St. John has a hidden weapon against crime like no other

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 24, 2005



LAPLACE – In this day and age of a national alert against terrorism, it comes as no surprise that law enforcement agencies from the local to the federal level have raised the bar of preparedness.

While most big city agencies have SWAT teams ready to take on terrorism or hostage situations, you don’t see such lines of defense on the small city level. Simply put, it is a matter of money and dedication of man hours that most smaller agencies can’t afford.

And that is perhaps the biggest reason that the level of preparation which has been brought to St. John Parish is something that even the casual observer has to be impressed with.

At the direction of St. John Sheriff Wayne Jones and Chief Harold Klibert, the parish can proudly

boast of a S.O.R.T. (Special Operations Response Team) unit that is ready for almost any top level challenge.

While the unit hopes to never have to deal with something as large as a terrorist attack locally, the SORT team is still a highly trained team that gives St. John Parish the skill that can handle any kind of situation which is above the normal training level of most police officers.

“Any crisis that would take more than a patrolman, we can handle it,” Capt. “Chuck” Bazile said. “We hope to never be needed for a terrorist attack here, but right now we have a unit that is trained for that, or anything close to it.”

The team is made up of about 12 members and has had a huge investment put forth from the sheriff. He budgets approximately $30,000 a year just for a week-long training session out-of-state that keeps the unit up to date on their skills, as well as any new innovation or techniques.

Additionally, the unit has to train for eight hours one day a month to keep their skills sharp.

The SORT members are all full-time Sheriff’s Office patrolmen, and the patrol schedule makes sure that several are always on the streets in the event of a crisis situation.

So far the unit has handled a number of search warrant situations where firearms were expected, as well as catching felons. And now the unit is expanding to meeting with local industry officials such as Dupont to become familiar with their facilities in case any of the large plants in the area become involved in terrorist acts.

Bazile heads the unit, with Capt. Octavio “Ox” Gonzalez and Capt. Sam Moody assisting him as the leadership with the team.

“You have to remember that this isn’t ‘little’ St. John Parish anymore,” Bazile noted. “We are growing every day, and unfortunately, so is the crime. We have to be prepared for anything.”

The unit was formed in 2001 when Bazile gathered information about what it would take to form such a team, discussing it with Jones and Klibert.

“Sheriff Jones has been so supportive of this unit from the first day,” Bazile said. “It is a real commitment of our resources to have this, but he feels like it is important to provide more safety to the area.”

Tryouts were held and 11 original members were selected, then sent to Special Operations training.

That was followed up by FBI training the second year, and this past year the group was sent to the Black Water Training Facility in North Carolina.

“The Black Water site is headed by a man who was a former Navy SEAL, and gave us a lot of firearms training, as well as handling difference scenarios. It’s very intense,” Bazile remarked.

The SORT team has gained such a strong reputation regionally that they are now part of the Homeland Security team for Region 3, which includes six area parishes. Bazile is the vice-chairman for the region.

Thanks to the help of several local businesses, the Sheriff’s Office was able to build a “Shoot House” on the site of the local jail. It allows the leadership to stand on a catwalk above the house, and watch the SORT team handle different scenarios below that can involve any number of situations.

“The SORT team should give every resident of St. John Parish peace of mind just knowing we are here,” Bazile said. “It’s the kind of thing you hope you don’t need to use, but you never know what will happen and we’re trying to be as prepared as possible.”