SWAT or not? What goes into calling in the Hays County SWAT unit

Numerous law enforcement vehicles lined the normally quiet Steeplechase subdivision streets in Kyle to de-escalate an emergency situation last week. 

Kyle Police, San Marcos Police, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and the Hays County Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) unit were on scene for what was reported as a welfare concern in the 100 block of Casper Cove.

While the incident was resolved safely and no one was injured, the event led to the closure of several streets in the neighborhood, as well as the lockout of Lehman High and Chapa Middle schools.

For some, the question of what leads law enforcement to call for SWAT and additional forces lingers whenever such events take place.

Dennis Gutierrez, HCSO public information officer, said criteria gathered at the scene leads to whether additional units or SWAT are needed.

Gutierrez said Hays County’s SWAT team primarily responds to felony calls. However, the unit can be dispatched to “very isolated and specific calls” that border between a felony or misdemeanor violation.

Hays County’s SWAT team consists of law enforcement officers from across the county, including the sheriff’s office, San Marcos, Kyle and Buda and the Texas State University police.

Whenever a situation develops, Hays County’s SWAT commander determines if a greater response is needed. That could entail the use of SWAT, as well as conflict negotiators, who go hand-in-hand with the special unit.

“(The commander) takes a risk assessment and what the call is about, and makes a determination,” Gutierrez said.

The criteria are used whenever a law enforcement entity requests SWAT. The department also uses those criteria when dealing with situations that require a judgment call, such as a suicidal subject.

“It’s our responsibility to protect that person’s life, as well as those who may be in the area,” Gutierrez said.

Jeff Barnett, Kyle Police chief, said the department dispatches SWAT for a variety of situations where specialized equipment and expertise is needed.

Examples would include executing high-risk search warrants, when officers believe there could be an increased risk of harm, as well as barricaded persons, primarily those who are reported to have weapons, active shooter events, prison or jail escapes or felony crimes that are in progress.

Barnett said the department calls out SWAT units approximately three to five times per year. However, SWAT units in Kyle are only deployed two to three times per year because situations get resolved before the unit arrives on the scene.

“SWAT can be called due to their specialized training and equipment that they’re afforded to resolve or investigate a certain task,” Barnett asid.

Police also can call upon SWAT for the assistance of a negotiator, or observation specialists to assist, depending on what a situation calls for.

“When you roll out SWAT, you get the full team, because that’s how they train,” Barnett said.

While Barnett understood a show of force could escalate the nervousness of residents, he said authorities can’t forget about officer safety and the safety of the community. He said using resources and personnel to allow “the best opportunity to resolve a situation” without injury is the goal. 

“People may not have all the facts and maybe it’s not for them to know all the facts for a call,” Barnett said. “They need to realize law enforcement agencies try to do things in the safest manner possible.”

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