Behind the scenes: Alachua County Sheriff's Office SWAT Team


The Special Weapons and Tactics Team is the last line of defense, confronting the most dangerous domestic situations.

Each year, the Alachua County Sheriff's Office SWAT Team heads off site, to practice the skills needed to do their job well.

"We focus on anything from armed barricaded subjects, we focus on high risk woods operations, high risk search warrants," said SWAT Team leader Sgt. Richard Howell. "All the way up to and including potential terrorist incidents."

SWAT works with Hostage Negotiations to diffuse threats, using equipment that everyday deputies don't typically have access to.

Standard body armor for street deputies weighs about eight pounds, and protects from handgun rounds, whereas SWAT armor weighs more than twenty pounds, covers more of the body, and protects from high powered rifle rounds.

"What makes our SWAT team great is not the equipment that we carry, but the men that we bring along with us," said Howell. "It generally takes three to five years for a brand new member of the SWAT team to become truly operational, to have an understanding of what we do and more important than what we do, why we do it."

Howell has been on the team since 2005, and has worked his way up to being one of two team leaders.

"I worked from being the brand new guy who didn't know anything, and I was a sponge just accepting anything that they could give me," said Howell. "It's made me the cop that I am today and it's definitely contributed to me being the man that I am today."

During the week long training, the team simulates things like hostage rescue missions, shooting fake bullets at the "enemy" to practice saving victims.

"We're a tight knit group of individuals that come together and we have a single focus that we drive towards and it's that dedication that makes us successful," says Howell. "We do it to save lives."

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