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MGM creates ‘civilian version of a SWAT team’ following Las Vegas shooting

Updated April 25, 2018 - 8:31 pm

MGM Resorts International has hired at least five former Metropolitan Police Department SWAT team members and several former military officers in recent months as it strengthens security at its properties following the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

According to LinkedIn, the company hired former Metro SWAT members Chris Petko, Manuel Rivera Jr., John Sheahan, Anton Gorup and Rod Hunt in December and January as emergency response team supervisors. Petko and Sheahan are also training coordinators.

The company also hired a former Marine Corps sergeant, who is also a firearms instructor, as an emergency response team supervisor in December. The emergency response team then added former Navy military police officer Matthew Brown in February and Navy anti-terrorism specialist Vincent Curci in March, according to LinkedIn.

MGM spokeswoman Debra DeShong would neither confirm nor deny the eight hires, citing an employee privacy policy.

“MGM developed an Emergency Response Team Program as part of our commitment to continuous improvement of daily operations and to assess and address security risks,” she said.

Civilian SWAT

Phil Ramos, a former Metro detective who knows the five former SWAT members, said MGM’s emergency response team is the “civilian version of a SWAT team” and something no other major Las Vegas resort operator has.

Each of the five former Metro officers has more than 20 years of experience. The former Metro and military officers will spearhead the response to any emergencies at MGM’s properties and train other security personnel. Each supervisor will work with a specific MGM resort but will be capable of working at its other properties. Trainers will not be tied to specific properties.

The company is also hiring emergency response team officers, according to an MGM job listing on LinkedIn. The officer position requires at least five years of experience in law enforcement or the military and the ability to handle firearms.

“Emergency response team officers are responsible for providing both highly visible and covert professional armed security to the property to complement existing security programs,” according to the listing.

Gradual rollout

DeShong said the program was launched prior to the Oct. 1 shooting, when a Mandalay Bay guest fired semi-automatic rifles from his suite, killing 58 people.

Las Vegas casino operators regularly hire retiring Metro and military officers to oversee security at their properties. However, hiring this many at once is not common.

“People are going to criticize (MGM) that this is a response to the shooting, but of course it is. They don’t want another Oct. 1 to happen,” Ramos said.

Security and hospitality industry experts said the shooting would push Las Vegas resorts to hire more armed security guards, a reversal of previous Strip policy.

DeShong said the specialized program is designed to provide “highly skilled and focused support to our talented property security teams” and is being implemented incrementally at MGM properties.

Unlike SWAT, MGM’s “civilian version doesn’t have police powers to make arrests,” said Ramos. “But it can deploy tactics to make it safe until law enforcement arrives. They can utilize low lethal or even lethal means if they deem it necessary.”

The job listing states emergency situations could involve the use of force “up to and including armed response.”

What SWAT does

Special weapons and tactics units, or SWAT teams, respond to emergency situations and are comprised of police officers that can pass tough physical and tactical tests, said Ramos.

Doug Poppa, a former police officer and director of casino security, said Metro’s team is considered one of the best in the U.S. and often trains SWAT officers from other states.

Metro SWAT members carry out high-risk search warrants and respond to active shooters and hostage situations, among other things, said Poppa, who now writes about security issues for the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

MGM’s goal may be to have an emergency response unit at every property around the clock, said Poppa, who applauded the new program.

Rivera served as a military police officer for five years before joining metro. He retired in 2017 after 27 years of service. Chris Petko retired from metro as a Lieutenant in 2015 after 28 years of service.

Sheahan was one of five SWAT officers that created metro’s active shooter tactical protocol, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is also a certified sniper. He retired at the rank of Sergeant in 2015 after 25 years on the force.

Gorup retired in 2017 after 22 years on the job. Hunt retired in 2015 after 26 years on the job.

Contact Todd Prince at 702-383-0386 or tprince@reviewjournal.com. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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