SWAT trains for what-ifs

On paper, deputies must do 50 push-ups and 75 sit-ups to join the Richmond County sheriff's SWAT team.


But in reality it takes much more to be part of the elite unit, according to Lt. Robert Partain, a SWAT member who supervises its training operations.

"It's a character thing also because you have to be able to make life-or-death decisions," Lt. Partain said.

Most of the 16-member SWAT team gathered at the Sheriff's Training Center in Blythe on Wednesday as part of a monthly training schedule.

The members, who work in different divisions in the sheriff's department, regularly practice skills ranging from hostage-rescue techniques to vehicle take-downs using police cars on the training center's track.

On Wednesday team members hunched over as they swiftly moved single file through the dark of the training center's "shoot house," which is designed to mimic an indoor environment such as a house or apartment.

Illuminated only by the occasional flicker from their gun-mounted flashlights, they fired double tap shots into posters of men with firearms to clear each room.

It's an environment typical of the 10 to 15 situations they are called to each year, according to Lt. Scott Peebles.

And as a response team for McDuffie, Jefferson and Burke counties, in addition to Plant Vogtle, they are never quite sure where they will be next.

Heavy training in the use of nonlethal techniques and weapons, such as bean bag rounds and tear gas, counters the notion that SWAT members are "testosterone overloaded" cops who crave violence.

"A lot of it has to do with diversions, and a lot of it has to do with negotiation," Lt. Peebles said. "We try to use force as the last option."

The unit is typically employed to serve high-risk warrants for the narcotics and violent crimes division of the sheriff's office.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.


Deputies must have two years of experience in the Richmond County Sheriff's Uniform Division to apply for the SWAT team.

They must also:

- Meet a minimum fitness standard upon admission of 1.5 miles in 14 minutes; 50 push-ups in two minutes; 75 sit-ups in two minutes.

- Maintain an adequate level of physical fitness

- Have a shot percentage of 90 percent or better on the department's standard firearm qualification

- Undergo a screening of their personnel file

Source: Lt. Robert Partain