There is an ongoing debate about how long anyone should stay in SWAT. There are two schools of thought. One view is officers should stay in SWAT as long as they are qualified, pass the requirements, and want to remain a team member. The other view is officers should only stay in SWAT for a set amount of time (five years), and then rotate out. Both schools of thought have very different reasons for their beliefs.
The rotation proponents believe rotation prevents officers from suffering burnout, staleness, and getting set in their ways. They believe these issues can be particularly problematic for full-time SWAT officers who might develop an elitist attitude because of extended isolation from the rest of the department, resulting in a detrimental "them against us" attitude on both sides. Rotation, they say, combats this by ensuring a constant influx of "new blood" to prevent a distinct separation.
A second benefit is rotation distributes SWAT-trained personnel throughout the department, making it more versatile and professional. Also, SWAT officers will be encouraged to seek promotion, resulting in SWAT influence at the command and administrative level.
As Long As You're Willing and Able
The opposite view is officers should remain in SWAT as long as they are qualified, pass all requirements, have the right attitude, and want to be in SWAT. The main argument for this position is SWAT is a specialty that requires a significant amount of training and experience to reach the desired level of performance and to create a cohesive team.
Arbitrarily rotating out personnel, according to this school of thought, results in the premature loss of valuable experience and leadership, and it disrupts the team, which has to constantly rebuild. There are many "veteran" SWAT personnel throughout the nation, who have been in SWAT for many years, whose experience is both valuable and vital. Allowing these veterans to remain in SWAT results in a more experienced, better trained, cohesive team that functions smoothly and efficiently, and ensures successful missions.
This school believes that setting SWAT standards high enough and not making exceptions for rank, age, etc., results in a natural attrition, or rotation rate, equal to that of mandatory rotation anyway.
My experience after 26 years in full-time SWAT is that the vast majority of SWAT personnel prefer remaining in SWAT as long as they are willing and able, and they believe, as I do, that SWAT is a profession within a profession, where experience and training are valued commodities. This is true from top to bottom, supervisors and troops alike. Highly experienced, trained veteran officers are worth their weight in gold, especially when the going gets toughest.
For many, retiring from SWAT is their goal. Take the example of highly respected SWAT practitioner/expert Ron McCarthy, who retired from LAPD as a SWAT sergeant, and continues to be a major police/SWAT contributor more than 20 years later. His example influenced me to emulate him, and I was able to retire as a SWAT sergeant. There are numerous veteran SWAT officers who continue to actively lead and contribute to their teams' professionalism and competence. Had they been forced to rotate out of SWAT after only five years, their vital experience would be lost forever.
I've spoken with numerous active and retired SWAT officers, and their near universal response to the issue of mandatory rotation is that they emphatically prefer to leave SWAT when it's "their time," and not because of an arbitrarily set time frame.
I value the opinions of the SWAT troops and supervisors who are in the trenches. And if you ask them, they'll tell you straight – they want to stay in SWAT as long as they can do the job, be part of the team, and meet the standards, and maintain "good attitudes." These are dedicated professionals whose opinions need to be considered. This issue not only affects them personally, but especially their teams, and ultimately their departments.
The rotation advocates' fear of "staying too long" is negated by establishing and enforcing high standards and teamwork attitude for everyone on the team – no exceptions. The result will be a natural attrition rate, for the right reasons, and not because of an arbitrary fear of what may happen. The proven result is a far more experienced, proficient, professional SWAT team, greatly enhancing the entire department's capabilities and professional reputation.
My belief, based on personal experience, research, and observation, is that forced rotation is counter-productive to both SWAT teams and their respective agencies.
A final word of caution for SWAT teams -- either YOU choose which system is best for YOUR team, or someone outside your team will do it for you. So, make the RIGHT choice, because your team will have to live with it for a long time.