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Is SWAT still ‘special?’

We can (and we must) do more to prepare our officers to respond to all calls for service by providing the special training to all and not just a select few

As we all know, SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics.

For many years we’ve relied on these elite teams of law enforcement officers to handle situations thought to be too dangerous and complex for “the average officer.”

This may have been the case — and in some situations may still be — but there have been some key events in our not-so-distant past that has forced law enforcement to take another look at who responds to these events, as well as the tactics, equipment, and weaponry with which they’re responding.

Full-time and Part-time SWAT
Back in the 1960s, law enforcement started to realize the need for specially-trained officers who could deal with high-risk calls for service such as barricaded gunmen, hostage situations, high risk warrant service, and whatnot.

These officers received additional training and were equipped with specialty munitions including rifles, chemical munitions, ballistic shields and body armor.

As the years passed, more and more of these elite teams began to emerge across the country. SWAT teams are diverse in terms of their standard operating procedures (SOPs), the equipment that they have accessible to them and the personnel that comprise their teams.

Only the larger jurisdictions have dedicated full-time SWAT members. The vast majority of these teams are part-timers comprised of officers who are drawn from patrol or other bureaus within the agencies. Aside from the full-time teams, most of the part-timers practice one to two times a month to maintain proficiency with weapons and tactics.

Because these officers are given extra time to train, they have become more proficient in their skills and are better equipped to handle high-risk calls for service. However, the vast majority of these teams take time to arrive and assemble.

History has shown that some of these events simply won’t wait for SWAT to arrive, and must be handled by the “average officer” who had not received the special training, nor did they have the tools necessary to handle such events.

History Has Shown...
The North Hollywood shoot-out at the Bank of America in 1997 taught us many valuable lessons, the least of which was the need for first responders, patrol officers, to be equipped with high-caliber patrol rifles in their scout cars.

In 1999, two teenagers laid siege on Columbine High School, and we learned that we can no longer afford to set a perimeter and wait for a tactical team to arrive and save the day. We must be able to respond swiftly and decisively to these types of events that are occurring with greater and greater frequency.

Although it is preferred that on the day of reckoning, the officer(s) that arrive at the scene are highly trained, highly motivated, go-getters who are armed to the teeth, this is not necessarily always the case.

Has the time come to expect that all officers are capable to perform all law enforcement tasks, including those considered to be high-risk? Can we afford to restrict special weapons and training to only a select few who may not arrive in time?

We must learn from our past and adapt to the challenges that lie ahead. We must train our officers, all of our officers, in tactics and weaponry that will give them a fighting chance when they have to respond to a call that cannot wait.

For the most part, officers today are better trained and better equipped than they were a decade ago. Many carry rifles in their patrol cars and are equipped with extra ammunition.

Many officers have been through some version of active shooter training and are able to respond and either disrupt or neutralize the event. We can (and we must) do more to prepare our officers to respond to all calls for service by providing the special training to all and not just a select few.

We must give them the equipment they need, as a first responder, to deal with high risk calls for service.

SWAT has been — and still is — a viable tool when time permits. They are still a necessary component in law enforcement, but their role may be shrinking out of necessity due to real-time events that cannot wait.

Therefore, we must look at who will be responding (and what they will be responding with) if we are to be successful in neutralizing future threats.

In order to do so, these patrol officer first responders must have Special Weapons and Tactics just like their SWAT team counterparts.

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.