The California Department of Corrections (CDC) is the nation's largest correctional system. They are reponsible for housing anyone convicted of a crime, and sentenced to serve a prison term within the state of California. The CDC is currently responsiblile for housing 160,846 inmates in one of the 33 prisons or 38 camps located in the remote areas of the state. CDC employees 45, 976 personnel with 28,804 of them being sworn officers.CDC facilities are assigned a security level ranging I through IV, with I being the lowest and IV the highest.
Within the CDC emergency situations, and high-risk special assignments are handled by a highly trained specialist unit known as the Special Emergency Response Team, or SERT. Every level II through IV facility is required to maintain a SERT.
SERTs are used in situations when regualar institutional forces are unable to maintain or regain control of a situation, or when the situation is of such a high-risk, that the SERT's specialized skills and equipment are deemed useful. When employed, a SERTs primary responsibility is "To save lives and protect property".
Some situations of when a SERT maybe employed include the following:
SERT teams are composed of volunteer personnel, who when not training or activated, are assigned to regular full-time correctional duty assignments. Team size varies from institution to institution (12-21 members) depending on the size of the facility, its location, the institution's security level, inmate population, and the response time of addtional support units. All SERT personnel are on 24 hour standby to be recalled to their assigned institution, or to any other institution needing assistance.
SERTs can trace their origins to the losely organized tactical teams formed during the sixty's and seventy's to deal with disturbances within CDC facilities. These teams had no formalized training, structure, equipment or standardized operating procedures (SOPs). In 1982 the Director authorized a an assessment to study the Departments ability to respond to disturbances within CDC facilities. Upon completion of the assessment the Director recommended the establishment of a Disturbance Control Program with in the CDC. SERTs were a major component of the new program, and in May 1983 the department conducted its first formalized SERT training academy, with official authorization and funding being granted by the Governor and state Legislator in July of 1984.
Prospective SERT applicants must have completed probation and one year of service prior to submitting an application to the institutional team commander. Applicants must be disciplinary free, without adverse action or sick leave abuse, and must possess acceptable supervisory evaluations to qualify them for SERT assignment. The applicant must be medically cleared by a physician prior to beginning the selection process. Applicants must then successfully complete:
Teams are required to train at the institutional level at least ten hours a month. Team members also attend outside and Departmental training. Formal SERT training is conducted by SERT instructors at the Emergency Operations Unit Training Center in San Luis Obispo, California. Departmental training available to SERT personnel includes:
A SERT normally consists of: a Team Commander, an Assistant Team Commander, three Tactical squads, and one Marksman squad, each led by a Squad Leader. One Tactical Squad performs as the primary Assault Squad, one is the Crisis Entry Squad, and one is the Inner Perimeter Squad. The fourth squad, the Marksman Squad, performs intelligence gathering, fire support/coverage, and last-resort lethal force duties.
Tactical squads consist of five men assigned to one of the following positions: Pointman, Back-up Man, Squad Leader, Omni Man and Rear Security. The Marksman Squad is a squad of four specially trained marksmen, which is divided into two Marksman/Observer elements.
California has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the developement and evaluation of new technologies and equipment for use by tactical units. This holds true for the states SERTs. Each SERT member is equipped with a personalized a load bearing vest, ballistic vest, flashlight, goggles, M-17 protective mask, Nomex gloves, Nomex bala clava, restraint gear, rappel equipment and other specialized, or mission-oriented equipment. Team members receive an annual SERT uniform allowance for uniforms and foot gear.
Team equipment available for use includes hand-held FLIRS (forward-looking infrared system), night vision equipment, maxi beam lights, spotlights, bullhorns, 800 MHz Motorola radios with ear mikes, ballistic shields, battering rams, heavy entry ballistic vests, ballistic helmets, electronic surveillance equipment, thermal cutting entry tools and other tactical equipment. Each team also maintains a unit armory and team room equipped with equipment lockers and plot boards for tactical planing. Most teams have some type of emergency response equipment vehicle and team transport vehicles. Addtional transportation is alos provided by California National Guard vehicles and aircraft in emergencies.
SERTs have a wide range of weapons systems available to them and include the following: S&W .38 caliber pistols, CAR-15 5.56mm rifles, HK MP5' 9mm SMGs, .308 Remington 700 P.S. with optics, Remington 870 shotguns and 37mm gas guns. Also available for use on specialized operations are: HK 94 and Ruger Mini-14 rifles. In operations with the Department of Justice, 9mm handguns are used to help standardize equipment carried by tactical teams. All SERT personnel must qualify quarterly with all authorized weapons. SERTs are also authorized Def-Tec Stinger and flash/sound munitions, as well as all standard chemical agents (CN and CS) and their delivery systems.
SERTs may be used off prison grounds both for Departmental and non-Departmental responses. Requests for SERT assistance should be directed to the Deputy Director of Institutions (via the prison Warden) if a mutual aid agreement is in effect, or coordinated through the Office of Emergency Services (OES) in the event of a declared state of emergency.
SERT personnel have participated in a wide varity of operations over the years, including the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), and the CAMP Reconnaissance and Arrest Team (C-RAT)-C-RAT programs. TheSoledad Correctional Facility SERT provided security for the Pope during his 1988 visit to Monterey. During the Los Angeles riots in April of 1992, 23 SERT personnel deployed to Departmental parole and community correction facilities assist parole staff in returning inmates to custody. SERT teams have also assisted several local agencies with hostage and/or barricaded suspect incident.