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Why every officer should be trained to SWAT standards

Agencies across the country have adopted policies and procedures to train and equip line officers for situations that have customarily been reserved for SWAT teams

Officers of every rank should have the skills and training traditionally taught to a special operations unit. Now, I know what some of you might be thinking, especially those who are currently on a SWAT team: preposterous, outrageous, absolutely not, impossible! I agree this is a bold statement and certainly a challenge to our profession, but not outside the realm of possibility. Don’t all SWAT cops start out as all other officers do?

Arguably the average officer on the street today is better trained and equipped for extraordinary situations than they were 20 years ago.

Situations like the Bank of America shoot-out in Los Angeles and Columbine school shooting in Colorado forced law enforcement to reevaluate how our first responders were trained and equipped so that they could respond to these types of incidents with a better chance of success. Agencies across the country have adopted policies and procedures to train and equip line officers for situations that have customarily been reserved for SWAT teams.

The main difference between a typical street cop and a SWAT cop is training and equipment. A SWAT cop would argue that there is a degree of skill that separates the two and they would be correct, but those skills were perfected through training and repetition often reserved for the selected few.

Let’s take a closer look at what separates the street cop from the SWAT cop — and why every officer should train toward SWAT capabilities.

1. Training: On average, most SWAT teams consist of part-timers who train one or two times a month. Generally speaking, when they train, it usually will involve firearms training and/or some sort of specialty training related to their mission (tactics). These officers receive numerous repetitions during their training with the hope of perfecting the tactic or technique and committing it to muscle memory.

If we as a profession would realize the benefits to investing more time into training our officers to be more competent and confident in their abilities, the return on the investment would be ten-fold.

2. Equipment: SWAT teams/officers receive special equipment or tools to aid them in accomplishing their mission. Whether its personalized equipment such as enhanced protective gear — tactical vests, helmets, gas masks, med kits, etc., to team accessories such as diversionary devices, throw-phones, pole-cameras, robots, breaching tools, armored vehicles, and the like.

Not to suggest that we incur the costs to outfit and equip every officer with such expensive equipment, but it is possible to create a tactical vehicle that contains many of the aforementioned pieces of equipment to aid officers to accomplish similar missions. If each agency, or consortium, had access to a vehicle that contained these assets, then the chances of their officers successfully accomplishing their mission would be greatly enhanced.

Experience: Certainly experience is a valuable asset when dealing with low frequency/high risk situations. If we only allow a small portion of our personnel to respond and handle these types of situations, we are losing out on precious opportunities to gain knowledge and insight, which might prove to be invaluable at future events. Fortunately for law enforcement, a crisis does not occur every day, but when it does, it would be beneficial for all involved to gain the knowledge and experience to handle just such an event.

Most human beings will rise or fall to the level of expectation that is placed upon them. Not every police officer that straps on a gun and pins on a badge has the mental, emotional, or physical abilities to deal with situations that are typically reserved for specially trained SWAT officers. However, there are a large number of officers on the street today that, given the opportunity and support, would be able to rise to the occasion and successfully mitigate an incident, which in the past would have required a SWAT team’s expertise.

When a crisis requiring immediate attention occurs, SWAT isn’t waiting around the corner. There will be occasions where street cops, first responders, will need to respond to save lives and it is imperative that we give the street cop the same advantages we reserve for SWAT teams.

SWAT officers are motivated and dedicated officers who make many sacrifices to be part of a special group of law enforcement professionals and we are fortunate that these individuals commit themselves to be the best they can be. For all of their assets, they can’t always be there when they are needed most. Sometimes we keep the wolf at bay, sometimes the wolf attacks and when he does we have to be prepared to respond.

Challenge your officers to be better. Provide them the equipment and training to get better. Even if you fall short of qualifying each and every one of your officers as a SWAT cop the bar will have been raised to a level that many never thought possible. They don’t have to be marathon runners or knuckle draggers — just help them to become tactically and technically proficient when presented with high risk encounters and the result will be a more competent tactical officer.

Dan Danaher is a retired sergeant with 28 years of law enforcement experience. He has been retained by his former agency as the range master to oversee the firearms and TASER programs. Dan is also the co-founder of Tactical Encounters Inc., a law enforcement training company based out of Michigan.
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