Citizens get an up-close look at highly specialized SRT team

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - They are the SWAT team of the jail, better known as the jail's Navy Seals, a team of 14 people working to keep the peace behind steel bars.

The New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Special Reaction Team (SRT) or special response unit are men and women assigned specifically to the detention center, ready to deal with worst case scenarios.

Tuesday night, we watched as an inmate refused to leave his cell. Non-compliant, it was time for the SRT deputies to spring into action.

With non-lethal force, the inmate is extracted from his cell. It's a real-life scenario that plays out sometimes 200 times a month in the jail.

This time, however, an audience of 50 citizens and WECT were watching. This time, it was all a drill.

"Our relationship with the community is so huge," NHC Sheriff Ed McMahon said. "If we don't have a bond and trust with each other, then what your perception of us, whether it is right or wrong, is going to be your reality."

Highlighting the SRT is just one part of the 11-week Citizens Academy program. The goal is for people to gain trust and understanding about what goes on behind the jail walls.

"The Special Response Team is a tier one, the highest tier you can have, very highly trained, physically and mentally and highly skilled, top of the top," McMahon said.

The SRT moves in often silently with hand signals, precise movements and touch. They give the inmate ample opportunity to respond before they use tactical moves to subdue the prisoner.

When they respond to hostages or riot scenarios, they often use air or paintball style guns, weapons the Citizens Academy even got to shoot Tuesday night.

For these citizens, seeing it in action was eye-opening.

"It seems very organized, and well thought out, doing it in a way that controlled the inmate quickly with no strikes or hurting them," said participant Will  Sakowski.

"I think coming in here we have that old movie attitude. Deputies walking around with bats, and it's so different," Steve McEarney said. "It's like charitable almost, the way they handle the people and the cleanliness. Professional job."

The SRT in New Hanover County has trained other teams across the state and even in the Philippines and Australia,

If you would like to join the citizen's academy, click here.

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