Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber has made several changes to his office since he was elected in 2015, among them was assembling a full-time SWAT team for the parish.
In the past the SWAT team was made up of a large group of deputies who all worked different positions on a daily basis and would only assemble as needed when a SWAT call came in.
Now, a new full-time component is working within that team. It’s an elite group of eight operators, specially trained to handle many of the parish’s higher risk situations for the sheriff’s office and the community it serves.
SWAT Commander Maj. Dondi Hardin said several big questions come into play when it comes to choosing an operator for the team.
"Mentally, can they take it? Physically, can they take it? Will they be good team members? Are they a good fit?" said Hardin.
Back in March, seven hopefuls set out to prove why they are a good fit for the Lafayette Parish SWAT Team.
"We’re trying to fill probably two-to-three spots at this time," said Hardin, "We look for some of the brightest and best candidates to be SWAT operators, then we have what is going on out here today. It’s a SWAT Assessment."
Two-to-three spots will complete the sheriff’s comprehensive Special Weapons And Tactics team, which works alongside that new eight-man full-time SWAT team. The full-time squad is the only of its kind in Acadiana.
SWAT assessments usually take place over the course of one day, broken down into two parts.
"We kind of test everybody’s strength and cardio to make sure they can physically do this job," said Hardin, "And then the second half of the test is we come out here to the range and we test their shooting and mental ability."
Operators conducting the try out purposely cause candidates tremendous anxiety and fatigue.
"Can they react under stress? As you can see out here today, we put a lot of stress on them and see if they can still handle and follow directions and shoot correctly," said Hardin.
After the long hours of physical testing, shooting evaluations and psychologically taxing obstacles, it’s decision time.
"At the end of the day, we’ll grade them out and we use a composite score. Then, we take the current team operators and we’ll evaluate what we think we saw today," said Hardin.
Team operators acknowledge that assembling a strong and reliable SWAT team is as tough on the candidates as it is an honor to be selected, but they say it’s all done with one big reason in mind–safety.
"If we go out to any situation and we’re not properly trained and not properly equipped, there’s more chance for incident," said Hardin, "If you can have a better trained, better equipped deputy, then there’s less chance for injury and we can better protect you."