JANESVILLE - For the last five years, the Rock County Sheriff's Office SWAT team has boosted its technology and equipment, and this year marks the first full year the tactical team includes members from outlying public safety and law enforcement agencies.
The department welcomed Town of Beloit paramedics and officers along with members of the Evansville Police Department. Township paramedics formed the tactical team's Tactical Emergency Medical Technicians (TEMT) group. Milton Police Department has signed on to add a tactical officer, but has yet to join the team.
"We increased our numbers," said Rock County Investigation's Captain Todd Christensen. "The idea is to start working more closely with the other agencies in the county. It gives their guys more opportunity to become more tactically sound. It was a year in the works getting the administrative aspects figured out."
The 28-member team has been deployed once this year, assisting in a shots fired report on March 3 in the Town of Rock. The department deployed its tactical robot to contact the injured subject - one of the many tools at the tactical team's disposal.
The team has K-9 unit support, a military-grade armored vehicle and an arsenal of tear gas and other non-lethal agents. In 2013, the sheriff's office purchased various equipment upgrades, including the Bearcat armored vehicle, the robot and an additional K-9 unit. The armored vehicle is shared between the county, Beloit and Janesville police departments and is used commonly when serving high-risk warrants.
"It provides us with more safety in the volatile, violent encounters," Christensen said. "Now we can be in an armored vehicle and communicate with those in the house and be as safe as we can be. That's a huge advantage."
The Avatar Two robot helps SWAT team survey buildings and can be used in active shooter and hostage situations and at times when subjects are unwilling to contact law enforcement.
All equipment was purchased through the allocation of drug seizure money, at no cost to taxpayers.
The tactical robot proved its use on March 3 when the team made contact an individual who had refused officer contact at a home in the 800 block of West Happy Hollow Road in Rock Township.
The robot can be used to diffuse tense situations or get in small spaces to send information back to SWAT team members, improving the team's overall safety in high-stress, dangerous situations.
The 2-foot long robot sits on tank-like treads with video and audio capabilities, with the ability to move up and down stairs and right itself it it's flipped over, team members said.
"Each situation is different," Christensen said. "We can go in without the robot or the dogs, or we could send one or both of them. The more options you have to diffuse a situation, the better."