TOWNSEND -- Responding to calls in Woburn, Somerville and Haverhill are all in a week's work for Pepperell Police Sgt. Armando Herrera.
He is part of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, a group that began in 1963 as a small asset and information sharing arrangement in the Reading -- Wilmington -- Woburn area of Middlesex County. Since, it has expanded into a consortium of 53 municipalities that pool resources and manpower in order to handle special situations.
Herrera is a squad leader for the Regional Response Team. This group includes NEMLEC's Special Weapons and Tactics team and can be called in for crises involving large crowds, missing persons, barricaded suspects, hostage situations, suicide attempts and other extreme incidents.
"This is a good organization to have behind us," he says. "Knowing these resources enable us to handle a large scale incident."
Such incidents have come up. During March 2006 NEMLEC was called in to handle a barricaded, mentally unstable suspect. NEMLEC SWAT and K-9 units also assisted with a hostage standoff in August 2005.
Herrara is trained in crisis negotiation and his team augments SWAT. He has been on several calls.
"All you're doing is listening sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't," Herrera said. "On calls we try not to get to personal, our SWAT team is one of the best in Massachusetts and in the nine years I've been with them I haven't witnessed any suicides or officers getting
"If we need them, they can be out here in 45 minutes," he said.
RRT trains once per month and SWAT trains twice. According to Herrera, the sessions involve studying videos of previous calls to study crowd control tactics. They also train in self-defense.
Herrera says he is thankful to both of the chiefs he has served under for allowing him to serve the capacity. Pepperell Chief David Scott is a director for the NEMLEC Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that works to raise funds for training and equipment.
Pepperell had been a member since the mid-1990s and Townsend followed suit in 2001.
"Personnel get exceptional training and bring more to department through experience they have with situations," said Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall, Jr.
Marshall said joined shortly after becoming chief because he had seen the benefits it offered neighboring Pepperell. Plus, if NEMLEC is called in, local chiefs retain control of situations and, like Scott, he wanted to get involved in the organization structure.
He is currently the chairman of standards and heads a committee that writes and reviews policies and bylaws for NEMLEC units.
"Although we are a small town there are circumstances which can arise and its good having resources available for our small department," he said. On two occasions, Marshall called in the School Threat Assessment and Response System team to handle bomb threats. RRT has also been called in to conduct missing-person searches.
At least 10 percent of a member department's force must be committed to a NEMLEC unit. Townsend provides an RRT member as well. Pepperell officer Fabrizio Vestri, who is currently serving overseas, is a command-vehicle driver.
Herrera and other RRT members are required to carry pagers and cellphones in case of an emergency. From their dispatch in North Andover, NEMLEC can get a call and provide specialized, trained help with assets such as mountain bikes, ATVs, motorcycles, funeral escorts or scuba gear.