“Life is like a box of chocolates…. You never know what you’re going to get.” Famous line from a famous movie. Like any call a cop goes on you don’t know what you're going to get until you are teeth deep into the call. This especially goes for SWAT calls. Now…. I don’t usually talk about specific deputies or details of calls we go out on and I will stay true to this with the exception of the emotions and process I went through on a call that took place in the early hours of January 30th 2016. www.larimersheriff.org/press-release/officer-involved-shooting-1
I was getting ready for bed on that night when, before I swung my feet under the covers, the pager beeps the priority alert with the message to respond immediately for a hostage situation. This causes an automatic adrenaline shot that charges the body and stimulates the neurons in my brain. I was once tired but now I am good to go. This particular call out is only 2½ miles from my house. I don’t run out to my SUV and get my uniform but, instead, I grab the last thing I wore and rushed to the scene.
I have a simple job as a SWAT chaplain. Just be available. I watch and listen intently to monitor and care for a group of individuals that are from all different backgrounds and places in life. Some are married, some have kids. Some are democrats and others republican. Men and women in their 40’s and others in mid-thirties and twenties. Different religious beliefs or no beliefs at all. Some with a really good sense of humor and some who are more serious. A few of these people have Southern accents while others from out East. All of them are stubborn and opinionated and have no issues convincing each other they are right to prove a point. Tall, short, fit or round (but still fit), all of them… Operator, Scout, Negotiator, Medic, Patrol, Investigator, Commander and Team Leader, show up with one priority only……. Save the life of the hostage. Individuals setting all individual issues aside and operating as 1 team. Well trained and practiced, these men and women work like a machine to produce a lifesaving unit.
Allow me to expound a bit more. I’ve worked on teams that produce good products like websites or church services. I’ve been on baseball teams and won championships or paint balling with friends. This team uses all the same principles of team work we all understand at our own jobs but as a unit this team applies these principles not in words, seminars, self-help books or life coaches (all of these are good and healthy, by the way, but not my point). This team stands ready in a mobile home trailer to run into danger to do one thing…. Save the hostage. Priority of life is hostage over themselves. You don’t hear this in the news or comments on social media. All of them united in the same priority.
Back to the story… SWAT operators show up on scene and relieve the fearless patrol deputies in the mobile home. I’m ferrying tools and equipment up to them and listening intently over the radio. It was clear… this call out wasn’t typical of most call outs. This call went from bad to worse as the suspect, after beating and causing serious bodily injury to the victim, does something dangerous. My heart races as I hear over the radio the negotiators saying, “He’s trying to blow up the trailer.” Understand the human mind tries to protect itself from danger. Any typical person would run and get clear of imminent death or serious injury a gas explosion can cause. But not this team…. NOT this team. Priority is the hostage… Training kicks in. Ethos is brought to life through action. Character and bravery are defined by these moments. Must save the hostage! Both commander and team leader of like-minded priority decide they can’t wait. Waiting could kill the hostage. The team plows through a barricade of debris and furniture and within seconds they are face to face with a suspect hell bent on destruction and taking lives. Forced into confrontation by this suspect my friend and dedicated deputy, first in the room, stopped the action of a person who had homicidal and suicidal intentions. The hostage is wounded and unable to walk because of the abuse of the perpetrator so one operator heaves the hostage over his shoulder and carries her out of harm’s way to a waiting ambulance.
“Shots Fired!” rings out over the radio a few seconds after I heard the actual shots fired (surreal as hell by the way!). I’m only 50 yards away listening to this on the radio and my emotions, while in check, are still ranging from fear of loss of life of this hostage and the fear that my friends will be killed in a massive explosion. I leave the command van and run towards the mobile home so I can see my friends and make sure they are ok. I arrive in time to see the hostage being placed in the ambulance and it hit me like a ton of bricks… The extreme pride that I’m associated with these operators. Men with families and friends who are willing to sacrifice their very lives for a stranger in need.
“The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion….” Proverbs 28:1
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” John 15:3
Biblical words played out in the reality of our times. The media and some in our society would lump cops into the stereo type defined by a few bad actors, when in reality the guardians of our communities would prioritize these very same people and all people in our communities as: hostage – innocent – then themselves. Without this priority our communities would be plunged into chaos.
I am proud of my team. I am in awe of all law enforcement who set an example and are willing to give it all for the sake of their community and team. I love you all.
God Bless America and God Bless Cops!
Chaplain Rick Christopherson
Larimer County Regional SWAT Team