County getting new funding for SWAT team

Hays County’s SWAT team is getting a $104,860 Capability Improvement Grant from the Office of Governor Greg Abbott, part of $61.2 million in Homeland Security grants intended to support state and local efforts to prevent terrorism and prepare for other threats.

The awards were announced by Abbott’s office Oct. 22 and the Hays County Commissioners Court voted to accept the grant the same day.

The money will be used to buy robotic equipment including a CALIBER T5 Robot and accessories, along with training in its use. That technology will “established increased correspondence, coordination and environmental manipulations when responding to an incident or an act of terrorism,” according to the agenda language.

SWAT Team Commander Lt. Shane Smith of the HCSO said the robot will be able to do tasks that, currently, a human has to perform, including hazardous materials removal and removal of suspicious packages.

“We will equip it with HAZMAT detection and chemical detection so we don’t have to send humans.” Smith said the team currently has some robots acquired through the federal government’s 1033 program that supplies military surplus to local law enforcement, “but they’re in pretty rough shape. We’ve wanted something capable of opening doorknobs, locks and things like that.”

He said the idea to try to acquire one came about in the wake of the “serial bombings” in Austin in 2018 that left two people dead and five injured. Both before and after the suspect blew himself up when approached by police, calls for “suspicious packages” came into a number of Hays County agencies. Smith said his team “called several times” back then in hopes of using a robot belonging to the Austin PD. “We had to wait a pretty long time because they were doing something else with it.”

The robot will “live” at the HCSO but is actually an asset of the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), meaning it will be available for regional assistance. If needed anywhere in the 10-county CAPCOG area, he said, “We will send the robot and the robot operator.”

The SWAT team was scheduled to do a demonstration for the San Marcos Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy last week but it was rained out. Smith said they have not been asked to do a demonstration for the Kyle Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy, “but we could certainly accommodate.”

The Hays County SWAT 24-member team includes officers from Hays County, Kyle and San Marcos.

In all, the grants package is distributing $24.3 million to provide equipment, training and exercise support for local, regional and state level response teams which, in addition to SWAT, include HAZMAT, search and rescue and bomb squads.

In addition to SWAT and other specialized units, portions of the $61.2 million grant will provide $13.4 million to support state-wide planning and preparedness efforts; $3.8 million for interoperable emergency communications; and $3.2 million to support state and regional “fusion centers.”

“As governor, my top priority is keeping our communities safe,” Abbott said in a press release announcing the grants. “These grants will ensure our communities have the resources they need to counter terrorism statewide and enhance security for all Texans.”

The county had indicated it sought the grant in January. No matching funds are required.

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