Last week’s class took us off the edge of the map and into Brooklyn Park where Hennepin County’s Enforcement Services is headquartered.
Little did I know we were in for an action-packed evening of the “Lethal Weapon” kind, with demonstrations by the Emergency Services Department (ESD), Special Operations Unit (SOU) and Volunteer Services Department (VSD).
The Emergency Services Department (ESD) is comprised of patrol, water patrol, transport, special operations, and the K-9 unit. The patrol unit does pretty much what you’d think it would do: emergency response and the servicing of civil papers and warrants. Interesting fact #1: By law, arrest warrants must be served after 7am. Many are served at 7:01am. “So, if you’re a criminal, set your alarm clock before 7am,” an academy classmate says. After a short pause, the police officer who’s been speaking to us replies, “Yeah, I don’t think the homes we go to have clocks.” Well alright, then…
The water patrol unit is staffed to a large extent by volunteers and is tasked with law enforcement on the waterways and with patrolling 104 lakes and three rivers. Minnesotans, can you name all three rivers in Hennepin County? I got two: the Mississippi and the Minnesota. The third is the Crow.
During the summer, one boat is permanently stationed at Lake Minnetonka to deal with its drunken horde of weekend warriors. The officers said they do a lot more educating of the public than enforcing of the laws. Interesting fact #2: After two hours, a water patrol search and rescue will morph into recovery mode.
The Special Operations Unit (SOU) includes the Emergency Management Team, Hennepin County Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Tactical Response Team, Emergency Services Unit (ESU), Special Response, and Critical Infrastructure Protection Patrols.
The WMD team deals with biological, radiological, and chemical attacks. They hold training sessions at high-risk targets including the Mall of America, Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and the Mississippi River and transportation targets like buses and the metro system.
They wear hazmat suits with external air tanks (similar to ones used in scuba diving) or else suits with built-in, recycled air units. The WMD officer says the recycled-air hazmat suit makes you feel like you’re suffocating.
I can relate to this feeling of suffocation, having once been paid $75 in graduate school to dress up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. I will never forget the few seconds before the nasty recycled air kicked in and I could finally breathe.
The highlight of the evening is our visit with the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) which is basically the SWAT team. ESU is involved in hostage rescue, barricaded suspect situations, and high-risk warrant service. The SWAT team is involved in about 65 to 70 operations each year, mainly in Minneapolis. “You should smell the testosterone when they come back from serving a warrant,” one of the female officers says, making the ESU team blush.
We get to look at their cool gear which includes guns, shields, and vests. One of the rifles is specially equipped with foam bullets to mark a suspect with paint and bring them down with minimal injury. “We aim for the big, meaty parts,” one ESU officer says. “Backs, butts, and thighs are best.”
They let us pick up their riot shields. One is built to stop handguns and the other, rifles. The handgun riot shield weighs about the same as my son, a 30-pound toddler. “Now, don’t throw out your back picking up that shield. I don’t want you to call in sick to work tomorrow,” one of the officers says to me. I give him a look. I’m a stay-at-home mom: My job is 24/7 and unfortunately, I can’t call in sick. Ever.
The other riot shield made to stop rifle bullets weighs at least 50 pounds. It’s crazy heavy. “Who carries this?” I ask. “There’s one guy on our team who can hold it the entire length of a raid. He’s huge. Otherwise, we take turns holding it,” one officer says. “And we use both hands to hold it,” another one adds. “I don’t. I just use one hand,” a third officer says. The other officers just raise their eyebrows at him. It takes a lot of cojones to be a part of the ESU team: I’m sure some braggadocio is par for the course.
We’re also given the opportunity to try on their heavy green flak vests. I’m eyeing one of the vests when an officer says, “Careful. You’ll mess up your hair.” It’s like he’s waved a red flag under my nose. I lunge for the vest. “I’ll take that,” I say. Someone from the Sheriff’s Office takes a photograph of me. In my mind, I looked like this:
But I’m pretty sure I looked like this instead:
Stay tuned: this week, we’re going to tour the Crime Lab.
Who are you, you, you? I really wanna know….