By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — An empty bank that’s now owned by the city provided a perfect training spot for the region’s law enforcement tactical response team Tuesday.
A plain panel truck surrounded by officers dressed in tactical gear, an armored car, an ambulance, several squad cars and even a team of firefighters with a ladder truck caught the eye of people traveling through downtown.
What they couldn’t see was what was going on inside the former U.S. Bank at the intersection of South Second and East Walnut streets in the heart of downtown Mankato.
Members of the Minnesota River Valley Tactical Response Team were going through scenarios for armed robberies, hostage situations and emergency rescues from dangerous situations. Signs around the area told passersby that police training was taking place.
“Tactical response teams respond to all sorts of situations that law enforcement officers don’t usually see,” said Paul Hagen, St. Peter police officer and tactical team leader. “If we don’t prepare, then we won’t be able to respond effectively and efficiently.”
Officers moved around quietly and deliberately inside the old bank as they practiced tactics inside. They used earphones and whisper microphones to communicate without drawing attention to themselves.
If things turn bad in a situation, officers don’t bother using their microphones anymore, Hagen said. They will start yelling so everyone can quickly pinpoint where the problem is and what needs to be done.
The team practices 10 hours per month and a few full days every year. It is made up of officers and deputies from Mankato, North Mankato, St. Peter, Blue Earth, Nicollet and Le Sueur counties, and a special team of rescuers from Gold Cross Ambulance.
Sometimes law enforcement majors from Minnesota State University or other people pretend to be bad guys. On Tuesday it was the hosts of the training, the St. Peter Police Department and Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department, playing the roles of the crooks, Hagen said.
At one point Mankato firefighters joined the training by providing the means for tactical team members to get on the roof of the old bank. That gave the team an opportunity to use fire equipment they weren’t used to using, said Don Gabler, Blue Earth County sheriff’s deputy and team member.
Firefighters also had a chance to train for the possibility of having to use their specialized equipment for something other than fighting fires in high places.
“It’s nice to have them participate in something like this,” Gabler said. “They get a feel for what they have to do.”
In a real situation, things would be much different than what happened Tuesday, Gabler said. The firefighters would be protected by armed officers in full gear.
The scene downtown would have been different, too, if the situation would have been real. Nearby buildings would have been evacuated and downtown streets would have been closed to traffic, Gabler said.
Hagen said residents aren’t always aware of training taking place in public areas because it’s often done at night. The team also trains regularly in public schools when when students and teachers are on break.