Citizens Police Academy student Chris Gardner tries on the SWAT protective vest and helmet.

By Anne Eickstadt


With an array of specialty SWAT team items on the tables behind him, Sgt. Chris Washburn began the evening by asking the class if they wanted to hear about guns or drugs first.

“It’s not actually about guns,” he said. “I know that when people think about SWAT, they think that the violence is going to escalate with guns firing and blood running. In reality, we try very hard to deescalate the situation and resolve the issue without any bloodshed.”

Washburn is the Belvidere Police Deptartment SWAT Team commander.

The history of the SWAT Team in Belvidere began in 1991. Two officers made up the Belvidere Critical Response Team. One of them, David Ernest, was the hostage negotiator and the other, Officer John Coduto, was a sniper. (David Ernest moved up in rank and then moved onto the county payroll as sheriff.)

In 2005, with eight members, it became the Belvidere Tactical Response Team (TRT). This caused some confusion as Dispatch sometimes referred them calls meant for the fire department’s Trench Rescue Team (TRT).

By 2015, the team had added two Boone County sheriff’s deputies and three firefighters as medics. With several departments involved, the team’s name was officially changed to SWAT – Special Weapons And Tactics.

Today the BPD’s SWAT Team includes 12 members and Washburn, who acts as liaison between the SWAT team and the command staff. The team now includes not only Belvidere police officers but also four Boone County deputies, and three Belvidere Fire Department paramedics. SWAT is a collateral duty for each of these men, they do extra training in addition to their usual duties.

SWAT specializes in hostage rescues, barricaded situations, and assisting with high-risk search warrants where there is reason to believe that the suspect is heavily armed, will offer violence, or is a known gang member.

Washburn went on to explain SWAT Team tactics and about some of the special training involved in being a SWAT member.

“I’m not trying to kill them,” Washburn said. “I’m trying to get them to stop trying to kill me. Once we do that, then we can apply first aid. SWAT is a thinking man’s job. It’s like a chess game. We have to use tactics to outthink the suspects. In the name SWAT – Special Weapons and Tactics – the most important part is the word Tactics. We use tactics to outthink and outwit the suspect without violence.

“99.95 percent of our sniper’s job is to get intelligence for the SWAT Team. Just looking at a house you can tell a lot about its layout from the locations of windows, chimney and doors. In a kitchen, there is usually a window above the sink. That kitchen window is structured differently than the other windows of the house so you can determine where the kitchen is. The same for bathroom windows – they are unique to the room.

“Do the doors swing open in or out, right or left? Is there a storm door? If the breacher does not know which way the door swings, he could bring the wrong breaching tool or be standing in front of the team as they prepare to enter. Then everyone is standing in front of the newly opened door and they lose the element of surprise.

“Our breacher has attended a special breacher school to learn all the subtleties of the job. There is also a chemical munitions school that teaches our specialist how to make the enclosed space uncomfortable for the suspect and get him to come out – and also how to decontaminate the place. We use pepper spray, not tear gas. To date, we have not had to use gas to get the suspect to come out. We want them to come out without harm to anyone.

“We have a Tier 2 SWAT Team. Tier 2 is called out for hasty hostage rescues, high threat searches, and barricade situations. If the BPD has a warrant but we know that there are hostiles inside, the SWAT team will be there.

“SWAT’s mission is to get the hostile person(s) out without anyone getting hurt.

After a quick break, Washburn began discussing drug operations. He explained how law enforcement is seeking out the low level street level and midlevel dealers and searching all the way up the line to felony level and narcotic suppliers to stop the flow of narcotics into the area.

The METRO Narcotics team depends on patrol officers to provide intelligence about drug dealers because the patrol officers are constantly out on the street and are able to observe drug related behaviors.

Other information conduits include local, state and federal leads pointing to Boone County; citizen complaints about strange behavior, occurrences and events they observe; cooperating witnesses who are working off charges or for cash payment; and other counties with leads.

The detectives then go to work setting up surveillance; gathering background information and intelligence about the target; cultivating informants; and collecting evidence. They are then prepared to arrest the target, seize their assets, and try to flip the target to get information leading to accomplices and suppliers.

The detectives watch for crimes related to drugs and supporting the habit of drug addicts. These can include drug sales; retail and auto theft; robbery; burglary; identity theft and check fraud; forgeries and deceptive practices; prescription thefts and fraud; battery; domestic battery; prostitution; prescription theft; and false police reports to commit insurance fraud.

Court cases might take from two to six months to come to trial. During that time, the detectives are continuing to collect evidence to support their case against the suspect. Judges that live in the community do not want drugs in their area, and take it personally, so they are hard on drugs. Felony warrants need to be approved by the state’s attorney so detectives are advised as to what, exactly, the attorney needs/wants to have in the way of evidence to obtain the warrant and a conviction.

A drug is, by definition, any substance that, when inhaled, injected, smoked, consumed or absorbed, causes a chemical change in the human body. Illegal substances which fit this description are: cannabis/marijuana, cocaine/crack, heroin, opiates and fentanyl, diverted prescriptions, methamphetamines, inhalants, synthetics/bath salts/K2/Spice, hallucinogens/LSD/mushrooms.

While cannabis is now legal in Illinois, it is only legal when purchased from a state dispensary and must be transported in a sealed container. It must also be secured in the home. 

The most used drug of choice can vary. For a while it was heroin, then cocaine, then back to heroin. Heroin is highly addictive and one of the most rapidly acting drugs available. The human brain is hard-wired to seek things that provide an endorphin rush to the brain. These things can be exercise, thrills, love, or sexual excitement. The body becomes used to that level of pleasure in the brain and any amount of time without it becomes agonizing.

Nearly all the people who use heroin used at least three other drugs as well. People who drink alcohol are twice as likely to become addicted to heroin. People who use marijuana are three times more likely to become hooked on heroin, and cocaine users are five times more likely to become addicted to heroin. The brain/body becomes ‘acclimated’ to a level of drugs and requires more to reach the same high they are used to.

Some signs of heroin addiction are: constant lying and secrecy and missing spoons, missing money, jewelry and valuables.

Chicago is a big hub for drugs, most of which come from Mexico. Heroin can originate there or be routed through Mexico from Iran, the Golden Triangle, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Columbia, or elsewhere.

Heroin is often being cut by using fentanyl (common name Demerol), which is a general anesthetic. It is more potent than morphine and is generally used, in very precise medicinal dosages, for medical purposes for cancer and other illnesses. If the amount of fentanyl used to cut heroin is incorrectly calculated, users can easily OD and die.

Nalaxone (Narcan) reverses opiate overdose effects and is the best chance at sustaining life during an overdose. It does not cure addiction. It is only to be administered by EMS/Law Enforcement and every law enforcement officer in Boone County has used Nalaxone to save a life.

In 2014, deaths due to heroin in Boone and surrounding counties were:

Boone – 1; Cook – 321; DeKalb – 2; McHenry – 17; Ogle – 4; Winnebago – 41.

In 2016, deaths due to heroin in Boone and surrounding counties were:

Boone- 2; Cook – 521; DeKalb – 5; McHenry – 24; Ogle – 4; Winnebago – 54.

Solutions to this increasing drug problem include: community support, family stability, Crimestoppers, prison, treatment, education, support of law enforcement and drug court.

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