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If mobs happen, Grenadiers ready

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CAMP WILLIAMS ? The blast of the 40-mm weapon is as fierce as most guns, but its bullets don't kill. They bounce.

With some protesters promising to disrupt certain events during the upcoming Olympic Games, local law enforcement practiced dealing with angry mobs Wednesday at Camp Williams, and the 40-mm is the weapon of choice. Its 15-inch barrel propels sponges, chemicals, paint pellets and rubber balls meant to scare and scatter crowds that get out of hand.

All Utah Highway Patrol officers have been issued riot gear, which includes Kevlar helmets and shields, but several dozen hand-picked officers were designated as those who would respond first to any disturbance involving crowds. They call them "Grenadiers," and their training focuses on stopping and dispersing crowds without using deadly force.

"Millions of people are depending on you to make sure they're safe," Col. Earl Morris of the Department of Public Safety told the officers. "Regardless of where you are, or what your assignment is, if you think your role is insignificant, it's not. . . . Please take this training absolutely seriously."

The troopers were taught how to load the 40-mm, how to fire it, and what effect different types of ammunition would have on people. Contrary to the training they had when they were certified as officers, the Grenadiers were taught to shoot suspects in the legs or lower body, in hopes of just stopping them. When officers use regular guns, they're taught to shoot to kill because aiming at an extremity is so difficult and risky in a life-threatening situation.

The Grenadiers looked something like the Storm Troopers from Star Wars, only they're in black instead of white. They practice walking together, in a line, each offering support and cover for other officers. They part only to let the Grenadier with the 40-mm through to shoot.

They've borrowed special lightweight helmets from the Department of Justice that protect their faces and necks. They wear navy blue fire retardant jumpsuits and body pads on their arms, legs and chests. On their legs are strapped gas masks, and in their vests are the ammunition they hope will quell an angry mob.

They are not meant to blend in or be discreet. Besides protecting the officer, planners hope the look is something of a weapon, too.

"Appearance and presentation is 90 percent of conflict control," Morris said. The right look, he notes, "can avoid a lot of (physical) conflicts."

The officers who are training to deal with any riot or disturbance believe their training and presence should be a comfort to the general public.

"We're prepared," said Lt. Kevin Younberg. "It gives a lot of comfort to me to receive this training knowing there are citizens out there that are depending on us. I think people should expect to go any place (during the Games) and feel safe."

And while none of the officers feel their training will be necessary, they want everyone to know they're ready to use it.

"The more prepared we are, the more successful we'll be," Morris told the officers. "I hope they say we overreacted when this is over."

E-MAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com