2017-05-21 / Insight

Special Response, Dive Teams ready at a moment’s notice for county

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 •

LAPEER — Police officers are trained for any number of scenarios he or she will encounter during a career, from positive community interaction to life-threatening emergencies, but some situations call for a more specialized approach. The Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. has planned for these unique scenarios, employing both a dive team and a special response team (SRT) to handle situations in the county that call for officers with dedicated training.

Undersheriff Jeremy Howe has actively served on both teams during his tenure with the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. and still trains regularly with each group and said that in both cases, it is extremely valuable to the community that these teams exist, and while the need for such teams is often the result of unfortunate circumstances, their presence is a huge help when attempting to keep a bad situation from getting worse.


Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dive Team deputies Craig Cummings and Jimmy White head out into Lake Minnewanna during a recent training exercise at Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area. The divers recovered a dummy body that had been submerged in the lake as a “tornado victim.” 
Photo by Krystal Moralee Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dive Team deputies Craig Cummings and Jimmy White head out into Lake Minnewanna during a recent training exercise at Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area. The divers recovered a dummy body that had been submerged in the lake as a “tornado victim.” Photo by Krystal Moralee Special Response Team

The Special Response Team (SRT) was formed in 2009 and is comprised of 20 members, with various roles and backgrounds that when called upon, can assess and react to a situation with impressive quickness and skill. Coordinated by Sgt. Andy Engster, the team — featuring road patrol deputies, corrections officers, doctors and paramedics — can respond to a call for their services often in less than an hour.

“We’re able to get out to a call very quickly, and organize very quickly,” said Howe. “Since some of the members are road patrol, they can arrive at a scene and assess the situation and help the rest of the team with organizing and deploying.” That response time is an asset, said Howe. “It’s a huge benefit to the community.”


Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dive Team members Deputy Jimmy White (seated) and Sgt. Tim McGuckin get suited up for a training exercise with the assistance of Deputy Ryan Wilcox, Sgt. Jeremy Herfert and Deputy Jules Reinhardt. 
Photo by Krystal Moralee Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dive Team members Deputy Jimmy White (seated) and Sgt. Tim McGuckin get suited up for a training exercise with the assistance of Deputy Ryan Wilcox, Sgt. Jeremy Herfert and Deputy Jules Reinhardt. Photo by Krystal Moralee Each of the members train rigorously on an individual basis and each month, the team meets to train for specific scenarios that may confront them in the field. “We train for school or business active shooters, barricaded subjects, vehicle takedowns — like what to do if someone’s taken hostage on a bus, for instance,” said Howe. “We train monthly, and every location is different.”

The team has trained as well with the Warren Police Dept. SWAT team, and communicates often with departments across the state to share tips and training methods to stay abreast on best practices.

The team has several tools available at their disposal. Tactical vests, helmets, eye protection, and urban camouflage fatigues to go along with AR-15s, pistols, breaching tools and ballistic shields, but the aim for the team is always to resolve any issue as peacefully and safely as possible. Since its inception, the team has answered the call only a half-dozen times, but they’re always ready. “If any agency in the county requests us, boom we’re there,” said Howe.

Howe said that while the team is currently only comprised of officers from the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept., invitations have been extended to all agencies in the county with the hope that in time the team can feature a coalition of officers from every corner of Lapeer County. “Hopefully in the future it will involve more than just the sheriff’s department and we’re moving toward that for the future,” said Howe. “The ultimate goal is to have other agencies involved, because that will make for a more well-rounded team when everyone is invested. It makes it better for the whole community.”

Dive Team

Supervised by Sgt. Jeremy Herfert, the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Dive Team is no stranger to the waterways of Lapeer County — they’ve been in all of them. Currently, the team features 10 officers, with two undergoing certifications. The dive team is summoned for all manner of aquatic situations, and while many of them are tragic, the members of the team consider it their personal responsibility to perform their tasks with accuracy and tact.

“The Dive Team handles a lot of things,” said Howe. “Vehicles like cars and snowmobiles underwater, rescues, collecting evidence by gridding the bottom of a lake, documenting locations underwater and recovery.” Howe said that the team has existed for more than 50 years and has handled all manner of calls in its time.

Like the SRT, the Dive Team trains monthly and each training session focuses on a particular possible scenario that mimics real-life.

“We try to train in every lake in the county,” Howe said. “One training session might be in Otter Lake and another might be in Lake Nepessing.” By varying the location, according to Howe, the team becomes familiar with the actual environments of each Lapeer County waterway and reduces the time needed to set up equipment and get boats in the water when a real call comes.

The dive team can be called to a location at any time in any season, and training has involved diving in subzero temperatures through iced-over water surfaces. “It presents unique challenges, with the equipment used and the temperatures,” said Howe. “So it’s important to train for that to eliminate any room for error.”

This training sticks with the team members even when not actively called to a location as a part of dive team. Last October, dive team member deputy Dan Kohler saved Port Huron man Michael Gamalski’s life after his canoe tipped over on Twin Lake near North Branch. Kohler, who had his wetsuit in his patrol car, was able to suit up and swim out to the man to save his life.

The majority of the calls to the dive team are often the result of tragedy, with each year requiring the team to recover a drowning victim from a body of water in the county. Due to the morose nature of the work, Howe said the team members routinely go above and beyond.

“I give our guys a lot of credit because they really take pride,” he said. “When you’re seeing a family standing on the beach and are looking at you to recover their loved one, (the Dive Team) isn’t going to leave an area until they recover (the victim). The team does whatever it takes to give the family closure.”

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