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Patrol response to SWAT scenes

Keep this guidance in mind to help produce safe and effective outcomes


Patrol officers may be the first responders to the scene and must be able to quickly assess the situation and provide critical information to the SWAT team.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

By Brad Frederick

In law enforcement, situations may arise where officers on patrol are called to respond to special operations (SWAT) scenes. These high-pressure situations require quick thinking and decisive action to ensure the safety of everyone involved. In this article, we will discuss how patrol officers can prepare to respond to SWAT scenes.

Understand your role

First and foremost, patrol officers need to understand their role in SWAT scenes and why it is important. The SWAT team is responsible for handling high-risk situations that require specialized tactics and equipment, but that doesn’t mean patrol officers are not essential to the response. Patrol officers may be the first responders to the scene and must be able to quickly assess the situation and provide critical information to the SWAT team. They may also be tasked with providing perimeter security or crowd control.

Patrol officers must remember that their role is to support the SWAT team once they arrive and follow their instructions. Patrol officers may even be requested to act with the initial members of the SWAT team. If the situation requires immediate action, SWAT will not wait for additional personnel. Patrol officers should not attempt to take over the situation or make decisions outside their scope of authority unless exigent circumstances exist.

Communicate effectively

Effective communication is essential during SWAT responses. Patrol officers must be able to communicate clearly and concisely with both their fellow officers and the SWAT team. This includes relaying critical information about the situation, such as the number of suspects, their location and any weapons they may have access to. If you have the information, make sure you are the one to relay that information to the SWAT officer requesting it. Often confusion occurs because officers relay secondhand information.

Patrol officers should also be prepared to provide updates on the situation as it unfolds. They should communicate any changes in the suspect’s behavior, the arrival of additional resources, or any other developments that may impact the response. The priority is knowing the number of suspects, innocent people, crime that occurred, weapon involvement and whether there is an immediate threat to anyone.

Use proper tactical techniques

Patrol officers may be called upon to use tactical techniques during a SWAT response. This includes techniques such as building clearing, room clearing and team movement. These techniques require extensive training to achieve proficiency. Patrol officers should understand the dangers involved and proceed with caution.

Patrol officers should never attempt to take on a tactical role that is outside their training and experience unless there is an emergency. Doing so could put themselves and others in danger. If you attempt to do something you know you’re not capable of, you may create a bigger problem. Instead, if nothing is driving you to act, wait until you have additional resources or equipment.

To increase your capacity for handling these situations before SWAT arrives, seek additional tactical training. The only way to know whether you are capable of executing under those conditions is to place yourself in similar conditions through scenario-based training. Yes, you need to master the fundamentals of marksmanship, but also the tactics get you to the point where marksmanship matters.

Maintain situational awareness

Situational awareness is critical during a SWAT response. Patrol officers must be able to quickly assess situations and recognize potential threats. One way to maintain situational awareness is through mental imagery – imagining yourself in similar situations. Remain aware of your surroundings and be able to identify potential escape routes or hiding places for suspects. Since patrol officers will likely be waiting for SWAT to respond, it is important to maintain a perimeter to prevent the suspect’s escape.

Patrol officers should also be alert for any signs of danger, such as sudden movements or unusual behavior from suspects. They should be able to quickly relay this information to the SWAT team and take appropriate action to protect themselves and others. Before the SWAT team arrives, place yourself in a position that gives you the greatest tactical advantage. One technique is to establish a “position of domination” behind cover. If available, gather a team of officers and assign roles and responsibilities. Prepare yourself for a reaction from the suspect. Often the suspects surrender or act before the SWAT team arrives.

Protect civilians

Protecting civilians is a top priority during a SWAT response. Patrol officers must be able to quickly identify any civilians in the area and provide them with appropriate instructions. This may include evacuating the area or directing them to a safe location. This is common when the scene is in an apartment building. If it is safe to do so, it is a good idea to contact adjacent residences and ask them to evacuate too. If they refuse, ask them to shelter in place in the room farthest from the threat location.

Patrol officers should also be prepared to provide medical assistance to civilians injured during the incident. Officers usually carry some basic first aid supplies, but as patrol officers, there is only so much you can carry before it becomes cumbersome. Patrol officers could stow additional supplies in their vehicles, or a supervisor could also manage the additional resources.

Maintain discipline

Patrol officers must be able to maintain their composure in high-pressure situations. It is always best to allow those who have more training to make the decisions if possible. I know at times it can be difficult to take direction from others. It is not uncommon for officers who have a higher rank than the SWAT officers to disregard the SWAT officer’s requests.

A SWAT officer’s whole professional life is about making critical decisions under stress. It is important to understand that time may not allow for an explanation as to why, but there is likely a good tactical reason for their request. Listening will allow tasks to be completed in a timely manner and ultimately limit the chance of a catastrophic event.

Patrol officers should also be prepared to work as a team and support their fellow officers. Although we have different job descriptions, we are all working toward the same successful outcome. SWAT officers go to even greater lengths to preserve all life through the proper application of tactics and use of specialized equipment.


Patrol officers play a critical role in SWAT responses. They must be able to quickly assess the situation, communicate effectively, use proper tactical techniques, maintain situational awareness, protect civilians and maintain discipline. By following these guidelines, patrol officers can help ensure a safe and successful outcome to any SWAT response:

  1. Identify the severity of the situation.
  2. Better your position from a physical standpoint. Distance yourself from the threat, gather a team to react, assign roles and responsibilities and continue to gather information.
  3. Set a perimeter to contain the threat.
  4. Come up with a plan should there be an exigent need to advance.
  5. Assist SWAT and make yourself available until you are no longer needed.

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About the author

Brad Frederick is a Marine combat veteran and active law enforcement officer of seven years in a large metropolitan city. He served three years on patrol before transitioning to a tactical team and is now assigned to the tactical operations division. Frederick is also the CEO and lead instructor of Kinetic Concepts LLC, a tactical and firearms training group located in Houston. Kinetic Concepts’ mission is to bring advanced levels of tactical and firearms training to police officers and civilians.