“Swat School mentality” helped Courthouse opening

Security cameras scan and zoom nearly every angle, and electronic keys open cell doors.

Norfolk’s new $123 million courthouse is state-of-the art, but an excellent Sheriff’s Office team made it even better, under the leadership of Major Larry Carter.

To understand why, you’ve got to look back at Carter’s past.

“Everyone said I would be in jail; I would never amount to anything,” he said.

As a child, Carter was overweight, shy, and insecure. He grew up in an abusive environment.

“I could hardly read and write. I couldn’t concentrate at school because when I got home I would get beat, called names,” he recalled.

But deep down, Carter knew he could do better. His hope and desire to escape his past led him to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

“The Marine Corps was the basic school of life; what you set your mind to, you can accomplish. You’re not going to fail. You’re not going to quit,” he said.

With that mantra, Carter conquered physical challenges in boot camp, and he stretched his mind as well, staying up late at night teaching himself to read so he could rise up in rank.

Soon enough, Carter’s superiors saw something in him that he didn’t yet see in himself; Carter was a leader. “I was nominated for drill instructor school. There were 167 candidates, only 19 of us graduated,” he said.

Carter’s confidence kept on growing, and he decided to leave the Marines to join the Norfolk Police Department. He was put in charge of starting the city’s first, true SWAT team. “I was putting people through hell; the hours were very long, and most of these people weren’t volunteers,” he said.

After two months of intensive training, Norfolk’s newly formed SWAT team graduated. On that very same night, they were put to the test.

It was April 14th, 1984 when the horrifying call came in; a suspect shot and killed a police officer and a pregnant woman.

It was the kind of situation SWAT teams are made for, and coincidentally, Norfolk Police now had a team to respond.

The heavily armed suspect had barricaded himself inside a home. After seven hours of negotiations and creating diversions, the SWAT team took down the suspect.

The story gained national attention, and the following year, the Marine Corps recognized two agencies to train SWAT officers nationwide: Los Angeles Police on the West Coast, and Norfolk Police on the East Coast.

After serving nearly 30 years on the police force, Carter joined the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office. In 2015, he oversaw creating a different sort of team: a group to open the City’s new courthouse.

“It was like planning a SWAT school times five,” Carter said.

That’s because the courthouse crew had to juggle extensive training on running all aspects of the new facility, while still operating the old courthouse until opening day.

“They reminded me of that first SWAT team in many ways,” Carter said.

And like that last team, this group also found surprises. By studying blueprints, they noticed some of the doors were lacking the proper security alarms and locks. Even worse, it was easy for guests to sneak past the metal detectors at the front entrance.

Those problems were all fixed before any threats could ever arise.

Carter’s habit of teaching to “expect the unexpected” made Norfolk’s courthouse even stronger, but his humility laid the foundation.

“I couldn’t have accomplished this on my own. It was all about having a great team,” Carter stressed.

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