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Exclusive: New NCIS leader creating SWAT teams to counter mass shooters

Nov. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
NCIS Director Traver MWM 20131105
Andrew Traver, the new director of Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is working to create new SWAT-like teams that could respond in the event of a mass shooting. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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The Navy’s top lawman has fast-tracked the creation of SWAT-style teams of NCIS agents who will be better armed and more suited to respond to active-shooter threats on Navy and Marine Corps bases.

Many details are still being worked out, but Andrew Traver, the new director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, told Navy Times that the creation of these units must be a top priority, as he expects more mass shooting attempts will occur.

“I was told when I got here, ‘NCIS is not involved in that many use-of-force or deadly-force encounters,’” Traver told Navy Times on Tuesday in his first sit-down interview since taking the job Oct. 7. “But the Navy Yard is a prime example the world we live in now is a dangerous place and these kind of things are going to happen, unfortunately, with greater and greater frequency. So I think it’s important to have a process in place for individuals that respond to things like the Navy Yard.”

The first responder inside Building 197 on the Navy Yard on Sept. 16 was an NCIS agent, who saw employees streaming out of the building and ran back to his car for his helmet and bulletproof vest. Some current and former agents said this was a matter of the right agent at the right time; one retired agent expressed relief that the responder had body armor in his trunk, saying that many agents don’t have these at the ready.

In fact, many NCIS cars lack the basics like sirens and other emergency equipment needed to get on-scene quickly when seconds count, one agent said.

While saying the agency’s response to the shooting was adequate, Traver made clear NCIS needs to start building teams immediately to deal with situations like those involving deranged gunmen, similar to police departments and other federal law enforcement agencies, and to outfit more agents with the protective gear, rifles and the tactics needed in a crisis.

“In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, there’s issues with respect to having enough training to be able to respond to an active shooter, to a high-risk situation, [and] having the adequate equipment: Long guns, hand-held radios, vehicles with emergency lights and sirens,” Traver said in the interview, conducted at his office in NCIS headquarters in Quantico, Va.

Traver envisions an arduous training course for these SWAT members that could be taught by military special operators or other law enforcement agencies. Graduates would then join teams in their regions and go through a week of training every few months with other collateral duty team members. The training will be standard so that agents can plug right into teams wherever they go.

It’s unclear how soon these teams could be formed or how much it would cost.

“We’re establishing ... emergency response teams” in the larger NCIS offices — branches in Camp Pendleton, Calif; San Diego; Norfolk, Va.; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Washington, Traver said.

These teams would be made up of “a cadre of agents that will train together initially and then train at least one week a quarter together to focus on active shooters and agent rescue and high-risk warrants and situations of that nature,” he explained. “If you’re a member of a special response team in Norfolk and you get transferred to Camp Pendleton, you can mesh right into the team out there because the training will be standardized, the operational planning will be standardized and the equipment will be standardized. We’re looking at other available funding streams to acquire the equipment that’s necessary.”

Traver, at 50, still bears the physique of a veteran crisis responder. As an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Traver was a plankowner with the Entry Control Team in Chicago, ATF’s then-equivalent to SWAT. He served about 150 high-risk warrants during three years on the team, he said.

He later rose to command positions in ATF, leading the fight against violent gangs as head of the Chicago Field Division and then the Denver Field Division. Despite these law enforcement bona fides, Traver’s nomination to head ATF was blocked twice by the National Rifle Association. But there was no opening to scuttle his chance to lead NCIS, as the agency’s top job does not require a confirmation vote by lawmakers.

Traver has worked major shooting massacre cases. He led investigations into the 2012 Aurora, Colo., theater rampage and the 2008 Northern Illinois University shooting on Valentine’s Day. He sees his new job as nothing less than revamping his new agency’s culture to face these troubling threats.

“Part of this is just changing the attitude about who we are and realizing that we are first responders, and we are going to get involved in violent confrontations on a more regular basis and kind of bringing that on board as part of the culture,” he said. “That’s something I’m more than prepared to do because that’s where I come from.”

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