A Valley County sheriff’s deputy is expanding the common practice of mutual aid in rural Montana to start a regional SWAT team.
Chief Deputy Reed Mesman has begun making plans with eight law enforcement agencies to train and equip a tactical team for high-risk situations. The sheriff’s departments in the five counties in northeast Montana, the Glasgow and Wolf Point police departments and the Fort Peck tribes are all participating.
“We’re kind of alone out here,” said Mesman. “There are no tactical teams to respond to major incidents. It’s a four-to-six-hour minimum response time.”
Mesman and Valley County Sheriff Glen Meier said a regional SWAT team is needed to respond to increased crime generated by the Bakken oil boom because small local jurisdictions are not capable of handling it on their own.
“We’re all very small agencies that depend on each other for mutual aid,” Mesman said. “We don’t have the resources to deal with the crime and drugs we’re seeing from the Bakken.”
The team would ultimately consist of about 15 volunteer officers from the region, who would undergo extensive training at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena to be certified. Candidates would have to pass rigorous physical fitness and firearms tests before attending the LEA course. Mesman and a few other Valley County deputies have already taken this training, but it is only offered once a year, so the team will take a while to build.
“There are very strict requirements for training,” Meier said. “Deputies have washed out of the program. It’s not an easy row to hoe. They must be very committed to join this team.”
The team would be on call at any time for hostage situations, school invasions, high-risk drug arrests, events involving weapons and other specialized needs. In the past 10 years, there have been several incidents to which a regional SWAT team could have responded. An armed Plentywood man took his wife hostage, then barricaded himself in a house after she escaped. The hospital shooter in Glasgow elicited a massive response from regional agencies of all kinds.
The SWAT team would train in various locations once a month. The training would not only be useful in dealing with the increased pursuits and shootings related to the oil patch influx, but also with the usual calls in small towns.
Mesman has been digging for grant money for this team. Meier said they are not relying on taxpayer money to fund it. Recently the Sheriff’s Office received a $1,000 donation from Nemont, which will be used for safety equipment like ballistic vests and helmets.