Veteran troopers staff rapid-response division at Waterloo barracks

September 11, 1997|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

One-hundred state troopers reported for work yesterday at the realigned Special Operations Division in Waterloo -- a "one-stop shop" police officials say will provide quick response to large-scale crimes, emergencies or disasters anywhere in Maryland.

The centrally located barracks in Howard County will be headquarters for a strike force, a police dog unit, the commando-like Special Tactical Assault Team Element (STATE), a motorcycle unit and soon, a crash investigative team.

Before the realignment, some of the units were part time, scattered around the state.

"This is where local agencies throughout the state can turn in event of an emergency or disaster beyond their capability of handling," said Capt. M. T. Rose, division commander.

Rose said the strike force, for example, can move to a crime hot spot, providing everything from high visibility in a troublesome neighborhood to developing intelligence for local authorities.

The STATE unit will respond to hostage or barricade situations, or assist in serving warrants in high-risk cases. An underwater rescue team will be under the division command, as will hostage negotiators, he said.

"This single command structure, as far as we can tell, is the only one of its kind among state police agencies in the nation," Rose said.

The reorganization is similar to one implemented by Col. David B. Mitchell, state police superintendent, when he headed the Prince George's County Police Department from 1990 to 1995.

For the realignment, Mitchell received legislative approval to hire 225 troopers. About 75 completed state police academy training in January, 75 more will finish at year's end and another 75 applicants are ready for the next class.

The new officers will fill gaps created by the transfers of veteran troopers into the division's five full-time and various part-time units, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the Waterloo barracks was chosen because it "could accommodate our needs for space and the land available there is such that we could build a new facility at some point down the road. Our canine operation was already there and a lot of our equipment is stored at Waterloo," he said.

A training center is a high priority for the division, said Lt. David Franklin, who directs the STATE unit. "We can do some training )) on-site, but we have to travel for such things as water rescue."

Much of the training will focus on how to command others, Rose said. "If called upon, we can move in and take over for a [sheriff, police chief or barracks commander] in a local area, handling the [crisis] so he can concentrate on his other responsibilities."

Each unit within his division will support the others, Rose said. The motor unit might be involved in a presidential escort, for example, but the police dog units under Lt. Phillip Hinkle would provide explosives detection or crowd control.

"Wherever and whenever a unique need crops up, we can provide a specialized group to move rapidly to assist or handle it," Rose said.

Rose and his command staff began in January to plan for yesterday's arrival of the veteran troopers, "who bring along years of command and tactical experience in one or more various technical skills," said Lt. Jim Ballard, who directs the strike force and motorcycle unit.

The pool of personnel at Waterloo could also provide members for a search and rescue team.

Such a group was called upon last month when a biplane crashed and sank off 94th Street in Ocean City, said Rose.

"We've looked at models [around the country], but we are not patterned after any particular one," Franklin said.

He recently attended a seminar sponsored by the National Institute of Justice in Rome, N.Y., that discussed chemical and biological threats, detection and resolution of terrorist attacks, and bombings such as the one in Oklahoma City in 1995.

"We haven't had such incidents here, but we need to be prepared for them," Franklin said.

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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