Merged SWAT teams cull expertise from Fontana, Colton, Rialto police officers

LYTLE CREEK – There’s a man on the ground cradling a long rifle with a fat barrel topped with a hulking telescopic sight.

When the trigger is pulled, the mild crack doesn’t hurt the ears – even without ear protection shooters customarily wear.

And the gun didn’t even quiver slightly from recoil.

Both these characteristics don’t seem right for the powerful .30-caliber round just fired.

But this isn’t Lytle Creek’s public gun range, Lytle Creek Firing Line, at the top of the road. Nor is it the private West End Gun Club down below.

Well hidden from the public – with no signs announcing its existence – is the Fontana Police Department’s firing range.

This day is a training day for the recently

SWAT teams practice the correct way to enter a hallway during their training. ((Rachel Luna / Staff Photographer))

formed Inland Regional SWAT team, which combines the Special Weapons and Tactics forces of three area police departments: Fontana, Colton and Rialto.

The rifle, fired by a SWAT officer, has a $1,300 suppressor – illegal for civilians to own – which muffles sound and helps to tame recoil.

That huge telescopic sight can magnify a target 14 times and has grooves to attach a night vision device.

In an era of ever-tightening budgets, the consolidation of the three specialized units forms a single group with big numbers, diverse skills and great equipment, officers assigned to Inland Regional SWAT say.

“It’s half the money and twice the protection,” Fontana Lt. Obie Rodriguez, who heads Inland SWAT team, said in-between bursts of distant machine gun fire.

“We have been able to reduce staffing each department contributes to SWAT, yet increased the team,” Rodriguez said.

The effort has created unity.

“The team has come together so easily because members have a similar mindset and dedication,” said Sgt. Jim Jolliff, assistant tactical supervisor with Inland SWAT and a 21-year veteran of Colton’s SWAT team.

For Fontana, the merger has meant that 30 officers assigned to SWAT has become 16 – yet the combined force is 39.

Training demands are another burden SWAT programs place on their department, Rodriguez said.

The state of California mandates that SWAT teams practice core skills 20 hours per month.

During those periods, officers are pulled from their routine functions, be they patrol, traffic, detective, narcotics or some other area of police service.

Since the merger in July, Rodriguez and other officers say they have been pleased with the merger and what it’s brought – a chance to learn from other’s expertise.

In one scenario, a team of officers practices building entry techniques in the “live fire shoot house” which was built several years ago by Fontana SWAT officers in their off-duty time.

Entering the shoot house, holding a pistol – not a short-barreled machine gun like the other officers, is Dr. Michael Neeki, an emergency room physician at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.

Neeki has been a member of the Rialto SWAT team for several years and with the merger, became the team doctor for Inland SWAT.

“The team benefits and so does the public,” Rodriguez said – because Neeki brings the most current lifesaving technologies to every call.

And he’s upgrading the skills of the team’s medics.

Each department in Inland SWAT had their own armored vehicle.

But in a worst-case situation, one vehicle could only accommodate a few team members from their respective department.

Being able to muster three vehicles to a scene gives protection to just about everybody, Rodriguez said.

“Many times, seeing a force like that show up is about all we need to do,” said Sgt. Jim Burton, an 11-year veteran of Fontana SWAT.

Since its formation, the team has been called up for 11 barricade situations, two high-risk arrest warrants and its negotiations have been summoned for one suicide attempt, Rodriguez said.

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