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How to become a SWAT team officer

Here’s what to expect if you decide to take the path of a Special Weapons and Tactics operator

By Police1 Staff

So you want to join a SWAT team? These specialized units respond to incidents like hostage standoffs, barricaded gunmen and riots. In 2005, at least 80% of towns with a population between 25,000 and 50,000 people had their own SWAT team, and they conduct over 50,000 raids every year, according to the National Review.

These teams vary in size from agency to agency, and it’s a highly sought-after position – you’ll face a lot of intense competition to score a spot in a unit. Given the nature of the work, you’ll be expected to be in tip-top physical and mental condition. Before you even apply, know that this is physically and mentally demanding, high-risk work.

Of course, it is also very fulfilling. Special operations are an opportunity to challenge yourself in new and exciting ways beyond the usual street patrol. While requirements vary depending on the jurisdiction, here is a basic overview of what to expect if you decide to take the path of a Special Weapons and Tactics operator.

SWAT requirements

Given the nature of the work, most if not all police agencies require at least two to three years of experience as a police officer before you’re eligible to apply for SWAT. In addition to the minimum education requirements to become a police officer (high school diploma or GED), a college education will give you a leg up on the competition, and many agencies prefer you have some form of higher learning under your belt. An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as criminal justice is highly recommended.

From there, you’ll undergo rigorous physical fitness tests. To put it bluntly, this job will kick your ass. Making SWAT isn’t just about strength – they’re looking for endurance as well, so make sure you’re in great shape.

Of course, it’s not just about the physical. SWAT officers need to be able to think quickly on their feet in high-stress situations, work well in teams, and be highly proficient with firearms (you’ll get additional training for special weapons as part of the process, but you need to hone your marksmanship skills now, not later). You also need to have an outstanding service record – remember, these are highly desired openings, and you’re going to see a lot of competition.

In addition to physical and firearms tests, you’ll also be interviewed and likely have a psych evaluation. From there, you will go through additional, specialized training for this elite position.

Once you’ve made SWAT, expect ongoing training annually. You’ll need to stay in peak physical shape and remain proficient with the weapons you use.

What are the responsibilities of the SWAT team?

SWAT officers are on-call all day, every day. They respond to crisis situations that require a level of specialized tactical expertise beyond the scope or capability of the patrol officer, like responding to active shooters. There are many different roles in a SWAT team, including sniper, medic, crisis negotiator, breacher, and munitions expert. Each role requires its own set of specialized training.

How much is a SWAT officer paid?

It’s important to keep in mind that most agencies have part-time SWAT officers that also perform regular law enforcement duties. In a recent IACP/NTOA study of SWAT trends, for example, only 1.7% of responding departments had SWAT teams comprised of full-time officers with no collateral duties.

That said, like police officers, the average SWAT pay is $67,290, with the opportunity for raises the longer you serve in the unit. Top earners in states like California can pull in well over $100K per year.

Overtime opportunities and additional payments vary by agency. For example, in Albuquerque, SWAT officers receive an extra $50 a month for being a member of the team.

You’re either SWAT or you’re not

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and join one of the most elite units in law enforcement. And for more information on all things SWAT from our expert columnists, check out our full coverage.

Prepare for SWAT

This article, originally published February 9, 2018, has been updated.