“It’s better for us to use different areas with strange nooks and crannies,” said Lt. Pete Krall, commander of the SWAT team. “Those areas force us to think and not robotically go (through the scenarios). We can’t afford to miss one spot.”
Krall cited the shooting scene last year at a Reno Walmart store as an example of the need for constant training and coordination with other agencies. During that incident, Sparks SWAT served as backup as Reno and Washoe SWAT teams searched for potential threats, beyond the single know gunman, and for possible unknown victims in the giant store.
Krall said his team of 18 officers trains twice a month in various facilities to simulate a variety of crime scenes, including narcotics, bomb threats and hostage situations. The SWAT detail demands a military-level of physical and mental agility beyond the day-to-day patrol and other law enforcement duties, Krall said. Each scenario presents new challenges of group coordination and safety. Krall said it takes at least a year for officers to master the teamwork, weapons and tactics needed to be an effective SWAT member. Each member rotates into the team leadership role as needed.
On Tuesday, SWAT officers practiced the complex verbal and hand signals needed to keep each other safe as they snaked from room to room in search of the bad guys. Some rooms were dark and still cluttered with long-empty mattresses and unused furniture creating more spaces to search for hidden threats.
“The key is to know what we’re going to do and when we should do it so we are all on the same page,” Krall explained.
Along with Sparks officers, a REMSA paramedic trailed along with the officers during Tuesday’s scenarios. In case of injuries, at least one trained medic always brings up the rear as SWAT teams enter high-risk crime scenes, Krall said.
Krall has been a member of the Sparks Police Department for 17 years with more than 12 years experience on the SWAT team. While the hotel presented a rare and valuable opportunity, Krall’s team took care not to cause any damage to the structure.
Scott Rhoda, president of Nevada Casino Holdings, said the hotel-casino might re-open this year but he was noncommittal as to exactly when that might be. After two years of closure, the downtown Sparks property will re-open only if the right franchise comes along, he said.
“We hope to have it open in 2011,” Rhoda said. “Certainly the economy is important and our cost of entry was low. We’ve got to have the right entry (franchise agreement) and feel comfortable about it.”
Rhoda said the company’s other properties in Elko are doing well with renovation projects scheduled for completion by June of this year. The company’s other northern Nevada holdings include the Stockmen’s Hotel & Casino and Historic Commercial Casino in Elko, the Model T Casino in Winnemucca, the El Capitan Lodge and Casino in Hawthorne and the Scoreboard Casino in Spring Creek.