Santa Clara Co. officers train in SWAT competition

For the 26th year, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office hosts the “Best in the West” competition for law enforcement SWAT teams.

“It is a competition of different skills SWAT team members use,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

Sheriff Laurie Smith says six obstacle courses are set up at the office’s shooting range. 31 teams from California and Oregon compete in tasks that test fitness, tactics, weapons, and proficiency.

“We try to create a real-life scenario for some of the SWAT teams. Because a lot of the time when you’re training, you train in a very sterile environment. So when you come here, we try to get their heart rate up,” said Captain Dalia Rodriguez, commander of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team. She helped design the “Best in the West” course.

Physical exertion comes prior to firing at a target. Officials say participants must fight through fatigue and loss of mental focus in order to succeed on the courses, and in real-life situations.

“They need to know how it feels to run two blocks; three blocks, to get to a location where the shooting is happening,” said Rodriguez.

The two-day event receives funding from the Grifford Foundation, A New York State-based non-profit working to improve quality of life by fostering change in people and communities. Jacqueline Gifford Disney says helping SWAT officers improve all aspects of response benefits everyone.

“They can improve their skills, which makes them better. I don’t think our communities know how hard the SWAT teams work, and how hard these people work to keep us protected,” she said.

Not everyone has glowing reviews for these types of SWAT competitions. Alameda County officials recently canceled their annual Urban Shield anti-terror training exercise. There have not been protests in Santa Clara, but some worry, the ‘special weapons’ aspect of SWAT is contributing to a growing militarization of law enforcement.

“In hostage situations, they have to be well trained, and have the best equipment,” said Sheriff Smith. Added Capt. Rodriguez, “The team themselves get to see what they need to work on. And they take that back to their agency to focus in on more.”

The competition concludes Friday. Top performers win trophies. But officials say the real prize is sharpened skills for a potential active shooter or hostage situation that could confront law enforcement.