GRIFFITH — The movies make blowing up a safe or blasting open a door look so easy. Truth is, there is a real science and safety factor involved, as evidenced at a police training session Wednesday.
Members of the Northwest Regional Swat Team detonated doors at an abandoned home during a quarterly training session.
Aaron Amptmeyer of the St. John Police Department, a member of the team, said the drill involved blowing up and front and back doors of the structure — possibly a back garage door.
The town provided the home at 627 E. Ridge Road to the SWAT team. The adjacent two homes are earmarked for fire department training.
The Northwest Regional SWAT Team is a multi-jurisdictional emergency response team of police officers from 10 Northwest Indiana departments. These include Merrillville, Cedar Lake, St. John, Hobart, Lake Station, Schererville, Munster, Dyer, Griffith and Crown Point. This team is responsible for protecting nearly 223,00 residents in an area more than 160 square miles
The team’s mission is to provide tactical response to critical incidents. These include armed or suicidal subjects, barricaded subjects, sniper situations, high-risk apprehension or warrant services, dignitary protection, civil disturbances, disaster assistance, terrorist incidents and special assignments.
Assisting Amptmeyer were officers Jon Halloran of the Crown Point force, Nolan Archer of Munster, and Tony Hemphill of Griffith.
As Archer explained, the charges were to be placed inside the home. The amount of explosives used depends on the type of door, Archer said. Typically in a smaller structure, a 6-inch interior door charge would be placed, and the purpose of the explosion is to remove the door’s locking mechanism.
“The process is actually fairly simple, once you figure out the type of door and which way it opens," he said."Then you decide on the type of charge, place the charge, and then get a safe distance away before detonation.”
Police can calculate the safe distance from the explosion.
A SWAT team member for seven years, Archer has been working with explosives for two years. Team members annually attend a weeklong explosive breach school in central Indiana, where they build and set off 100 charges.
The idea is not to go overboard with the explosive, Amptmeyer explained.
“We set the charge specifically to breach the wall,” the St. John officer said. “Our intent is not to injure but to negotiate the door and not do extra damage.”
Working in the team’s command center, Amptmeyer prepared the detonation cord, which is placed in a fire hose and then attached to the door. A blasting cap sets off the explosive.
The command center comes with a computer, printer and telephone for communicating with subjects inside the residence or commercial building. There is also a white board for jotting down notes about the situation or subjects involved. The 2-year-old vehicle has already logged 1,700 miles.
Amptmeyer estimated the team responds to 10-15 calls annually. The team works within a “threat matrix” to determine the appropriate response. One scenario, a team member suggested, might be a suspected drug dealer who has done prison time and who possesses weapons.
"We’re not going to kick in a door for an Xbox," Hemphill said.