Steamboat Springs Police Department officers and Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies, from left, JD Paul, Seth Merrick, Jake Carlson, Evan Noble, Kurtis Luster, and Sam Silva start their timed 300-yard run at the high school track while trying out for a new inter-agency tactical team.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers and Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies, from left, JD Paul, Seth Merrick, Jake Carlson, Evan Noble, Kurtis Luster, and Sam Silva start their timed 300-yard run at the high school track while trying out for a new inter-agency tactical team.

Routt law enforcement agencies try new tactic with SWAT

Sheriff’s Office and Police Department pooling resources to make joint team



Steamboat Springs Police Department officer JD Paul holds Doug Scherar’s feet while he does sit-ups during joint tactical team tryouts Wednesday at the high school.


Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Tom Munden crosses the finish line during the 300-yard run.


Steamboat Springs Police Department Detective Dave Kleiber sprints to finish the 300-yard run. Kleiber is the team leader for the joint tactical team.

— Routt County’s two largest law enforcement agencies are developing a team of their fittest, most skilled officers to serve on the SWAT team.

Officials with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and the Steamboat Springs Police Department say that by creating a team between the two agencies they hope to save money by combining resources and quicken response times.

“We are pooling our resources for a combined tactical ability,” Steamboat Police Chief JD Hays said.

Steamboat police have had a tactical team in place since the early ’90s. It was formed when the Hells Angels motorcycle club converged on Routt County, said Detective Jerry Stabile, who served on the original team and was trying out for the new team Wednesday. Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said the Sheriff’s Office has not had its own SWAT team but all of the deputies are SWAT certified. That was mandated by former Sheriff Gary Wall, and Birch is thankful the deputies have received that training.

About a dozen law enforcement officers tried out for the tactical team Wednesday. The goal is to have 12 to 16 people on the team. The training day started on the shooting range, where officers had to complete a series of timed tests. They then headed to the Steamboat Springs High School track for physical fitness tests.

“By the time they get here, they’re already feeling it,” Steamboat Police Capt. Joel Rae said.

Successful completion of the physical test required doing at least 30 sit-ups in 60 seconds, at least 30 continuous push-ups, a 300-yard dash in 66 seconds, and a 1.5-mile run in 14:30.

The minds of the officers were then tested in the afternoon during an oral exam. Birch and Rae interviewed each of the officers and asked them questions such as what their vision was for the combined tactical team. Selected members then will train together at least one day a month.

Steamboat Police Detective Dave Kleiber has been chosen as the team’s leader. He has been the Steamboat SWAT commander the past six years. He was previously a member of the what he described as a very active SWAT team in Anchorage, Alaska. Kleiber also served in the Army for 28 years and spent 11 of those years in the Special Forces.

Kleiber said he is looking forward to the two agencies pooling their training resources and working closer together.

“It’s something we identified a long time ago as something that is appropriate for this area,” Kleiber said.

Rae said the team would be training to handle situations such as serving high-risk warrants, hostage situations and active shooters.

“If something big happens, we’re going to be working together and handling it together,” Rae said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email


mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

You know what would be nice?

It would be nice if the "elite" tactical team in this area had physical standards above those that I personally had in high school. This physical test does NOT inspire much confidence or peace of mind.

"Successful completion of the physical test required doing at least 30 sit-ups in 60 seconds, at least 30 continuous push-ups, a 300-yard dash in 66 seconds, and a 1.5-mile run in 14:30."

You're joking, right? You call that a physical test? This is not all that taxing, at all. It's actually kind of embarrassing. In the Navy, we used to call guys in this physical category "$#!+-bags," because that's all they were good for, carrying around their own crap.


Paul Timmons 3 years, 6 months ago

While on the surface, the previous comment by "mmjPatient22" seems to be a good point, I see it very different. The physical test the Officers and Deputies participated in is only one ingredient of the overall recipe. As with the entrance physical to all of the Military branches (INCLUDING the Navy, which he refers too,) it is only a weeding out process. You are simply getting rid of the folks who have not prepared themselves for this task.
It is not intended to find the most absolute athlete of the mountains. It however does not prohibit someone from exceeding those minimum standards if the Officer/Deputy can do so.
There is so much more that comes into play when selecting a SWAT member. You are looking for a certain passion, a mindset of team commitment as well as being able to work alone. A discipline to stay on a perimeter securing the back of a scene while all of the action is going on elsewhere. The integrity of the mission and team is what make it successful to provide the best tactical workings for all involved directly or indirectly.
I’m sure that mmjpatient22 could pass the entrance physical portion with no problem. But I’ll bet there is somebody out there who can do a little better. That is why the other portions of the selection process are as important. mmjpatient22 may have come up 3 pushups less than a competitor, but his marksmanship may always be in the 90 percentile. It would only make sense that mmjpatient22 gets to be graded on all of his knowledge skills and abilities, not just on his ability to pass the ironman physical fitness championship.
I applaud both departments for their teamwork together and that the leaders of the departments recognize the value of a combined team. KUDOS. PAUL TIMMONS


Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Well, the group picture hardly shows a well conditioned crew. Maybe some of these guys will see these pictures and want to improve their fitness.

