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ourteen members of the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) quietly approached the front door of a suspected drug trafficker’s double storey house at about 5am. They were there to execute a high-risk search warrant, known as a level two search warrant, and waited patiently, in tactical formation, for the signal to enter. There was no chance the people inside knew they were coming. Tactically, the blue and red lights of an unmarked police car parked near the property started flashing and the siren sounded. On cue, the crew, using a battering ram, barged through the door yelling, “police, don’t move”. They found two large wood cutting axes behind the front door but no furniture or people on the first floor. A man, the suspected trafficker of ice and other drugs, and his girlfriend were sitting on a couch upstairs. He was crying. The forced entry was over in two minutes and the investigators waiting outside were now safe to search the property, while the CIRT crew was free to head back to their headquarters.

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The primary role of the CIRT is to offer support to the regions by providing specialist tactics, equipment and trained negotiators that can assist in the peaceful resolution of critical incidents involving siege or hostage situations, suicide intervention, kidnappings, extortion and CT response. The CIRT is made up of about 180 members, 17 of which form part of the Tasked Operations team. This small team started taking on these high-risk search warrants and planned arrests, in June last year. All members within Tasked Operations have undertaken the Tactical Arrest Options Training (TAOT) at the Victoria Police Academy. The CIRT’s Acting Inspector Luke McLeod said the team has had 94 applications from regional police for search warrants and planned arrests, with most of them seeking arrests of offenders for drug associated offences. “When we started in June last year we had a three-month trial period and in that time we executed 19 search warrants and arrested 34 people,” A/Insp McLeod said. “This is an initiative we’ve implemented to provide support across the organisation to assist with property searches and arrests meeting our deployment criteria. It allows investigators to focus their attention on the investigation, while we can assist with the arrest and execution phase of the operation.”

Tasked Operations has also undertaken several close personal protection operations for visiting international dignitaries, including the Dalai Lama. A/Insp McLeod said CIRT’s members were qualified to conduct forced entries and received extensive training. “All members in Tasked Operations have undertaken a six week CIRT training course as well as TAOT at the Academy. These courses can be quite intense but they ensure our members have the appropriate skills to do the job,” he said. “Since the development of the capability our services have regularly been requested which is great. It provides our members the opportunity to frequently use those learned skills in the operational environment. Our members also benefit from having access to specialist equipment such as ballistic vests, helmets and less lethal options like tasers and flexible baton rounds.” Although executing a search warrant may only take a few minutes, the CIRT members often prepare for a job for up to five days in advance. “There is a significant level of risk associated with doing a forced entry on someone’s home, so we undertake extensive planning to mitigate those risks,” A/Insp McLeod said.

DANGEROUS OFFENDERS CIRT members who conduct level two searches have received extensive training to conduct forced entries and have access to specialist equipment.

On the day of a search, the team leader will conduct a briefing for the members to highlight a range of important details about the target property, including information on the people living in the house like photographs, prior offences and if they have warning flags for self-harm or violence. Safety is a key focus at the briefing and the members take comprehensive notes relating to their individual roles and responsibilities. Once the briefing is over, they perform a rehearsal on how they will enter the property. “If the warrant is drug related there is always a chance the offender may have weapons inside the house,” A/Insp McLeod said. “We declare police presence as soon as entry is gained to ensure the occupants know that it is the police making entry. “The work ethic and professionalism the team displayed throughout the trial was recently recognised with divisional commendations being given to the members. It has been a very rewarding experience for me to see the capability grow and embed itself within the organisation.” POLICELIFE AUTUMN 2014

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Police Life, Autumn edition 2014  
Police Life, Autumn edition 2014