Baltimore County seeks 40-member riot squad

March 31, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

No riot has occurred in Baltimore County in any law enforcement officer's memory, but the county Police Department doesn't want to be caught off guard.

The police asked the County Council Tuesday to approve spending $11,500 seized from drug dealers to outfit a new 40-member riot squad with combat boots, uniforms and transparent shields.

"This is just to have a group of people ready," said Maj. William A. Kelly, commander of the department's 15-member tactical squad and its hostage negotiation team.

Volunteers for the riot squad are being sought from the police ranks, he said. Initially, they will be trained for a week in crowd control techniques and in the discipline needed to keep their professional bearing under crowd pressure -- skills that might be needed at some future labor strike, major demonstration or civil disturbance, Major Kelly said.

All county officers already have gas masks and riot helmets, and long "riot" batons are on hand at all county police stations, Major Kelly said.

But something like a major labor strike with potential for violence could quickly exhaust the 15-member tactical unit, he said, and other officers probably haven't worn a gas mask or practiced facing a hostile crowd since their academy days, he said.

For example, three officers were drawn from each of the county's nine precincts several months ago to help cover a threatened strike by nearly 2,000 workers at an industrial plant in the eastern part of the county, Major Kelly said. None had specific training for such an assignment except for what they received at the academy, he said.

"We have no cadre trained to do that kind of work," he said.

With the 40-member riot squad, Major Kelly said, he will be able to create two 20-member shifts that would be bolstered by the tactical squad. With that much manpower, the police could handle any large-scale incident, he said.

The existing tactical squad, commonly called the SWAT team, is a heavily armed unit that includes sharpshooters. Squad members are used mainly to control perimeters around hostage or barricade negotiation scenes, police spokesman E. Jay Miller said.

Mr. Miller said all county officers received some riot training after the Baltimore riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 but that no riot unit was created.

Officers who volunteer for the riot squad, to be called the Emergency Response Team, will get no extra benefits and will keep their current police jobs but will get additional training about once every other month, Major Kelly said.

The council will vote on the appropriation Monday night.

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