Unlike today’s established teams, early SWAT teams had to develop their own basic training camps. I was privileged to help form the current Cleveland Police SWAT Unit. It wasn't easy becaused the department spent a decade struggling through four failed units/concepts that were later deleted from the organizational structure.
On our new team, as with most new teams, the initial challenges were daunting. We were replacing a decade of previous units and team concepts with something new and untested.
We had to build our entire team from scratch from a combination of veterans and rookies and then turn them into a team. The legion of doubters and detractors fully expected and perhaps hoped that we would fail, and we knew we were only one failure away from being disbanded.
Conversely, there were those who were rooting for us to be successful, which is pressure of a different kind. We made do with hand-me-down equipment and had to get departmental approval for the new policies and procedures we developed.
Most of us already had extensive tactical experience, but a decade of four “SWAT” failures forced our new team to create a new concept and direction, which we learned from LAPD SWAT. Our Captain had recently returned from the FBI National Academy where he had roomed with an LAPD SWAT Lieutenant. So when we were formed, three outstanding LAPD SWAT instructors put us through their basic training and assisted us in retooling and refining our new SWAT concept.
Then our Captain informed us that in 90 days all of us had to take and pass the LAPD SWAT PFT test. Those not passing a repeat test in 30 days were out. No exceptions. This threat galvanized us into a true team because it forced us to work together and help each other get ready for our very first PFT. These and other challenges combined to forge us into a tight-knit team.
And becoming a team is what SWAT is really all about.
Even though most new SWAT personnel today can’t readily identify with the challenges from their team’s early days, they honor and continue their team’s traditions much the same as every branch of the U.S. military honors its traditions and past. Team traditions ultimately are passed to future generations of SWAT because SWAT is here to stay.
Last Saturday in Canton, Ohio, the birthplace of pro football, the NFL inducted six new players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This is the NFL’s annual tradition honoring its great players, coaches, and teams. Every NFL team has its own individual team traditions that every player from veterans to rookies respects and honor. Because winning is all about team effort, and traditions are a big part of being a team.
While there is no such entity as a SWAT “Hall of Fame,” I can readily think of worthy inductees. Each of them helped lay the groundwork for not only their teams, but many other teams. They all paid more than their share of dues, and they showed us the importance of teamwork, traditions, and tactics. And it is up to each member of every SWAT team to honor these “SWAT Hall of Famers” worthy legacies.
What SWAT has managed to do to help law enforcement in only 40 short years is nothing less than remarkable. And it all started with a vision and the courage to take a risk. That vision included at its core the concept of teamwork.