Preparing SWAT team members for real-life situations in Merced County

MERCED COUTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- SWAT team members are going through a unique training course in the North Valley. Officers and deputies are training alongside K9s from several different agencies.

SWAT team members take position during training at the Castle Commerce Center before letting Rocky loose on someone who refuses to get out of a van. A decision that would prove painful in real life.

Capt. BJ Jones with the Merced County Sheriff's Office said, "We try to give the suspects a chance to surrender but if they don't, that's when the dog is there."

Captain BJ Jones says this three day program is unique because it brings together K9s and SWAT members from several different agencies across the state, who are all taught by one renowned expert.

"You want to make sure that your K9 handlers and your tactical handlers are all on the same page so we're glad they're here," explained Capt. Jones.

That relationship proved critical after a Merced police officer was shot and wounded last month. Sheriff's deputies and their K9s worked alongside the city's SWAT team to help catch one of the suspects.

"Their dogs were unavailable due to some of the circumstances of the incident, and all of our K9s deployed with their SWAT team," said Capt. Jones. "So they got some real on the job training, but they had some questions and some things they would like to work out. This course addresses that on the front end."

The training has several different scenarios including the search for suspects hiding in buildings. The K9s can also get used to working around robots, equipped with night vision and cameras. And there are lighter moments to help the humans get comfortable around their four legged comrades.

Deputy Simon Sarkis added, "This also shows everyone they can work with the dog and have no problems with them and soothe their sacredness."

The Merced County Sheriff's Office first started doing this type of training in 2004. This year, the other agencies include Merced, Tracy, and Los Banos police -- plus the Sutter and Kings County Sheriff's Offices.

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