Leaders brief legislators on operations
When law-enforcement officials in Putnam County are notified of crises such as bomb threats or hostage situations, a group of specially trained officers is ready to spring into action.
The Putnam County Emergency Response Team, formed 15 years ago, combines the skills of 25 officers from the Sheriff’s Department and Carmel and Kent police departments, as well as negotiators.
Lt. Kevin McManus of the Sheriff’s Department leads the ERT, and Lt. John Dearman of the Carmel Police is the assistant commander. During the Feb. 11 meeting of the Protective Services Committee, McManus and Dearman gave legislators background on the team and how it works.
“We don’t really know a lot about the ERT, but lately, in the last couple of months, thank God you guys are there to help with specific dangerous situations,” said Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac).
The emergency-response team is called out, on average, four times per year, McManus said. “A request can be made by anyone through any of the [police] departments,” he explained.
Once ERT leaders are briefed, they decide whether the team will respond.
“If there’s an armed, barricaded subject, if there’s a barricaded EDP [emotionally disturbed person] in the house who wants to hurt himself or someone else, that certainly would constitute a response,” he said, as would “any hostage situation or any bomb threat — anything where there’s an imminent threat of violence.”
Depending on the threat, a request is sent to team members and, similar to volunteer firefighters, anyone who is available can respond. “You could have four or five guys there quick, and four or five guys who get there in half an hour,” explained Dearman.
When team members arrive, they work with any officers already there. The ERT is “a tool to be utilized by the department that calls us out,” Dearman said. “We don’t just get to go off and do what we want. We have to work within the jurisdiction we’re in.”
The team is funded through a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security that covers about half of its training costs, McManus said.
In addition, Putnam allocates $35,000 for equipment and $10,000 to reimburse the towns of Carmel and Kent for its officers.
“We were sharing services before it was politically cool to say ‘sharing services,’ ” Dearman said. “We knew no department could man and equip a team, so we did it together.”
ERT members train once a month for eight hours, either at the Paladin Center in Carmel or the county’s fire-training center, and at shooting ranges in East Fishkill and Westchester County. Members also use local temples and schools to practice responses.
“The temples asked us to go up there,” McManus said. “In light of everything that’s going on nationally and internationally, it’s good practice for us and hopefully that makes them feel better that we have a little better understanding of the inside of their structures.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) said she found the discussion enlightening. “These are little pockets of things that are done under the radar,” she said. “The training and expertise that go into this are not things that people are widely aware of.”