Officers special-trained to stop prison riots are facing off with DC protesters. Here's how they're trained for crises.
- Wild theories have emerged following the images that showed groups of men wearing unmarked clothing while wielding riot-control gear in Washington, D.C.
- Based on numerous images and videos, none of the officers appeared to carry firearms specifically designed to kill.
- The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the Justice Department's agency responsible for prisoners, later confirmed that the officers were their employees.
- These officers have additional hours of training on top of their regular duties for the Bureau of Prisons.
Wild conspiracy theories have emerged following the distribution of images that showed groups of men wearing unmarked clothing while wielding riot-control gear in Washington, D.C., during the George Floyd protests this week.
The presumptive law enforcement officers did not appear to have on uniforms that revealed their agency affiliation or their names, leading bystanders and news reporters to raise concerns on their purpose at the protests.
The officers wielded several protective gear and riot-control weapons, including batons, rubber-bullet guns, and 40mm grenade launchers likely containing non-lethal rounds.
Based on numerous images and videos of the officers in Washington, the vast majority of them were not carrying firearms specifically designed to kill.
—Mike Valerio (@MikevWUSA) June 3, 2020
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the Justice Department's agency responsible for prisoners, later confirmed that the officers were their employees.
"BOP, like other federal, state, and local [law enforcement officers] may be deputized under the authority granted the [United States Marshals Service] to enforce federal criminal statues and protect federal property and personnel," it said in a statement to NBC.
Attorney General William Barr in a statement on Sunday said he was mobilizing federal officers to quell the riots in Washington and Miami.
"It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it," Barr said. The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protesters, as well as all other citizens. "
The BOP also added in a separate statement that the officers were part of Special Operations Response Teams, (SORT) which includes members who "are highly trained tactical units capable of responding to prison disturbances, and providing assistance to other law enforcement agencies during emergencies;" and Disturbance Control Teams that specialize in crowd-control scenarios.
Members of these teams have additional training on top of their original duties in prisons. According to a 2009 BOP training manual, employees selected for the disturbance control squad conduct 40 hours of training each year, while SORT members are required to complete 96 hours of training annually. SORT training includes the use of riot control agents, shooting less-than-lethal rounds, and simulated prison riot simulations.
BOP SORT members and other Justice Department assets have been activated in moments of crisis. In August 21, 1991, around 120 of the 120,000 Cuban detainees at the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama, took hostage several BOP employees with weapons. The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and SORT members breached the installation using explosives and rescued all the hostages without incident.
During the 1992 LA riots, 20 SORT teams across the BOP's system were deployed to assist law enforcement agencies. Their duties, according to a BOP annual review, included "protecting property, patrolling neighborhoods, searching burned-out buildings for possible victims, and serving as support for the Los Angeles Police Department."
The SORT members in Los Angeles at the time also managed to detain a sniper who had shot at residents from a building at night.
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