Members of the Jefferson County SWAT Team couldn’t precisely reproduce the stressful conditions they face in the field for a handful of SWAT Team candidates last week. But they sure gave it a mighty effort.
Eight candidates from the Arvada Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were trying out for three spots on the elite squad. The candidates had a general idea of what they were getting themselves into, but had no way of knowing how difficult it would actually be.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Arvada police Sgt. A.J. DeAndrea, a team leader on SWAT. “You better give it 110 percent.”
The day started about 8 a.m. in a workout room at the sheriff’s office in Golden. The candidates warmed up with a few sets on the bench press, then had to press up to 110 percent of their body weight to score maximum points on the first of five physical tests that morning. Members of the Special Weapons and Tactics Team gathered around the bench press, alternatively yelling words of support and of scorn.
The SWAT members and the candidates looking to join them then headed out to a lobby to see how many sit-ups and push-ups they could muster in a minute, followed by a short trip to the North Area Athletic Complex, where the candidates were timed in a 300-meter dash and a mile-and-a-half run.
The run seemed to wear some of the candidates out, as they labored to cross the finish line while SWAT members and their fellow candidates urged them on.
Everybody then piled in vehicles and headed back to the sheriff’s office, where an obstacle course was waiting. The course consisted of eight stations that had to be completed in six minutes, with 15-second penalties for not completing any one stage.
The candidates first had to jump over a small wall from a set of stairs, then run to a ladder that scaled one of the walls of the loading dock. They had to go all the way up the ladder and back down, with their feet touching each rung. They then sprinted to a rope hanging down a wall, where they needed to climb about 15 feet and lift a foot over a line in the wall. Back down the ladder, and a sprint to a series of tires to run through. After the tires, the candidates had to run up a slight hill and perform a fireman’s carry of a SWAT member for about 20 yards.
Next came a run about halfway around the sheriff’s office, where the candidates ran up a set of stairs, climbed onto a picnic table and had to do five pull-ups. After the pull-ups, the candidates had to drag a SWAT member lying on his back a short distance to the finish line.
Most of the candidates were dead tired before they even started the run around the building.
“I bonked after the carry,” said Deputy Pat Shriner, reporting that his legs were as heavy as lead after the fireman’s carry.
Another candidate’s lips were blue as if he’d been drowning in a pool of water and deprived of oxygen when he topped the stairs on his way to the pull-ups, which he couldn’t complete. Most of the candidates needed to breathe from an oxygen tank to recover from the obstacle course.
“I don’t always work out for things like the SWAT test,” said sheriff’s Deputy Steven Pike. “I work out on my own time, and changed the workout a bit to try and accommodate what was on the test. A lot of extra days at the firing range with the pistol, a lot of time studying SWAT policies. It paid off a lot.”
Pike said that no one stage of the obstacle course was harder than another, and that the “entire obstacle course was just hard in and of itself. It was probably the hardest thing physically I’ve ever done in my life.”
What kept Pike going and trying to record a good time?
“Our SWAT team doesn’t test very often,” Pike said. “The spots are few and far between. The next opportunity may not be for five years, and that really pushed me through it. Five or six minutes of your life isn’t too bad to feel a little pain.”
Before lunch, John Michael and Ellen Keyes stopped by to visit with the SWAT Team and the candidates. The Keyes family has grown close to SWAT members since Sept. 27, 2006, when a gunman killed their daughter, Emily, at Platte Canyon High School. The Jeffco SWAT Team entered the room just as Duane Morrison killed Emily, and Morrison died either by a self-inflicted wound or was shot by one of the SWAT members.
“This is an amazing group you guys are looking at playing with,” John Michael told the room of worn-out candidates.
“I was pretty taken aback by that,” Pike said. “I wasn’t expecting them to be there. To see them walking through the door — I thought it was very moving that they could come here and show their support.”
John Michael was on hand for the rest of the day’s testing, sharing moments of conversation with various members and candidates throughout the afternoon.
Stress fire test further narrows field
After lunch, the candidates who made it past the morning testing were subjected to the stress fire test, in which they would have to fire their weapons with distractions coming from all angles.
They began with 25 push-ups as SWAT members shoved them and yelled in their ears. They then had to run a short distance up a hill, round a flare in the road, return to the same spot and do 10 more push-ups, amid more yelling. They then climbed into the driver’s seat of a patrol car and were told to get to the top of the hill as fast as they could without crashing. As they were driving, a SWAT member in the passenger seat was yelling at them, and one in the back seat was yelling and pounding on the plastic partition. At the top of the hill, they had to climb out of the car and shoot at three targets with a shotgun while standing between the car and the open door. They then ran down a hill, around a bend, and up another hill, where they had to crouch behind a barricade and fire at three targets. While they were crouched and shooting, a SWAT member threw a stun grenade to within a few feet of them that exploded with powerful force.
To their credit, most of the recruits seemed unphased by the grenade.
After shooting three more targets, the recruits ran a short distance, shot at three more targets, and ran 25 yards to the finish line.
‘Something I’ve always wanted to do’
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Pike said. “Whether it’s a special operations team in law enforcement, or in the military, it’s something I’ve always been interested in doing.”
He said his family — a wife and two sons, with another on the way — are OK with his decision to try to join SWAT. His wife met him while he was a U.S. Marine, after all, and “she knows what it’s like. She’s always been really supportive — backed me up 110 percent.”
Pike said he and his wife have talked with other SWAT members and their wives about the impacts the job has on family life. He said he wouldn’t have tried out without his wife’s support, because he wouldn’t want to waste the team’s time.
Pike, who had to go before a board for an oral exam the day after the physical tests, won’t know if he made the team for at least a week, possibly a few. If he made it past the oral exam, he faces a psychiatric evaluation before receiving final approval.
And if he’s lucky enough to be able to join the elite team in Jefferson County law enforcement, he would dread having to carry one small device.
“It’s the pager,” Pike said. “They love the pager, but they don’t like it, either, wearing it constantly 24-7. They like it when it goes off, because then they get to go do what they train to do. It’s a love-hate relationship with the pager.”