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Officers try out for
Special Weapons and Tactics team

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

He grabbed the metal bar. He hoisted himself up, and tried to throw a leg up and over.

Steve Long missed the bar, and for a moment he hung there, sweating through his dirty gray T-shirt and listening to 16 men scream at him.

"Go, go, go, go, go, go," the men screamed. "Let's go!"

"You slow down, you're not gonna make it," someone screamed.

They were bunched around him, wearing dark blue shirts with the word "SWAT" printed on the back. Their voices were getting hoarse.

Long inhaled and exhaled.

Someone yelled: "You want it or not? You want it or not?"

He pulled himself up, arm muscles tightening, and made it over the eight-foot bar.

The men yelled, "Go, go, go," and he ran.

Long was one of four Clayton County Police Officers who ran though an obstacle course in one of the final phases of the Wednesday-morning Special Weapons and Tactics tryouts.

Long, Sue Bennett, Stephen Loffredo and William Lee went through six hours of tests in hopes of making it onto the county's 22-member SWAT team.

"Because it's the most elite thing you can do in the police department," Loffredo said. "Cream of the crop."

They've been training for a few months, for Wednesday's test, which started in a weight room, sent them running for a mile, and had them sprinting, jumping and crawling through an obstacle course. The test ended on the firing range.

Loffredo said he's wanted to be on the SWAT team since he was a kid.

Lee said he prayed to God, Wednesday morning, that he would make the cut. He stretched, took a shower, ate a bowl of oatmeal, and prepared for a long, tough day.

"By the end of the day," said Deputy Chief Tim Robinson, the SWAT commander, "you pretty much know who needs to be on there. The team can tell, by the end of the day. It's almost a natural selection process."

The team regularly executes no-knock search warrants for the narcotics unit and for the crimes against persons detectives. They are called out about twice a month, on average, Robinson said.

They practice twice a month and for one week during the summer.

Robinson said SWAT members are expected to:

· Be calm in emergencies

· Multi-task

· Stay in shape

· Work as a team

· Be mature

· Learn tactics

· Learn special weapons

· Shoot accurately when exhausted

To get past the preliminary screening, the would-be "cream of the crop" has to pass a firing range test with a 90 percent accuracy, according to the deputy chief.

"You have to be able to shoot when you're tired," Robinson said. "The SWAT is expected to be able to make that shot."

Loffredo said he didn't think the shooting was the hardest part, though.

"It's not any one thing, that's hard," he said. "It's the whole thing."

The four were waiting to hear, Wednesday night, if they had made the team.