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Police team rehearses critical, life-threatening scenarios with help of New Berlin neighborhood

Justin Hutter, a Waukesha County Technical College law enforcement student, exits the home with Karen Engeldinger, a New Berlin Police Academy member, as a hostage in one training scenario by the Suburban Critical Incident Team in New Berlin on Thursday, May 15.

Justin Hutter, a Waukesha County Technical College law enforcement student, exits the home with Karen Engeldinger, a New Berlin Police Academy member, as a hostage in one training scenario by the Suburban Critical Incident Team in New Berlin on Thursday, May 15. Photo By C.T. Kruger

May 16, 2014

New Berlin — Heavily armed police swarmed into a New Berlin neighborhood and nearly invisible snipers trained their guns on two houses where hostages were being held.

More than once, desperate suspects tried to escape by walking out using a hostage as a shield and holding guns to their heads. At one point, a body was even dragged out.

The scenes were frightening but not as terrifying as the real thing would have been. This time, the combined SWAT team was called out to drill for the unthinkable so it will be ready when it's for real.

On the morning of Thursday, May 15, the Suburban Critical Incident Team with officers from New Berlin, Muskego, Brookfield, Elm Grove, Hartland, Chenequa, Pewaukee, Mukwonago and Delafield practiced drills at two homes.

Everybody in a residential neighborhood gave permission for helmeted SWAT officers with rifles to hide behind their trees or rush suspects from their yards. Shots were fired and suspects went down. It was all in the name of practicing to protecting the innocent and take down armed bad guys.

The SWAT team went through five hostage scenarios that were about as bad as they can get.

In one harrowing scenario two robbers took refuge in a home following a robbery gone bad at a nearby restaurant. A card party with 13 guests had been in progress and now all were hostages.

The suspects threatened to kill the hostages one by one if police didn't let them go. One of the robbers wanted to surrender but his partner killed him and had two hostages drag his lifeless body into the yard as a message to police that he means business.

Another scenario involved four religious extremists taking a whole Bible study group hostage, vowing to kill the pastor. They demand a live television crew to come and film the pastor apologize to the world for his indiscretions. Then the hostages would be released, but the pastor must die. The extremists say plainly that they don't plan to live through the incident.

The final scenario focused on two heroin abusers who try to rob a couple of the large amount of heroin they know they are hiding. Besides the couple, there are four users in the house. After police surround the house, one of the men surrenders to police, but the other leaves the house with four hostages as human shields heading for his getaway car.

The scenarios are tightly scripted but only the suspects, the hostages and the officers running the drill know what's going to happen. New Berlin Police Capt. Jeff Hingiss, commanding the SWAT exercise for the day, had some idea of the setup but otherwise he and the SWAT team had to figure it all out as situations unfolded. They didn't even know who was who, for example they didn't know if people running out of the homes were escaping hostages or the actual suspects trying to get away.

As the dramas played out and hostage negotiators searched for breakthroughs, split-second decisions had to be made. A critical moment came in the scenario of the distraught husband when he had been talked down from killing the assisted living home operator and said he wanted to surrender. But Hingiss had to order the negotiator to stall. They had hostages to get to safety first.

Often the drills climaxed with the suspects making a fatal mistake that gave police a clear shot and they were picked off.

All the SWAT team members are the best shots in their respective police departments, but even among them, there are sharpshooters.

Their uniformscamouflage makes them almost invisible. That day they looked like tiny brown bumps blending into tree trunks.

All three of the bad guys might be wearing SWAT uniforms one day as one of them has already graduated from the criminal justice program at WCTC and the other two are still in it.

One of the suspects, Justin Hutter, fired such hostility at the hostage negotiator it was chilling to hear him bark into the phone.

"In five minutes, we're going to start hurting hostages," he snapped. Then he ordered a police vehicle out of the driveway: "Right now! Hurry up!"

The goal was to make the drill realistic. Hostage scenarios were chosen because hostages take the situation to a higher level, said New Berlin Police Capt. Michael Glider who orchestrated the hostage side of the drill.

"If there's a single person barricaded, time is on our side but if there's a hostage, time isn't on our

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