Former SWAT members enforce campus safety


Alex Fregger

Police Chief Sean Kapfhammer (left) poses with three of the four former SWAT officers who work at AACC: Capt. Dave Pressley, Maj. Cleveland Smith and Officer Don Medtart.

Mike Pierorazio, Reporter

It’s about 1 a.m. in Baltimore, when the smell of smoke from burning trash and towels leaks out from under a closed front door.

The sniper covering the rear of the house confirms over the radio that a barricaded gunman had set a fire inside of his home.

Don Medtart rushes into the burning building, carrying a ballistic shield, to arrest the dangerous assailant.

That was about 10 years ago. Today, Medtart is one of four police officers on campus with Special Weapons and Tactics—or SWAT–team training and experience.

The Department of Public Safety and Police employs both full-fledged police officers who wear light blue shirts and carry guns, and public safety officers, who carry billy clubs and dress in dark blue.

Medtart wears light blue.

Like Medtart, all of those officers spend their days on campus enforcing traffic laws and jump-starting dead car batteries, says Major Cleveland Smith, another retired SWAT officer.

But he says the department is fully prepared to respond to more serious threats, like an active shooter on campus.

Medtart says he is concerned about the possibility of a campus shooting, but says the officers train extensively for it.

“The hundreds of hours of active shooter training that I have been through has been the most effective tool [to prepare],” Medtart says.

Smith says getting involved in police work can hurt not only physically, but mentally. He recounts an experience that haunts him:

“It was an armed robbery,” Smith recalls. “I was a sergeant up in the northern district. We got the call as we were just leaving the station. The … guy was robbing a Pizza Hut.”

A witness at Pizza Hut, Smith says, was slowly giving a 911 operator a play-by-play of the robbery while Smith waited to go in.

“Bad guy comes out. ‘Halt, police.’ Bam bam bam bam. Guy … died on the scene,” Smith says. “Now my real take-away from that was one of the officers [I was] talking to later who was trying to render aid to the guy—the bad guy—he said, ‘Sarge, he died in my arms.’”

“I just was amazed at how one person’s actions can affect so many people’s lives,” Smith  says.

Medtart has a story, too.

He recalls arriving at The Johns Hopkins Hospital after a doctor, a patient and the patient’s son were shot in a murder-suicide.

Campus Police Chief Sean Kapfhammer says he is proud of all of his officers, especially the former SWAT team members.

“SWAT school is no joke,” Kapfhammer says.  “It’s intense. It’s hard to get through it. And to have four people that have been through that in our agency says something.”