MARRIOTT-SLATERVILLE -- Shots rang out pretty much all day Wednesday at the Swanson Tactical Training Center here.
It's the first weeklong training session of the fledgling Tactical Operations Group. It's planned to be an annual event.
Wednesday was simulation day, as the four squads of officers practiced kicking in doors, serving search warrants at the "Sim City" layout of storefronts and residential mockups inside the center.
The 40 officers in training fired "simunition" or "sim rounds" of plastic paint-filled bullets. Some officers came out of the drills with blue paint spattered on their camouflage body armor -- hit by the search warrant subject opening fire during the simulation. The sim rounds can leave a nasty welt, break skin, even cause pain.
"It's pain in a training environment," said Lt. Troy Burnett, of the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force, and TOG's administrator. "We want to inoculate these guys to everything that could happen as realistically as possible."
They like to refer to themselves as TOG: The Other Guys, as in not a SWAT team. They just look like it, operating in camouflage uniforms, full body armor and helmets.
The TOG was formed from four Weber police agencies eight months ago after the historic Jan. 4, 2012, shootout at Matthew Stewart's home in Ogden that left five officers wounded and one dead. Stewart was also shot and now sits in jail awaiting trial next year. The strike force was serving a warrant to seize Stewart's pot plants.
The TOG was in the works before the Stewart melee, the concept crystallizing afterward. The idea is that a TOG unit can be called out to assist any agency in serving a search warrant via forceful entry -- a breach made through a door, authorized by a search warrant. The warrant is signed by a judge, allowing for the aggressive entry in the name of officer safety and keeping a suspect from destroying evidence.
No one here questions the need.
"I've been shot at six times in my career," said Colten Johansen, a 19-year veteran of the Ogden Police Department. He's also a 17-year veteran of the Ogden Metro SWAT team and one of the five instructors from the SWAT unit running the TOG training all week here.
All six shootings came while he was serving a search warrant, Johansen said. He wasn't hit.
"But it leaves me wanting to bring the best equipment and training anytime I serve a warrant."
There are critics, though.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced a nationwide investigation of the increasing "militarization" of police departments, simultaneously filing 255 public records requests in 24 states March 6.
Among 18 Utah agencies whose records were requested are the Ogden, Roy and Brigham City police departments and the Weber and Cache county sheriff's offices. The agencies have been asked for data on SWAT team deployments and injuries during the deployments, weaponry used and the level of funding for armament and equipment from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The ACLU decries militarization as an erosion "of civil liberties encouraging increasingly aggressive policing."
Police scholars point to increasing use of "SWAT-style" police raids jumping from as few as 3,000 a year in 1980 to more than 70,000 annually nationwide. The number rose from 50,000, they say, in the past five years in the post-911 funding surge of local police by federal grants for SWAT-style armaments.
But Wednesday, team after team of fully armored officers were drilling on breaches, shouting "Police - search warrant" as doors were bashed open with an incredibly loud battering ram. Officers then rushed in, or walked in, as the drill called for, inevitably followed by "simfire."
TOG serves only low- to mid-risk warrants, those deemed not serious enough to call out SWAT, which feature sniper rifles, more automatic weapons, flash-bang grenades and other equipment and tend to train on more complicated breaches, involving windows as well as doors.
TOG officers carry no more armaments than the average patrol officer, Burnett stressed.
SWAT handles a minority of the 200 or more search warrants served each year in Weber County, TOG planners said, and OPD Lt. Will Cragun, a 21-year SWAT team leader, notes SWAT is still called out only 20 to 30 times a year.
More training on serving of the low- to moderate-risk warrants had been discussed even before the Stewart raid, he said.
"TOG was the culmination of a lot of things, with the catalyst being the Stewart raid," Cragun said. "Obviously we don't want to have that ever happen again."
The influence of the Stewart mess was evidenced Wednesday -- because of Stewart, all warrants served by TOG mandate officers in full body armor and helmets.
Since Sept. 1 when TOG debuted, teams assisted on the serving of 37 warrants, Burnett said.
"We want guys trained the same and equipped the same," he said. "Officers from TOG teams will always be on duty somewhere all the time."
Monday was all "pre-breach" planning for TOG members, which Johansen said has gained a new emphasis since Stewart. He said it's more organized and more structured. "It's for the safety of the people inside as well as the officers."
Burnett said Monday's training focused on procedures and policies, the types of search warrants and similar detail, and the gelling of all planning into a PowerPoint presentation for pre-raid briefings.
"We look at our pre-intelligence to see if it should even be a TOG raid, if it should be SWAT's instead," he said.
He pointed to one of the biggest aids as the Ogden Police Department's Real Time Crime Center, a dispatch and data center with links to multiple databases and police records, plus access to camera systems around the city.
"That's been the biggest enhancement of the last five years," he said.
"But there's only so much we do as to pre-intelligence without tipping off a suspect that we're looking at them," Burnett said. "Some friend will say, 'Hey, the police were asking about you.'"