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Chris Parsons SEMO SWAT Challenge kicks off Friday

The annual Chris Parsons SEMO SWAT Challenge will return to Fredericktown from April 19-23. In addition to competing teams from across the nation, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens will also be attending and participating in at least one of Saturday’s events, according to Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis.

The event is named for Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Parsons, who was killed in the line of duty on December 15, 2012. Parsons is deeply connected to the Fredericktown Police Department, making the event particularly meaningful for local officers.

“It’s a lot of things for a lot of people,” Hovis said. “For me, I personally knew Chris Parsons. He used to workout in my gym in Potosi. I taught him in the academy and gave him his first job here.”

Hovis said the need for greater communication between area law enforcement agencies became clear during the manhunt for Parsons’ killer.

“We noticed that a lot of the teams weren’t networking and hadn’t communicated,” Hovis said. “The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, basically. So we wanted to get a lot of local departments, whether they’re small, medium-sized or big, it doesn’t matter. To get everybody to work on the same page so that if another incident happens—and it will, it’s not ‘if’, it’s ‘when.’—then we can all work together.”

Sgt. Jason Fitzwater of the Fredericktown Police Department said the idea of a SWAT competition to train alongside other departments comes from his experience working as a law enforcement officer in Florida.

“I worked in Florida for eleven years, and I competed in the International SWAT Roundup,” Fitzwater said. “So when Chris got killed, the networking here—there was none. So I went to Eric, and I said, ‘We’ve got to do something. We do this thing in Florida called the International SWAT Roundup.’”

“And that was the goal,” Hovis said. “And we’ve met and completely exceeded those goals. In five years, we’ve networked with a lot of departments around here. We train, we help each other. And that’s what it’s all about. We’re all on the same team, and I know if we had an incident here today that was bigger than what we’re capable of handling, myself or Sgt. Fitzwater could be on the horn and have multiple agencies here to help resolve the situation.”

Hovis said such a large event takes cooperation and help from the community at large to be successful every year.

“It takes a large committee with everybody pulling to get this accomplished,” Hovis said. “Our community opens its doors and welcomes in officers from all over the country.”

Hovis said those visiting officers are always thrilled to visit Fredericktown and to observe the stark contrast to the communities that many of them come from. This year, eleven teams will be competing, from as far away as North Dakota and Texas.

“A lot of these guys police in areas where, number one, they’re not in the ‘Bible Belt,'” Hovis said. “And they’re not supported by their command staff or councils and definitely not the public. So coming into a small community, they absolutely love the environment and the training we have, but they also love the community.”

“And it’s not that we don’t have problems,” he added. “We do. We have drugs and burglaries and domestics. We have a lot of the same problems on a smaller scale, but they say the support that we have is what they’re lacking in their areas, and they tell us to cherish that. They absolutely love coming here.”

Fitzwater said the visiting officers will start to arrive in the area on April 18 and 19, ahead of the Thursday and Friday class sessions before the competitive events begin Friday afternoon.

Among those making the trip to compete is a special guest team from the Dallas Police Department, headed by the department’s SWAT Commander, Bill Humphries.

“And the reason we reached out to him was because of the incident that happened in Dallas last year when 12 officers were shot and five were killed during an ambush,” Fitzwater said. “We didn’t charge them to compete. They’re our guest team. It’s our way of saying, ‘Hey, even though we’re up here in Missouri, we’re still thinking of you guys and we’d like for you to come in and be part of this event.”

Fitzwater said Dallas’ attendance is a big vote of confidence in the event, because the only bigger SWAT team in the nation is the LAPD. Additionally, one of the larger conferences in the nation will be taking place in Texas the same weekend, and the Dallas PD team decided to come to Fredericktown to train and compete rather than attend a conference in their own state.

“That weekend is the Texas Tactical Conference,” Fitzswater said. “So the mere fact that Dallas is coming up to our event on the weekend of their state’s tactical conference to compete and speak—that alone caught the eye of a lot of companies and vendors.”

Fitzwater said this year will be the first year that the SWAT Challenge will feature vendors from large, national companies such as Glock, Sig Sauer, Safariland and Point Blank armor.

“We still have our local vendors come in and support the event,” Fitzswater added. “But this will be the first year we’ve had some of these big vendors.”

For the last three years, the event has also been supported by Reebok Duty, a division of Reebok dedicated to providing military and law enforcement-grade tactical gear. Fitzwater said each competing team will be receiving between $2,000 and $2,500 worth of product, including boots, shirts and hats.

The Orlando Police Department will be giving a tactical debrief of the Pulse Night Club shooting for the gathered officers, and the “godfather of SWAT” Ron McCarthy will also be present.

The competition will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. Gates open Saturday at 7 a.m. with the first event beginning at 8 a.m. The cost is $5 for one day, or $7 for both Saturday and Sunday. There will be food as well as things for kids to do.

“We run five different events,” Fitzwater said. “Three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Friday afternoon is our individual competitions, which is Top Sniper and Super SWAT Cop, which Show-Me Weights out of St. Louis comes down and does. Super SWAT Cop is a crossfit competition with some shooting added into it, so it’s a fun thing to watch. And that’s free, if anybody in the public wants to come. It starts at 1 p.m. and will be done around 4 p.m.”

Fitzwater said the event is rare, in that it allows departments to get together for a positive reason for a change.

“It’s an opportunity for law enforcement to get together for a joyous occasion instead of a manhunt for a cop killer or a funeral,” he said. “It’s absolutely grown into something that I never thought that it would when it started. It’s something that I hope continues to grow.”

The events will be held at the Fredericktown Training Facility on South Chamber Drive, at the following times:

Friday, April 21 (Free admission)

1 p.m. – Top Sniper

2:30 p.m. – Super SWAT Cop Challenge

Saturday, April 22 ($5 for one-day entry, $7 for two-day)

7 a.m. – Range opens for public

8 a.m. – Special Operations Event

11:30 a.m. – Active Shooter Event

3 p.m. – Obstacle Course

Sunday, April 23 ($5 admission)

7 a.m. Range opens for public

8 a.m. – Terrorist Attack Event

11:30 a.m. – Officer Down Event

3 p.m. – Closing Ceremonies

Officers of the Fredericktown Police Department run through the 'Special Operations' event on April 18, ahead of this weekend's Chris Parsons SEMO SWAT Challenge.

Officers of the Fredericktown Police Department run through the ‘Special Operations’ event on April 18, ahead of this weekend’s Chris Parsons SEMO SWAT Challenge.

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