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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.



Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.
SWAT

Picking the Right Person for the Job

Team commanders must balance the need for using experienced personnel with the need to make sure that every team member is up to speed.

June 05, 2007  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

You are a SWAT team commander/leader, and you have a dilemma. You have a major mission coming up soon, and you need to pick the right people for the right jobs. For many SWAT commanders, this doesn't present any problem. Every member of their teams is up to speed—trained, experienced, reliable, and trusted.

But what if not everyone on your team is up to speed yet? What if your team is used so seldom that it lacks real-world experience? What if your team personnel are new? What if some on your team have been there too long? What if some team members are just simply better than others as shooters, breachers, and leaders?

As a team commander/leader, you know the "mission comes first." There is no room for playing favorites, always using only your trusted chosen few while the rest of the team looks on. Yet, you know you must use the right people to accomplish the mission.

If a team is inexperienced, what gauge do you use to pick the right person for the right job? You must know your team's strengths and weaknesses and then make a judgment call of who is best for the job.

Training is a valuable gauge for assessing a team member's capabilities and/or limitations. However, inexperienced teams face another dilemma: The team members often jockey for position because they know they won't be going on many missions. So who do you pick from among equally inexperienced personnel, just your buddies and yourself? Are you the only one who can do the job? After all, choosing personnel for a mission is a matter of trust. And who better to lead your team every time than yourself?

I hope you see the fallacy in this. If you choose only yourself and your buddies for every important mission, then the remainder of the team will probably never reach a level of experience that will allow you to trust them during a critical operation. And the day may come when you need them.

Conversely, experienced teams face a very different dilemma of whose turn it is. Many experienced SWAT teams go on so many missions that it is essential to rotate positions or risk unnecessary danger and burnout.

A striking example of this type of burnout can be seen in the tale of a narcotics officer in a major Midwest city who was always first through the door on drug raids. He took point on a staggering total of 175 straight raids. Even local TV viewers watching the officer on the news couldn't help but notice that he was obviously burned out, anticipating getting shot on the next raid. But the team leader probably justified always having this officer at the front of the team because he was "good." But what about the other team members who never got a chance to prove what they could do? Something was very wrong with this picture.

A number of years ago, a tactical team absorbed members from a different unit within its agency. The newcomers became the "FNGs" and, in protest, team members refused to train them. The newcomers were relegated to containment, while the veterans did all of the entries. This situation was only rectified when the entire team was disbanded and eventually replaced by a new team made up of members from both previous teams.

Busy, experienced teams often rotate officers from position to position -- especially point, breacher, and team leader -- in order to prevent officers from believing that an operation is "routine" and to prevent burnout. This system ensures that each team member stay fresh and proficient at all but the most specialized positions. This is a "luxury" seldom used teams wish they had.

Experienced teams can also afford to start their new members at the least critical positions and move them up gradually in the rotation until they're ready to be on point, hit the door, take the shot, become team leaders, and so on.

Although inexperienced teams are at a disadvantage compared to experienced teams, there are creative ways for you to help your team gain experience. One way is to seek the advice of local experienced teams, either as pre-planning or on-scene (mutual aid permitting) advisors for missions. This gives your team a veteran SWAT officer to guide its inexperienced members in the right direction. Another way is for inexperienced teams to ride along as observers with experienced teams. And of course, inexperienced team members must train, train, train.

Of course experience is not the only criterion that makes an officer suited for a specific job on your team. You would not make the biggest guy on your team a "tunnel rat," regardless of his experience. Some officers are better suited for certain jobs because their experience, training, savvy, size, and other intangibles give them an advantage when performing specific tasks.

The message here is simple: Make your personnel decision carefully because hitting a hard door, taking a tough shot, clearing a crawl space, leading a team are specialties that cannot be left to chance. Pick the right person for each job and your team will accomplish its mission.


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