Kendall County Special Response Team is ready for the worst

Members of the FBI's Evidence Response Team Unit investigate in downtown Highland Park, Ill., the day after a deadly mass shooting on Tuesday, July 5, 2022.   Police say the gunman who attacked an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago fired more than 70 rounds with an AR-15-style gun.   (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

If the worst should happen and there is a mass shooting incident in Kendall County, a special team of police officers is ready to take action.

The tragic events at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade have once again demonstrated that such occurrences can happen anywhere.

The Kendall County Special Response Team is a rapid deployment force trained to handle a variety of scenarios ranging from a mass shooting or a hostage-taking to serving search or arrest warrants.

“We’re ready to go wherever we are needed and ready to do what needs to be done,” said Oswego Police Sgt. Mike Barajas, commander of the Special Response Team.

The team was formed 30 years ago as a partnership among police agencies in the county.

They include the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments from Oswego, Yorkville, Plano, Montgomery, Minooka and Plainfield.

The current 23-member team consists of 17 police officers and sheriff’s deputies, a crisis negotiator from the Oswego Police Department and five firefighter-paramedics from the Oswego Fire Protection District.

The group trains one day every month and for an intensive stretch of several days once every year.

A major part of the team’s responsibilities is to execute search warrants or arrest warrants that the local police agency has deemed potentially dangerous.

The number of such warrants to be executed varies greatly, up to as many as 30 year, Barajas said. So far this year, the team has handled two such warrants.

In 2020, the team was deployed to help deal with the rioting and looting that broke out in Aurora. The team used an armored vehicle from the sheriff’s office.

Kendall County Sheriff Dwight Baird said an armored vehicle can be an extremely valuable piece of equipment.

“If you’re responding to someone who’s shooting, an armored vehicle can be used as cover to evacuate people and bring in medical assistance,” Baird said. “There are a lot of applications in today’s society.”

That’s why the Oswego Police Department is in the process of procuring an armored vehicle of its own.

“You hope you never have to use it, but if you do you’re glad you have it,” Oswego Police Chief Jeff Burgner said. “You can bring resources into a situation that is volatile.”

The Oswego Village Board has approved the purchase of a Lenco Bearcat G-2 armored truck from Lenco Armored Vehicles, above, for use by the village police department at a cost of $251,136. (Photo provided)

The Highland Park parade shooting is yet another horrific occurrence that confirms changes in how police plan for large public events.

In the past when planning for a parade, police agencies focused on road closures and other traffic concerns along with making sure access is available for vehicles to respond to medical emergencies.

“We’re finding there are other things we need to do,” Burgner said. “Our event planning is evolving.”

For example, Oswego police use large public works department vehicles to establish barricades at events such as the Christmas Walk and PrairieFest, Burgner said.

The Special Response Team’s officers have been attending those events, easily distinguishable in their olive drab uniforms

“The response from the public is overwhelmingly positive when they see our team members at an event,” Barajas said. “They appreciate our presence.”

When mingling with the public, team members forgo wearing their ballistic helmets and some of their other heavy gear, but the equipment is nearby and ready for use in an emergency.

“The fact that people understand why this added layer of security is necessary is a sign of the times,” Barajas said.

Yorkville Police Chief Jim Jensen said his officers all receive training in responding to an active shooter situation.

“Our officers are trained to locate and isolate an active shooter,” Jensen said.

Yorkville police officers were stationed along the route for the Yorkville Independence Day parade, Jensen said, and there are lessons to be learned from the Highland Park shooting

“You’re going to see a lot of changes in every community for how events are planned and staffed,” Jensen said. “I think there are going to be some things that we do differently.”

These likely will include police checks of buildings along a parade route and officers stationed “on higher ground,” meaning building roofs and other vantage points.

Jensen said that he has officers who are members of the Special Response Team. He said street-level patrol officers are likely to be first to arrive at an active shooter scene and that they are trained to respond in the same way as the Special Response Team.

Barajas said members of the Special Response Team go through a rigorous application, selection and training process.

The team includes a special group of snipers who undergo an even more intensive training regimen.

Barajas is justifiably proud of the team.

“It’s a testament to their dedication to do this right,” Barajas said.

A constant refrain from police is to remind the public to report anything suspicious or unusual.

“If people see something that doesn’t seem right, they should say something,” Burgner said.

“We’re better off erring on the side of caution,” Barajas said.

Experienced law enforcement professionals like Baird, Burgner, Barajas and Jensen said changes in society have forced them to make plans and train for situations they never imagined.

“If you told me 31 years ago we’d be training at this level, I’d have said you were crazy,” Baird said.