METRO PD: We can't police bus stops, but we've got sharpshooters and a bomb robot!

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Last week, METRO’s expensive blogger profiled the transit agency’s elite counterterror unit. We’ve written before about Chief Lambert’s questionable policing priorities, but Mary Sit’s post provides even more fodder:

They are METRO’s elite force – a group of police officers who are part of our Special Operations Rescue Team (S.O.R.T.), a highly-skilled force that trains weekly. To the left is Rick Hernandez, S.O.R.T. team leader [looking super-tough in a picture–ed.].

Every Tuesday, they attend a briefing. One week, it may be a hostage at a daycare center. Another week, it may be a bomb on the rail line.

These are mock situations the S.O.R.T. team re-enacts as if they are real-life dramas. They include barricaded suspects, terrorism threats and hostage situations.

As one member suits up – or “kits” another – placing a heavy flak vest over someone’s head and tightening it with Velcro belts, there’s no chitchat. It’s silent as each officer concentrates on the mission ahead. When kitted up correctly with everything in place, the officer signals with a “thumbs up” sign.

Impressed yet? There’s more:

The equipment and uniforms for the S.O.R.T. team include headsets and microphones so sensitive that one member can speak in a voice just above a whisper to another, describing the situation. Knee pads and elbow pads are de rigueur.

“We’re in one position a long time – two hours minimum,” explained Randolph Foster, 17 years at METRO and six years on S.O.R.T. “One time (in a drill), we waited from 3 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., waiting to get word to go take the suspect out.”

Wait, we’re not done:

Team leader Rick Hernandez, five years on S.O.R.T. and 10 years with MPD, called himself “an adrenaline junkie” who enjoys stepping beyond the routine.

“It’s definitely not something your average run-of-the-mill police officer does,” said Hernandez.

Two operators on S.O.R.T. are the designated snipers, who usually observe with binoculars and the scope on their rifles what is happening and report to the command center.

“We have to be perfect,” said Bobby Croft, a S.O.R.T. sniper. “You only have one shot, and it’s the first shot that counts.” Croft, who uses a Remington 40XS-308 caliber rifle, said he’s never had to shoot in a real-life situation.

And the icing on the cake:

In addition to S.O.R.T., we had our bomb robot on display in the lobby. Jimmy Meeks, one of two bomb technicians at METRO, explained that the robot is kept on a special METRO truck and can reach any location on the rail within 10 to 15 minutes – or 25 to 30 minutes in the city of Houston.

A bomb robot! Awesome!

It’s worth recalling that METRO PD admits it cannot adequately police bus stops, and has even reminded riders that they can carry a gun if they have a concealed carry permit.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.