By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
It wasn't your typical conference.
For one thing, law enforcement officers with the Mississippi Tactical Officers Association can't get two people together, much less more than 100, without popping some caps.
Their idea of a meeting is lying in the dirt and weeds and sending 160 grain, .308 bullets 300 yards downrange to a moving target.
"Yeah, it's different," agreed Eric James, training coordinator for the Meridian / Lauderdale County Public Safety Training Facility located on Sandflat Road. "I don't think you could get these guys in a conference room to listen to anyone. Not in their nature."
The annual conference is held each year at different locations throughout the state. This is the third year the Meridian facility has hosted the conference, James said. He said law enforcement agencies from the state and local level sent representatives to the conference and those officers took full advantage of the facilities on Sandflat Road.
James said the conference includes numerous shooting competitions consisting of two-man and four-man teams. The participants, 140 in all, compete in sniper drills, clearing buildings and exercises geared toward scenarios experienced in real life cases.
"These are all timed events and some of them can be pretty grueling," James said. "You have to work together in order to achieve these results that put you at the top of the class."
James admits this isn't your normal conference environment but then again these officers don't do a normal job. James said whenever they are called into a situation as a member of a SWAT team or special tactical operation, it is a given the stress level has risen dramatically. And it is that reason why these officers like to get together once a year.
"There is a great deal of networking that goes on between law enforcement agencies," James said. "Many of these agencies have worked alongside others in the state on certain crimes and it is important to keep those contacts fresh. It is equally important for other agencies to meet officers from outside their jurisdiction. You never know when you will need to make a call for help."
In addition, James said even though the basic skills and procedures governing SWAT teams have not changed in many years, the officers can still learn much from other teams and agencies.
James said techniques such as improved communications, types of gear and weapons are all hot topics among the officers and it goes on continually during the four-day conference.
"It might be a little thing here or a little thing there but the underlying reason behind it is to do a dangerous job safer and more efficiently," James said. "And if one agency is doing it a better way, other agencies don't have any problem adopting that technique."
Simply put, James said the information passed back and forth during the four days could very well save the life of an officer, an innocent civilian or the perpetrator.
The conference culminated last night with the awards banquet. The winning teams could possibly take home as prizes weapons and gear that could be vital to how those officers continue to do their jobs.
As for those officers representing the Meridian Police Department, James said they held their own against some of the best special tactics teams in the state. And hopefully they came away with ideas on how to do their jobs safer and more efficiently.