Above and beyond

Cruising the streets with an eye out for drunk drivers, burglars or other criminal activity is by no means the entirety of a police officer's job especially in a small department. Most are involved in specialized activities to ensure every aspect of law enforcement is covered.

Education, fun or danger are elements of those extra-occupational activities an officer might participate in.

Some specialized duties, including the functions of D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers, a School Resource Officer (SRO) and members of the Special Response Team (SRT) were discussed Wednesday night during week eight of the Citizens' Police Academy. The academy is a police department pilot program in which civilians learn what goes on behind the scenes. It is used as an educational tool and a way to link the community and the police department.

The handouts from the D.A.R.E. program a ruler, pencil and keychain, each with the D.A.R.E. logo made class participants smile, but nothing held their attention like the bigger "toys" used by SRT members a battering ram, called a "key" with the words "Have a nice day" on it, heavy bulletproof shields and firearms.

The Craig Police Department has a five-member SRT team. It originally began as a partnership between the police department and the sheriff's department, but is now made up only of officers with the police department because of a lack of interest and lack of time from the sheriff's department.

"Five doesn't sound like a lot, and it's not, but for this area, its about all you can expect," SRT team member Josh Johnson said.

SRT is the same as a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactical) team, but named differently to avoid a negative public perception.

A different name for the same team is common across the nation.

"There are about as many things to call it as there are teams," Johnson said

SRT is a special tactical team trained to deal with intense situations like hostages, riots, bomb threats, rescues or barricaded suspects.

"SRT is one of the most dangerous, hazardous, scrutinized, criticized, intense, extreme parts of law enforcement," Johnson said.

And necessary he said. Because of their specialized training, SRT members are able to better deal with some situations than patrol officers are.

"These are very intense situations," Johnson said. "They're not your every day DUI or traffic stop."

Some towns choose not to have any form of special response team because they are expensive and intimidating. Craig has an SRT team because they have a very high success rate. According to Johnson, more than 95 percent of missions end successfully with no injuries.

"There's a high level of danger, but there's a high level of success," he said.

Why are SRTs so successful? Because of their high level of training and high level of firepower, Johnson said.

According to Detective Sgt. Henry Stoffel the local SRT team is dispatched to missions five to 10 times a year most of those related to drug busts.

An SRT team is dispatched if there is a hostage situation, danger to a citizen, an officer or an SRT officer. They won't risk their lives if there is only danger to a suspects.

The tactics used by the SRT team are summed up in an acronym "SAS" Stealth, Aggression, Surprise and include getting to the scene without being seen and moving fast enough to catch suspects off guard.

Officers have a variety of methods to announce their presence and surprise a suspect. A flash bang is one of the most common and includes throwing grenade style a small explosive devise which overwhelms the senses when it explodes and gives officers time to move in and get into position.

"Surprise is the best tactic we have to our advantage," Johnson said. "We take every advantage we can get."

A 14-member team can completely secure a ranch-style home in five seconds, he said.

There is no mandate on how much training an officer must have before becoming an SRT officer, but officers usually put in many, many hours.

D.A.R.E.

D.A.R.E. is a 17-week course given to all sixth-grade students in Moffat County. It gives them the knowledge and tools they need to avoid illegal drug use and abuse.

The program was brought to Craig in 1986.

"It's been going strong ever since," D.A.R.E. officer Kelly Brady said. "We've had lots of cooperation from the schools."

The class is not something students can just breeze through, D.A.R.E. officer Carolyn Wade said. To pass, students must attend classes, fill out a workbook and write an essay promising to be drug, alcohol and violence free and telling how and why they plan to do that.

More than 200 students were enrolled in the program last year.

But D.A.R.E. is not just about drugs. It also teaches self-esteem and techniques that allow students to not only say "no" to drugs, but to shoplifting, sexual situations and violence.

Students, through the D.A.R.E. box, can ask anonymous questions without feeling embarrassed.

It is an education-only program, not geared to track criminals, Brady said.

"We're not out to bust parents, which is a big thing we hear all the time."

Officers must undergo 80 hours of training to be certified to teach D.A.R.E.

Changes in educational policy are putting the D.A.R.E. program at risk.

As students are faced with regular standards testing and teachers are held accountable for a student's performance, they become less and less willing to give up class time for any reason.

School Resource Officer

Grant funds have allowed the Craig Police Department to provide two school resource officers officers who spend their days handling conflicts, criminal activity and absenteeism.

Their job is both easy and hard.

"When I go to the elementary school it's a lot of fun. They still like you. Cops are cool," SRO Mike Anthony said.

But as students grow up, that affinity dies, and suspicion and mistrust are born.

It is the job of the SRO to be the liaison between students, staff, parents and school administration.

"Some of them get to a point where they can hardly stand to get up and go to school," Wade said. In addition to being a D.A.R.E. officer, Wade is a school resource officer who handles the middle school, intermediate school and East Elementary School.

Most students just want to talk.

"A lot of the job has nothing to do with crime. It has a lot to do with being a counselor," she said.

SROs develop a relationship with the students they spend their days with. Students tease the officers and officers tease them back.

"You deal with anything and everything," Anthony said. "You're just there to show them cops put on their pants one leg at a time."

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