COVINGTON - If only all crime scenes had such a happy ending.
The Covington Police hosted a bank robbery at the Bank of North Georgia in Newton Plaza on Tuesday morning and all the main players attended - everyone from bad guys to the Covington/Newton County SWAT Team. A good time was had by all.
The event was a training exercise required to maintain certification by the CPD, but other agencies in town assisted them, including the Covington Fire Department, the Newton County Sheriff's Office, Newton County EMS and the City of Covington Utilities Department. CPD spokesman Lt. Wendell Wagstaff estimated there were approximately 20 to 25 officers with the CPD and 10 to 15 additional public safety staff on hand for the scenario.
"What we prepare for today can happen tomorrow," Wagstaff pointed out. "If this bank was robbed tomorrow, I think our chances of catching the perpetrator would be greatly enhanced."
Team Commander Lt. Al Miller had everything planned from the time the bad guys entered the bank until they were taken away in handcuffs, having first mapped out events and strategy in table top re-creation and planning sessions.
The bank robbers were portrayed by Sgt. Arvo Bowen and Lt. Paul Dailey. They were scripted to enter the bank, rob it and take the 12 employees hostage, placing them across the glass doorways at the front and the back of the building in an effort to dissuade police from opening fire.
The bank took the opportunity to use the event as training for their employees, as well.
"We contacted the Bank of North Georgia and their internal security wanted in on it. They were more than receptive," Wagstaff said.
During the course of the mock siege, one hostage was released to show good faith, but the script called for another to be shot in the leg, requiring emergency medical care.
The bank employees who portrayed hostages admitted that at first acting in the scenario was fun, but after awhile it became sobering to consider how frightening it would be if the events were real.
Trained hostage negotiators Officer Julie English and Sgt. Chuck Groover talked to the bad guys inside the bank via phone for about a half hour before SWAT was given the go-ahead to enter the bank and rescue the hostages. Snipers were stationed on the other side of Newton Plaza from the bank and reported good visibility as to what was occurring inside the bank.
The SWAT team staged across the parking lot and ran in tandem to a position outside the bank where they waited for the command to enter the premises.
Wagstaff noted that the team's weapons were not only unloaded, but were tied to prevent a trigger being pulled.
"The weapons are tied and there is no ammo at all," he said. "We take all necessary safety precautions to make sure no one is injured."
As the SWAT team entered the building, they yelled for the hostages to get down and leave the building. They were able to subdue the bad guy portrayed by Dailey immediately, but the second man, Bowen, barricaded himself in a back room, taking the bank manager with him. He was eventually persuaded he was outnumbered and he gave up.
Officials agreed the training was successful and said valuable information was gleaned to prepare officers for real bad guys.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.