GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 24, 2013

Local responders faced equipment problems

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Officers who are part of the Cape Ann Regional Response Team formally train at least twice a month, and gather equipment throughout the year to ready themselves for worst case scenarios.

But, even with all that effort funneled into preparations, the group found a lot of areas for improvement when tested — as they were last Friday, when the team was deployed to the day’s chaos in Watertown that led to the capture of 19-year-old Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev.

”Any after action report includes areas of improvement and you always learn, no team is perfect, you go into these situations and you learn what you can improve,” Rockport Police Lt. Mark Schmink, the tactical team’s leader, said Tuesday.

Though the regional police group found its equipment sufficient as they walked door to door, checking on residents and keeping an eye out for improvised explosive devices and the suspect at large in Watertown Friday, police said the event highlighted some needed upgrades.

To and from Watertown, the Cape Ann group drove a handful of vehicles. The fleet included a CATA bus, painted black and white with tinted windows, that may have sputtered its last miles before pulling back up to the Rockport Police Station Friday night.

”We have to use what we have,” Schmink said of the van donated by Gloucester. “I think it died in the parking lot of the police station when we got home. We had to jump start it just to bring it around back.”

The vehicle had finished the trip, but not without one rusty door flailing open as police drove it during the terrorism response.

Schmink’s report also noted that modernized body armor would lessen the burden of wearing the heavy and hot current equipment. He suggested raising funds for high-tech global positioning devices — not the kind you find on any of today’s smartphones, but the kind that can zero in on longitudinal and latitudinal locations.

Schmink also wrote that the team found their communication technology lacking.

”It was immediately recognized that the team was lacking proper equipment to communicate while out of sight/verbal range of other members,” he wrote.

Schmink acknowledged the team’s issues with the communication equipment and added that they did quickly change channels on their portable radios to clear the communication lines.

”We actually solved that quickly, but there’s room for improvement there and we need to upgrade our technology to help us out too,” Schmink said.

Cape Ann’s regional team encompasses Rockport, Essex, Manchester and Ipswich. Gloucester recently left the team to join the larger North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council team. The Cape Ann team includes 15 members, all of whom dispatched to Boston and Watertown Friday.

The team’s members acquire gear and buy equipment by applying for federal grants, using their uniform allowances given to them by their police departments, and sometimes even paying out of their own pockets. Some of the equipment they use actually belongs to their respective police departments.

”One of the benefits of having a regional team is the ability to pool resources,” Schmink said Tuesday. “Our police departments support us, too, because it benefits our departments, as well.”

He noted that as members of the Cape Ann Regional Response Team, many of the police obtain certification in hostage negotiations, ammunition instruction, and a range of other skills.

Despite the bumps in the road, the Cape Ann team rose to perform its duties during the intense manhunt for Tsarnaev, Schmink said.

”It went extremely well. We did what we were trying to do. We were able to make it home safely and we were able to assist all those agencies that needed the assistance, and that’s what we’re trained for,” Schmink said.

Of the 15 team members, Schmink and 11 others left Monday for New York City to attend a multi-day training session on special weapons and tactics. Members already plan upon their return to meet in a new command center trailer, donated by the Army National Guard and parked in Rockport, where the group will discuss a fund-raiser and prepare grant applications.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.