By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: August 26, 2009
CONCORD — The state’s special operations teams could use more training and more members, but protocols the police groups follow meet or surpass national standards, according to an independent review ordered in the wake of a deadly gunfight.
The National Tactical Officers Association released its glowing review of the N.H. State Police SWAT team and the state’s 10 regional special operations teams Tuesday at the N.H. Police Standards and Training Council headquarters in Concord.
The council, a state agency supported with taxpayer dollars, was billed $48,554 for the review.
The council commissioned the review after a special operations team, which is similar to a SWAT team and comprised of local police and sheriff’s officials, was involved in a fatal gun battle July 26, 2008, in Charlestown.
While serving a search warrant, members of the Western N.H. Special Operation Unit and other law enforcement agencies found convicted felon Anthony “Tony” Jarvis Sr., 53, holed up inside a camper and learned that he was possibly armed. When Jarvis refused to exit the camper, police tossed a flash-bang smoke grenade inside and N.H. State Police Trooper Phillip Gaiser entered.
Jarvis opened fire with a handgun, shooting Gaiser twice in the leg and once in the hand. Gaiser returned fire and killed Jarvis, who was drunk, according to a report from the N.H. Attorney General’s Office.
The report from then-Attorney General Kelly A. Ayotte concluded that Gaiser, who survived the ordeal, was justified in shooting Jarvis, but also raised serious concerns about how the incident was handled.
Ayotte’s concerns, which centered on rampant miscommunication among police — Gaiser was never told that Jarvis was likely armed before he entered the smoke-filled camper holding his Taser, for example — were forwarded to the standards and training council.
The council then hired the National Tactical Officers Association to review the state’s special operations teams. The association is a seven-member board comprised of active and retired law enforcement officials from Arizona, California and Pennsylvania.
The board looked at the policies and procedures that the state’s special operations teams have in place, but did not review the Charlestown shootout.
Department of Corrections Commissioner William L. Wrenn and the standards and training council refused to discuss the shootout or the attorney general’s concerns with the incident when the board’s report was presented to state law enforcement officials and reporters.
The board concluded that rapport among the special operations teams has recently improved; the teams are capable of handling myriad crisis situations, such as hostage negotiations; they have the best available non-lethal equipment, such as Tasers; and they are following nationally accepted policies and procedures.
While highly complimentary of the state’s special operations teams, the board issued several recommendations for improvement:
● The standards and training council should work more closely with the teams during training sessions.
● Each member of every team should receive at least 16 hours of firearms and tactical training a month. Members have received an average of eight hours of training a month.
● The size of each team should gradually increase from the minimum 18 members to up to 30 members.
The standards and training council will consider the board’s recommendations over the next several months before deciding whether any policy changes should be made, Wrenn said.
“I think this is a target we can certainly strive for,” he said.
Review board member Ronald M. McCarthy, a former Los Angeles Police Special Weapons and Tactics supervisor, said the Granite State’s regional special operations police teams are groundbreaking.
“I think you’ve started something here in New Hampshire that’s going to be copied nationwide,” he said.
The state’s special operations teams rank among the top 10 percent of similarly sized teams across the nation in terms of hiring standards, training, model protocols and equipment, according to the review board.
“You have competent people who care about your teams. The sheriffs and chiefs of police are doing a fine job in my opinion,” said board member Brock J. Simon, a retired Los Angeles County deputy sheriff.
McCarthy stressed that the board is not a “rubber stamp for law enforcement” and has issued unflattering reviews of other law enforcement organizations, including the SWAT team in Tulsa, Okla., which McCarthy called a “threat to the community.”
McCarthy was also hired by the city of Seattle as a consultant to review the World Trade Organization conference riots in 1999 and found that then-Mayor Paul Schell and city police were to blame for the infamous “Battle in Seattle.”
“We do honest evaluations,” McCarthy said. “We have a history of being critical when we think people have not lived up to the standards that they should.”