Special ops troopers on call for emergencies

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When Jeffrey Brown, an autistic teenager from Hancock County,went missing recently, it wasn’t the first time the boy had takenoff. The last time he had been gone for six days.

“He watched a lot of Rambo movies. He’d cover himself in mud andleaves and lay on the ground, and searchers would walk right pasthim without even realizing it,” said Mississippi Highway PatrolTroop M’s Master Sgt. Gerry Collins, the acting director for MHP’sSpecial Operations Group.

After Brown’s disappearance some time during the day of Aug. 12,Collins and the SOG tracking team were called to Hancock County topick up where civilians, law enforcement and National Guardsearchers had left off. Troop M Public Affairs Officer Sgt. RustyBoyd said nine SOG tracking team members were mobilized around 11p.m. and reached the coast around 3 a.m. on Aug. 13.

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“He’d went to Ocean Springs High and (his family) moved him toHancock County, this was his first time to leave there,” Boyd saidabout the missing teen.

Collins said his men began by searching the school grounds,adding that it was a very large campus. While his group staged in aparking lot to await a National Guard helicopter, a report came inof someone in the restroom area.

“We had just cleared it, but we got there and there was a lighton. We went in and found him sitting on the floor in one of thestalls,” Collins said. “We were very lucky to find him as soon aswe did.”

Three other members of Troop M are also a part of the SOG’stracking team, Boyd said. Sgt Steve Crawford and Trooper JamesMartin of Pike County, and Trooper Adam Speeg of Brookhaven wereall on scene to assist in finding Brown.

Collins said troopers can volunteer to be a part of the specialoperations team, which entitles them to extra training in severalareas since the SOG can handle anything from riot control tonatural disaster-related situations to tracking and pursuit ofmissing people or escapees.

Statewide, the SOG has 74 troopers, broken up into a north,central and southern region. The Southern Region Tracking Team has11 members, all of whom are trained extensively in finding peopleby surveying the terrain, such as foliage that’s disturbed or othertell-tale natural signs.

“They’re trained by specialists to learn to track people throughthe woods,” Collins said, adding that tracking dogs can also be animportant part of the mix.

Nine of the MHP’s K-9 units are cross-trained to handle moreduties as well, Collins said.

“Now that we’re getting into tracking, we’re trying tocross-train all our dogs to be available for our use in case wehave that kind of a situation,” Collins said.

MHP’s bomb dogs, however, will remain specialized.

The team also uses thermal imaging devices that pick up heat, soeven if someone is hiding in thick underbrush at night, the devicemakes them visible.

Collins said the SOG team, which aided greatly in the pursuitand capture of eight escaped inmates who bored through a wall ofthe Marion/Walthall Correction Facility in Columbia in February, ison call to help whenever there is a situation that calls foroutside resources.

“We’re here for support for our sheriff’s departments and policedepartments,” he said. “Anytime someone’s got an inmate escape, afleeing felon, a missing person, we’ll send the tracking team ifthey request it.”