SILVERDALE — Kitsap County Commissioner Ed Wolfe was taken hostage during a training exercise at the Billie Eder Community Center May 27. Fortunately for Wolfe, law enforcement officers were able to rescue him.
The exercise began with Wolfe being held hostage by two armed, masked gunmen. Hours of negotiation with police had already gone by, and now the hostage takers were making threats.
“I am done talking!” one of the men yelled, making threatening remarks to Wolfe.
Suddenly, an explosion tore a hole in a wall of the room and at the same time another explosion caused a door to open. Several uniformed SWAT members walked into the room carrying a shield and rifles.
“Hands on your head!” SWAT team members yelled.
The two suspects were taken down, and Wolfe was taken to safety.
About 30 spectators stood behind yellow tape at the other end of the building to watch the exercise. One child in the group began crying because of the loud noises.
Wolfe said afterward the intensity of the exercise made his heart pound.
A “hostage taker,” left, aims a gun at SWAT team members as they show how an explosive entry was done.
Lt. Russ Clithero explained how the “explosive entry” worked:
“What that did is it opened up a window into the room … the (SWAT) guy got up onto the toilet and could see into the room,” and shot one of the suspects.
Clithero said the SWAT team averaged about 13 call-outs every year to serve a warrant or deal with a barricaded suspect.
Clithero said the SWAT members were on-call at all times, but otherwise worked as regular deputies. The team trains 16 hours every month. The team also has three SWAT medics.
A K-9 unit also showed off its capabilities. Deputy Joe Hedstrom showed how his dog, Titan, could heel and also how the dog could be commanded to run, then stop, an then run again on command.
A chew toy was used to reward the dog for its good behavior. Titan is originally from Germany, Hedstrom said, and responds to commands made in the German language. Hedstrom said that language was useful in that it made it more difficult for “bad guys” to know what he was instructing the dog to do.
K-9 Titan, left, bites the arm of a “bad guy” during a simulated arrest at the Silverdale Community Center May 27. At right is Deputy Joe Hedstrom, the dog’s handler.
Hedstrom also showed how the dog could “arrest” a suspect by hurtling toward a suspect and biting his arm. A volunteer who was wearing a protective sleeve on his arm allowed Titan to bite him to show how it worked.
To Titan, it was all just a fun game.
“Notice the dog; watch his gait. Is he looking angry? No; You see his tail wagging like crazy. The dog is having a blast. He doesn’t know (the seriousness of the situation). Usually when the bad guy screams and yells (Titan is) clueless to why he’s yelling so much,” one officer said.
As far as the police dog is concerned, the officer said, “This is supposed to be fun.”
Kylie Danskin of Poulsbo, right, pets Titan the police dog. With Danskin were her children, Jaxon, 1, and Jaiden, 3. At left is Deputy Joe Hedstrom. The dog was said to be very friendly.
In a final demonstration, Joe Vlach with Central Kitsap School District pretended to be a deputy dealing with a suspicious man. “Deputy” Vlach was given a firearm and he asked the man what was going on. The suspect pulled out a gun and pointed the gun at his own head. Both men then fired at each other.
The situation was reset and this time the suspect pointed the gun at the ground. Vlach yelled for the suspect to “Put the gun down!” The suspect then rapidly raised the weapon to shoot Vlach. Again, both men fired about the same time.
The situation was reset a third time. The suspect had his back to Vlach this time. Vlach yelled at the suspect to “put your hands where I can see them.” The suspect whipped around and Vlach fired his gun. Then Vlach realized the man had only been holding a cell phone to his ear.
“Deputy” Joe Vlach, left, fires his gun at a suspicious suspect who turned around quickly. The suspect was only holding a cell phone, not a gun.
Vlach’s exercise had been set up to show how little time an officer had to assess a potentially dangerous situation.
It’s a real problem because officers interact with hundreds of people they do not know every day. They don’t know how each person might react. To minimize risk, officers needed to issue clear commands and be able to see a suspects hands.
“I hope that this provides a little insight to what our office does and some of the challenges and issues that we have to deal with on a daily basis,” said Sheriff Gary Simpson at the end of the event.
[RELATED: Public invited to view hostage rescue exercise at Silverdale community center ]