SWAT team uses empty Prescott Valley motel for training
Unit converges at soon-to-be-demolished motor inn in rare chance to get field practice breaching doors
Wearing all of their tactical equipment, members of the Prescott Valley Police Department (PVPD) SWAT team got to have a field day Wednesday, July 10, at the empty Prescott Valley Motel on Frontage Road.
The opportunity presented itself when it became definitive that the iconic business would be demolished in the near future to make way for a super-sized Circle K gas station and C-store.
A PVPD SWAT team member had the idea to ask Circle K if the department could use the 23-room motor inn for hands-on training breaching doors prior to the motel’s demolition.
After clearing it with both parties’ insurance companies, PVPD was granted a 24-hour license to use the facility for that purpose, and an agreement was signed by the town manager.
James Gregory, the SWAT team’s commander, made it clear how rare this opportunity is. In fact, he couldn’t recall a single time in his 24 years with the PVPD where the SWAT team got to practice breaching doors on a commercial property.
“This is very valuable to us,” Gregory said.
“It’s not often that you get to practice on real doors or real things other than training doors,” PVPD SWAT team leader Danny Eller added.
On average, the team is called out to assist with an incident about three or four times a year, Gregory said. The most common situations it handles are narcotic search warrants and criminal barricades.
As is usually the case for smaller departments, PVPD’s SWAT team is a tier 2, meaning it consists of 19 part-time members – a team commander, a team sergeant, a team leader, two assistant team leaders, three snipers, a medic and 10 operators. Most of each member’s time is spent in other capacities for the department, such as patrol or investigations, and service on the SWAT team is a secondary duty.
The team trains about 18 to 20 hours a month, Gregory said.
For the operation on Wednesday, it focused on breaching doors mechanically rather than using any form of explosives.
“There’s actually a lot of technique to it, and fortunately we have a lot of doors to practice on,” Eller said as the team was getting started.
The procedure involves using forcible-entry tools such as a ram and Halligan bar, which consists of a claw, blade and tapered pick. Teams of three took turns doing the breaches on Wednesday. In each instance, one person rammed a door open while one stood behind with the Halligan and another with an assault rifle at the ready.
After busting a door open, the person with the Halligan then went into the room and practiced ripping the door completely off from the inside by stripping off its hinges – a tactic used for outward-swinging doors.
Some of the members had never breached a door before, so this was a great learning experience for them, Eller said.
“We have some newer members on the team, and we also have some of our criminal investigation detectives out here in case they need to break a door at some point,” he said. “It makes it safer for everybody – suspects and us alike — when you can get through the door faster.”