Seven officers from La Joya and Sullivan City will receive increased training and new equipment after they join the San Juan Police Department Law Enforcement Emergency Region Response Team.
LEERRT is the San Juan SWAT team, composed of smaller agencies and trained to respond to violent incidents.
The team assisted in the July 22 shootout in La Joya with gang member Joaquin Cibrian. The 29-year-old was shot and killed after he injured two Edinburg police officers. The standoff lasted three hours, according to San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez.
“One of the main priorities here is to get the right training, equipment and the right tools to respond to emergency situations like the one we had six weeks ago,” La Joya Police Chief Geovani Hernandez said. “We’re very motivated and happy to be accepted by LEERRT, and we’re ready to contribute.”
Five officers from La Joya and two officers from Sullivan City will start a three-week training in late October for the response team. Training consists of various topics like using tactical handguns and long rifles.
Gonzalez started LEERRT in 2009 because he felt the smaller agencies of Hidalgo County didn’t have the resources to form their own tactical teams. The program is funded by Homeland Security and recently received $56,000 that will fund the seven new officers. The grant money pays for training, and head-to-toe equipment. LEERRT has been funded more than half a million dollars in the last four or five years, according to Gonzalez.
The SWAT team has a max of 32 members, but due to resignations and relocations, it recently lost seven members. Because of this, Hernandez and Sullivan City Police Chief Miguel Martinez were able to get their officers involved. It was a mutual agreement between the chiefs and city managers, according to Gonzalez.
“The only way they get chosen or accepted into the team is there has to be a need for it and there is a need for these two agencies to join us,” Gonzalez said. “They’re in the area that is going to continue to see violence, so we just want to be proactive.”
Hernandez stressed that the problem is not La Joya, but the activity that runs through town and nearby cities.
Other agencies involved with LEERRT include: Palmview, Palmhurst, Alamo, Mercedes, Progresso, Peñitas and medics from the McAllen Fire Department.
“At one point or another, we’re all going to need each other’s help and the Cibrian case here in La Joya was a great example of that,” Hernandez said. “Even though San Juan was one of the lead agencies there, we were able to work together. That’s why we’re here.”