I hope the swat commander considers these physical standards to be the minimum to start training with the team while setting higher standards to remain on the team. Certainly, the level of fitness affects the team's ability to move quickly as an unit and a good swat team should be able to move much faster than the current minimum standards. .


callguinness 3 years, 6 months ago


First the hells angels event wasn't as much of a problem as some though it could have been. Maybe that is because they are all such nice people, or maybe it was because of all the extra police presence while they were here. The little mess you are referring to is commonly thought to have been a murder. So I would say that your comment to no serious crime is a bit of an over statement.

Next are just the first few that I found in the pilot archives of news stories where an advanced level of training was needed for the situation. Granted these are "rare" as in about once a year. However these are just the stories you read in the paper I would suggest talking to some of law enforcement personnel to see how often they actually put these tactics to work.

Lastly I'll admit the final story cited here is not a local one, but it happened in a small community where I'm sure many people asked the same questions you just have.

For me and my tax money, a little extra training for the people who are here to protect me is all money well spent.


jerry carlton 3 years, 5 months ago

I wonder how many of these so critical of law enforcement have been on the wrong side of law enforcement? Any of you critics ever been arrested for anything?


rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Only trouble I ever got into was for having too much fun. Never hurt a soul, nor damaged their property. My bro's been a cop his whole life. I've ridden with him. I know both sides.


ftpheide 3 years, 5 months ago

rhys, If their was a shooter in a heavily populated area , a school for instance, wouldn't you want a team of officers that were trained specifically to handle this situation be the ones that respond. This wouldn't be the time for confusion. In the past everyone was Swat qualified. The SO was "Swat Happy." Now their being selective and limiting their use to active shooter, hostage situations and high-risk warrants. I understand your apprehension. Seeing people ,on the news, riddled with bullets because they don't immediately comply with orders from a screaming Swat member. It's sickening. I think mental compentency should be more important then physical ability for a Swat officer.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

No one is suggesting that mental competency is anything other than extremely important.

The suggestion is that physical competency is also important and the minimum standards are pretty minimal. The photographs also suggest that some of those that passed the physical standards are overweight and could significantly improve their fitness. This is a not a question of only accepting elite athletes, but of accepting people at least 20 pounds overweight.

Not that anyone should be fired or barred from training with the SWAT team, but as a SWAT officer and the nature of situations they are training to handle, it is reasonable to expect the team to be quicker and more mobile if they improved their level of fitness.


callguinness 3 years, 5 months ago

Scott- Just because they are in the picture doesn't mean they passed the test. Now I wasn't there, but I'm guessing you weren't either. The picture is only of people trying out for the team. I think it is quite an assumptive leap to think that everyone who takes the test passes. Also just finishing the physical ability portion doesn't mean you are on the team. Notice the part about shooting qualification and an oral interview. All of that plays in, so I think you are all jumping up and down over potentially nothing.

Rhys- I'm baffled by your last post. You mention that there is a time and a place this could be a good thing to have around. That a well trained SWAT team could sweat out and provide for a peaceful resolution to a situation that other undertrained officers may over react to. I get that these situations are less likely in Routt County than some major city. However this is not utopia as some would like to believe and bad stuff does happen here. I don't understand with what you just wrote how you can so adamantly have posted above how you think this team is a bad idea.

Also in response to my cited articles above. I'm not so sure about all the conclusions you came to. 1. It took hours to get the team together because there wasn't enough of them on duty at the time and the SO and PD weren't working together. So this new team would hopefully speed the response. 2. A man with fully automatic weapons, whether he is using them or not, should get a heavily armed response. I would rather have the officers be ready than reading what you say about them if they wandered in with suit and tie and got attacked with the rifles. 3. Easy to monday morning quarter back that one. Maybe if they stayed out both of the hostages would have been killed. Then would you sit here and tell me they should have moved in and attempted a rescue.

Point is bad things happen to good people, I want the best trained to try their best when the time comes.

I think it is great that the two agencies are working together to get us a well trained team at a reduced cost, because it is now a shared team and a shared cost between the city and county.


mmjPatient22 3 years, 5 months ago


Something tells me that you've got more of a problem with my screen-name than what I have to say.

