Inside New Hanover County's Detention Center there's a team of highly skilled men and women trained to deal with the absolute worst case scenarios. The Special Response Team (SRT) is the "SWAT team of the jail," a Tier One group whose been called upon to train other officers from all over the world.
The "old school" way of dealing with unruly inmates typically involved each officer taking an arm or a leg and doing whatever it took to get the inmate under control. As expected, this usually involved either the inmate or the officers getting injured.
The SRT was created as a response to the safety risk, as a team capable of delivering precise, non-lethal intervention. Situations such as non-compliant inmates, violent prisoners or even a riot or hostage situation can occur without little warning.
"The people brought in here from the outside world are people who are not following the rules on the OUTSIDE world," points out Detention Officer Sergeant Michael Riddick. "When they come in here and you put them on the All Star team, they're not going to follow the rules inside the facility. Our job is to make sure we keep the roof on the house. Every day, 24 hours a day."
Sheriff Ed McMahon explains that the goal is to maintain peace and good relationships with the inmates – up to a point.
"If you want to act up or become violent then you will deal with our Special Response Team and NONE of the inmates want to do that," McMahon says. "They are very intimidating but they are very professional. The likelihood of someone getting hurt goes way down."
"It's not always running out there with hats and bats like the old days," says Riddick. "Now it's about running out there and trying to be a mediator, a de-escalator and sometimes we have to be a strong arm if necessary."
If an inmate needed to be extracted or there was a riot in the facility, the SRT would be called in once it was determined that the situation was more than the on-duty officers could handle. Once that call is made, a complex network of radio communication begins to ensure that the necessary response is given.
Some members of the team may initiate reconnaissance to discover what the situation entails and who is involved. At this point, a Plan A, B and C is quickly developed.
"Once we execute that plan…it is ON," says Riddick. "We're going to get control of that house, get control of those inmates and get it to stop!"
The SRT moves in silently using only hand signals and touch. The inmate is given the opportunity to calm down with several commands. If the inmate refuses, the team quickly moves in and initiates a series of tactical moves to subdue the prisoner. Click on the video on this page to see their response re-enacted.
"When we bring 'em out we utilize psychology, our natural fears to get control of the inmate," explains Riddick. "We stretch them out so we can take the fight out of them. And then we move them into position. We flip him over, we raise him into the air, we let his FEAR do all the work for us. Why fight a person if they are going to do all the work for us? When they are more compliant, we put them into a cuffed position where we're all safe."
The Sheriff says that in most cases, the inmate is in handcuffs and walking away before anyone realizes what has happened.
"The end result? No injuries, inmate secure. It's a good day," says Riddick.
The S.R. T. Unit has trained the Following State Agencies:
322 Shipyard Boulevard