CORNELIA – It’s not every day that a police tactical team is given two government buildings to destroy for training. But such was the case for the Habersham County Special Response Team last week in Cornelia.
Cornelia officials allowed SRT members to test new prototype breaching equipment on the former city hall and police department buildings.
The vehicle-mounted device was created by Custom Combat Trucks in Mt. Airy.
“We were fortunate enough to be chosen by Custom Combat Trucks,” said Cornelia Assistant Police Chief Jonathan Roberts. “They’re working on a design for law enforcement to help with hardened targets. When I say a hardened target, you think about something like a school shooting situation – which we hope never happens – if you look back at the history of it, one of the hardest things for the responding officers to do is breach the doors. Heavy breaching equipment is very cumbersome, and most departments don’t have the budget to outfit an entire department with that.”
Typically, it is not a tactical team’s mission or intent to demolish a building, but training to learn how buildings of various construction react to the prototype breaching device helps team members understand how to respond in an actual emergency.
“Obviously what we did today is a little overkill, but with a piece of equipment like this we can easily go through a large window to make a large enough opening to get responding officers, emergency personnel inside of it without trying to use some sort of handheld or manual breaching device,” Roberts said. “That’s really the intent of something like this.”
The driver maneuvers the vehicle while a second officer maneuvers the breaching device.
“Inside the vehicle, it provides shelter for the officers that are operating the machine,” Roberts said. “Again, ultimately this thing is designed to just make a hole where a hole is not designed so responders can get in and quickly be able to get to victims or fix the situation.”
Asked his opinion of the breaching apparatus, Roberts said, “I think it’s phenomenal. This is prototype No. 1. We’ve been able to use it in three different training scenarios and in all three training scenarios we broke it. That’s exactly what he wanted us to do – he wanted us to find the weak point. We have found the weak point of the device.”
The device is mounted on Cornelia Police Department’s retired military Humvee, obtained at no charge to citizens through the federal 1033 surplus program.
“We would not be able to afford a vehicle like this if we had to go out and buy it,” Roberts said. “What this vehicle is used primarily for is our SRT team. As you can see, it’s got footrails on the side so that we can very quickly in one vehicle get our tactical team from one point to another. A vehicle similar to this equipped the way these things already come equipped would be an astronomical purchase to our budget, so we’re very fortunate to be able to team up with the surplus property program.”
Additionally, Custom Combat Trucks is working on a second prototype.
“On CAD, Version 2.0 is already being drawn up, and we look forward to teaming up with him again and being able to test that out,” Roberts said.
Though the Humvee is letter with Cornelia Police SRT, the vehicle and team serve countywide.
“Since we’re a multi-agency team, we have officers from several different departments throughout the county that have dedicated their off-time to be able to train and attend advanced training in order to be on the team, whenever you see this in action we are under the umbrella of the Habersham County SRT.
Asked about essentially driving through the front doors and side wall of the former police department, Roberts said he had mixed emotions.
“I’ve gotta say it’s bittersweet,” Roberts said. “I’ve been in this building almost 20 years and I can say that we’ve had really good times and we’ve had some really bad times. The building is, or was, in really, really bad shape. We had to have black mold removed twice. We had some other issues with the heating and air. It was just a rough work environment.”
Roberts said he and others in the police department are grateful to past and current city leaders for the new, state-of-the art police station included in the new city hall building.
“We’re very thankful to our former mayor for his vision of getting a new public safety center that included the police department in it, and we’re very thankful to the city manager and the current council and current mayor for seeing that vision through,” Roberts said. “It’s bittersweet because I’ve spent a lot of time in this building, but I’m also excited about seeing the next chapter for the City of Cornelia.”
Late Friday, excavators took over the demolition work, leveling the former police department building in a short time.