Deputy Melissa Spratt says law enforcement is in her blood. Her father was a Captain with the Santa Rosa's Sheriff Office for 27 years. Her mother worked as a state probation officer. Melissa followed in parental footsteps, becoming a deputy in 2003. In addition, her stepdaughter is a Milton police officer. Melissa was engaged to her now-husband, Matt Spratt when she applied to SWAT.
“I always told my father I wanted to be SWAT,” Melissa said. At the same time she was accepted as a SWAT member, she and Matt married and she became pregnant with their first child. They now have a five-year-old and a one-year-old—and a 16-year-old from a previous marriage.
It would be true to say Melissa and Matt are not your typical mom and dad.
At a moment's notice they could be strapping on a bulletproof vest and busting through a door.
While they say they are a normal couple, it is true that public safety hangs in the balance of how they respond to dangerous situations. They are prepared to tackle whatever challenge lies in front of them.
“We serve high-risk warrants and respond to subjects that barricade themselves in buildings,” Matt said during an interview. “We're the 911 for regular cops.”
To become part of the team, there must be 100 percent trust throughout the group, according to Matt. Melissa faced additional scrutiny when she approached the SWAT Team. It wasn't the physical aspects of the position. She had been working out five days a week, maintaining peak physical condition. She was entering a primarily alpha-male-dominated world. And she was engaged to one of the members at the time.
“If he goes down and gets shot, are you going to sacrifice the safety of the team,” Melissa said was the first question that she faced when she was questioned by the entire SWAT team during a panel discussion. “Of course, my answer was no.”
Then, she said she was questioned about her gender. She said the extra scrutiny pushed her to excel, when compared to the men gunning for the same spot when a position opened in 2007.
"The standards are enforced 100 percent," Melissa said. "Matt stepped out of the board discussion to let the team make an unbiased decision."
The idea of trust is fully emphasized when lives are on the line.
"I can't give her any more attention than anyone else on the team," Matt said. "She's my wife, my best friend, but she's held to the same standards as the rest of the team."
“It must have been harder for her,” SWAT Team Leader I.D. Brewton said. “There's more testosterone (in SWAT) than a muscle show.”
Brewton recalled his reservations when Melissa went through the process of becoming part of the elite team. She faced questioning from all of the members in a panel discussion. The aim is to limit any doubt about potential performance and reinforce trust, according to the leader.
“We had thought in the beginning, that the male instinct would kick in to play the protector role,” Brewton said.
Melissa had been a deputy for four years before approaching the team, so the SWAT members had an idea of her quality and demeanor as a law enforcement officer from day-to-day interactions, Bretwon said.
"I would take her over 90 percent of the guys," Brewton said. "I trust these guys with my life."
Matt joined the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office as a deputy in 2000, after spending six years in the Marine Corps. He worked in the south end of the county, on road patrol and became part of the narcotics unit.
As part of the SWAT Team, they serve two different roles on the squad, focusing on the same mission.
Melissa is on the "sniper side" of the team, while her husband is on the "entry side." Essentially, the sniper will be the “eyes” for the team, performing reconnaissance before the entry team is sent into any high-risk situation. From there, snipers keep a watchful eye on the team, from a distance, and must be ready to use lethal force, if necessary, according to Melissa.
Matt specializes in "less lethal" techniques as part of the entry team. He uses tools such as shotgun fired bean-bags and flash-bang grenades to disarm and subdue subjects. He said he trusts his wife, and everyone on the team, to watch his back in any situation.
They say the job requires a 24/7 commitment and is full of stress and excitement. In a way, the high stress of the position binds them, opening up their communication and understanding of each other, according to Matt.
"I can talk to her," he said. "We can relate 100 percent."