burke and McKenzie County.
“Recently, toward the end of winter, we ended up in Montana,” Benzen said.
That particular incident involved a barricaded subject.
“This has been something we realized has been missing a long time,” Benzen said. “Most other cities the size of Williston have had a team for decades.”
Previously, the region had to wait on a team to come from Minot or another location, which could take five or more hours. Having a trained team in the region reduces the response times tremendously.
“This was just something we needed to have here,” Benzenes said. “And the support from all the agencies for it has been phenomenal.”