Three government entities creating consolidated special response team

North Liberty, Coralville, Johnson County to work together

Police Chief Diane Venenga in her office at the North Liberty Police Department in North Liberty. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek
Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron

NORTH LIBERTY — In March 2013, three North Liberty police officers were shot while responding to a domestic disturbance that quickly escalated and left the suspect dead.

Although all three officers survived the shooting, North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga said the incident demonstrated the need for the city to have access to a special response team for high risk incidents. Unfortunately, the police department doesn’t have the staff to support its own team, Venenga said.

“Being a smaller department, I don’t have the staff that I can put 10 to 12 officers on a specialized response team,” she said.

Now, thanks to a proposed agreement between North Liberty and Coralville police and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Venenga will be able to put two of her officers on a new, consolidated special response team. While an agreement is in place between the entities, it has yet to be approved by the Coralville and North Liberty city councils. Venenga is scheduled to address the North Liberty City Council on Tuesday.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said he, Venenga and Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron have been discussing the arrangement since this summer. Pulkrabek compared the initiative to the Iowa City and University of Iowa police departments combining their special response teams this past spring.

Under the new 28E Agreement, the new Special Emergency Response Team would be comprised of 12 county deputies, six Coralville officers and two North Liberty officers. The team will respond to unusual or high-risk situations throughout the three jurisdictions, including hostage situations, barricaded subjects or the serving of warrants on high-risk individuals.

“Basically, to do any sort of (special response team) activity, both the chief (of that jurisdiction) and the sheriff have to sign off on the OK to allow it to happen,” Pulkrabek said.

No money will exchange hands under the agreement and each department will pay for their officers’ training time and equipment. The team will rely on a truck the county has used to transport its tactical team.

Kron said the arrangement will benefit his department, as well. While Coralville has its own tactical team, the numbers have gone down due to members leaving. Replacing departed officers is no easy task, either, Kron said.

“It’s just not something you point to somebody and they’re in,” he said. “It takes a lot of practice. It takes so long to bring someone up to that capability. When someone leaves, it has a big impact.”

With a six-member team, Kron said his officers could still serve warrants and handle “small scenes,” but anything bigger would require outside help. Getting all of the team members together to train at the same time requires coordination and takes away from patrol, as well, he said.

Venenga said the sheriff’s office has always sent its special response team whenever there was a need, but she’s looking forward to having her officers being a part of a consolidated team.

“It’s hard to predict when they’re going to be needed and called out,” she said. “When we have needed them, we’ve made the request and they’ve graciously helped us out.”

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