I'm more than convinced that there are countless individuals in this valley(and every other valley on this planet) that are more physically fit than myself. I would never claim to be some bronze Adonis, that all other men should be modeled after. That was no where near the point I was trying to make. A little closer to the point I was making was that the initial physical requirements for being considered for further selection as a SWAT officer in this town....are minimal, at best. I'm not saying this because I'm some specimen of physical excellence. I'm saying it because I know for a fact that I'm not the only one who giggled at those physical standards when I first saw them.

All I'm getting at is that an elite/respectable/fearsome/precise group of individuals, that are trained in how to use weapons and tactics in a very special way, ought to have physical standards that are a bit more stringent than a high school phys. ed. class.


rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

One last thought:

SWAT teams in small towns such as this I find particularly scary. As in most businesses, the large markets pay more, and small markets are the training ground. Steamboat gets the kids just out of school, and recently-discharged military, often MP's, people just starting their law-enforcement careers. Many have an ax to grind, a mark to make. They can be particularly excitable. By the time you reach the larger markets -- Denver, eg -- most of the hotheads have been weeded out. They know what real crime is there, and don't get their panties in a bind over the petty stuff. Not like here.

So now you're sticking automatic weapons, loaded, in the hands of a bunch of excitable kids, making them judge, jury, and executioner. Sanctioned para-military, and quite scary, in my opinion. I stand by my original remark: You are only asking for trouble. Besides wasting money.

Now if EVERYBODY carried a gun, I'll bet THAT would drop the crime rate. Fini.


ftpheide 3 years, 5 months ago

rhys, I don't recall your ever having that much to say on any subject! Thank you for the warnings.


rhys jones 3 years, 5 months ago

It comes and goes. Don't get me started on the Fed. :)


Kevin Nerney 3 years, 5 months ago

I was going to stay out of this one but have changed my mind. Regardless of the physical requirements, training is the most important aspect of these types of jobs. One good way to train is live practice. Not to blow my own horn, or bring up old memories, but before Ski Time Sq. was bulldozed, I went to City Council and tried to convince them that those buildings would make a great place to practice a disaster situation. I recommended all agency's attend, Police,Fire, Communications, County, State etc. Vail set up such an exercise before one of their bldgs. went down and they said it was a great experience and were willing to assist in the various scenarios. As you may have guessed it never happened and the oppourtunity was lost.


ftpheide 3 years, 5 months ago

All of the Routt Co. schools are basicly unoccupied in the summer. Ski Corp. also has a time frame when they are closed. Good places to practice.


kathy foos 3 years, 5 months ago

These guys look great and especially the big one.If you are wrestling down a suspect,the big strong one is the way to go,I would rather be caught and pinned by him,than shot by a little guy who cannot hold onto me and must shoot.You guys are to be respected for this tryout,good luck.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

I have an actual serious questions: Is the SSPD officer in charge of the SWAT team for actions outside of city limits as well? Does he report to JD Hays for situations within SB city limits and Wiggins for actions outside of city limits? And exactly how does it work for incidents in Hayden or Oak Creek where apparently SSPD officers are acting in another jurisdiction? Could SSPD be liable for actions taken by one of their officers for an incident in another jurisdiction? Would they be acting under OCPD when in Oak Creek?

This is not criticizing anything. Just wondering how it is going to work with other jurisdictions.

And btw, should be noted someone acknowledged that Gary Wall did something right - That was mandated by former Sheriff Gary Wall, and Birch is thankful the deputies have received that training.


Matt Stensland 3 years, 5 months ago

Scott: I can't answer your question entirely right now, but I will pass along what I know. Steamboat Police Detective Dave Kleiber has been chosen as the team leader. An agreement between the Sheriff's Office and Police Department designates the team's commanders as Undersheriff Ray Birch and Steamboat Police Capt. Joel Rae. Birch also said they are working on interagency agreements with other agencies. Hope that helps.

Matt Stensland Reporter Steamboat Pilot & Today 970-871-4247


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

Not that it will probably ever matter because there will probably never be a complicated situation where Birch and Rae have significantly different opinions on what to do, BUT this sort of divided command is generally recognized as a bad idea because what happens if there is an incident where Birch and Rae have completely different opinions on what should be done?

Command structure is not so important when everyone agrees, but it becomes critical when a clear decision is needed when there are differences of opinions. Maybe Rae has final decision for incidents in SB city limits and Birch in rest of county. Or maybe one is recognized as having better tactical knowledge than the other and so that one always has final decision. Not that they cannot normally reach consensus on decisions and treat each other as equals, but if there is a situation in which they cannot agree then one has to be able to take charge and take responsibility.


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