FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
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.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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.

Call for Comments

What will be SWAT's role in law enforcement in the coming year and beyond?

January 09, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

Last year proved to be one of the most challenging and dangerous for law enforcement in recent memory. While no one has a crystal ball to predict what 2008 has in store, this is an opportune time to voice your collective thoughts and predictions for this year—including SWAT's role.

But first, I'd like to make something clear. The world of law enforcement does not revolve around SWAT, nor does law enforcement exist for SWAT's benefit. The reality is SWAT is collateral to, and exists for the benefit of, law enforcement. SWAT was created for situations above and beyond, and too dangerous for police to handle. SWAT's mission is simple and direct: to resolve high-risk situations successfully and safely.

It's logical to expect that 2008 will pick up where 2007 left off, a continuation of one of the most difficult years for police in decades. This leads me to the next logical question: Where does SWAT fit into the overall strategy and tactics of law enforcement? This is a question that has as many answers as there are law enforcement agencies and departments in the U.S. and Canada.

Depending on where you are, and who you talk to, expect to hear a variety of differing answers. Some SWAT teams are rarely ever utilized, while other teams are over-used and/or misused. Some teams receive all the support and backing they need, while other teams don't and exist in name only as paper tigers.

This is where you, the reader of this column, come into the picture. I'd like to hear your thoughts, views, and opinions about SWAT in general, and your agency's team in particular. You can offer your comments via the Website, in the comments area of this SWAT column—including anonymously.

I'd like to hear what you consider the most important challenges and issues facing SWAT and law enforcement. Where, and how, do you see SWAT fitting into the bigger law enforcement picture? And where and how could SWAT best be utilized? What recommendations and suggestions do you have for improving SWAT—both in general and specifically within your own agencies?

I'd like to hear from all of YOU about your thoughts on where, how, when, why SWAT can best be of help to today's law enforcement. And what are your predictions for the future?

I expect your responses to reflect the wide spectrum of policing and SWAT throughout the U.S., Canada, and beyond. Whether or not you're assigned to SWAT, whether you're full or part time, whether you work in a big city, suburb, or rural area, all opinions are welcome.

As we begin another new year in 2008, this is your opportunity to voice your views about SWAT. It is also a golden opportunity for me to hear, and learn, from you—the protectors of society.

Comments (14)

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14

fred4570 @ 1/9/2008 8:53 PM

I can't speak as an officer at a large dept., but at our small dept I see a lot of time, money, and resources going to a swat team, when in a rural county it would seem much more prudent to have front line officers who were better trained in a tactical sense. I do not at all dispute the need for a swat team, but it would be nice to know that the average patrolman is trained to handle tougher situations in the hour -hours it would take to mobilize the swat team. Why not go back to the "old" days of having officers trained to do something other than set up a perimeter "until swat gets here".

ryan933 @ 1/9/2008 10:06 PM

Columbine showed us that SWAT has been marginalized. Whether it is the next Virginia Tech, or a terrorist attack like Beslan, the first responders will have to handle the situation. No time to wait around for SWAT while people die. Therefore, it is imperative that patrol officers receive a higher level of tactical training and equipment in the near future. Don’t get me wrong, we will always need SWAT to handle high risk raids, deal with barricaded hostages and so forth, but when it comes to “active shooter”… patrol must be able to meet the attack.

copfactor @ 1/10/2008 2:40 AM

I think SWAT still has a very real role in law enforcement (I hate the politically correct terms like ESU, TAC, HRT, etc.). They're main focus should be the high risk incidents, ie, barricaded suspect, high risk warrant services, etc., but they should also be focusing on terrorist attacks (both domestic and foriegn) and pre planning intellegence (like haveing the building plans and lay outs of local schools , malls, high risk and soft targets, etc). And when they are not training, working out, looking in the mirror (sorry, I had too) they should be out patrolling high crime areas that have had a increase in shootings, robberies etc. I have seen some trend of using them less, because of a fear of too many shootings, but wasn't the reason to have SWAT do the above actions, was so that less trained patrol officers wouldn't get into shootings?? How easliy Chiefs/Sherrifs, politicians and community leaders forget!!

ScottAn @ 1/10/2008 6:57 AM

With the new wave of training for "Active Shooters" it seems that many SWAT duties are being absorbed back into basic non SWAT Officer duties.
Non SWAT Officers are getting very similar training if not the same and are typically carrying the same weapons now.
The new way of dealing with active shooters has placed the responsibility on non SWAT Officers to terminate active threats immediately rather than contain and wait on SWAT.
SWAT still has many other tools at their disposal that non SWAT Officers dont have but it appears their role may be that of cleanup now rather than taking the lead.
SWAT still shoots and trains weekly at my dept, which is not what the rest of us get, given the responsibility that has been placed back on initial responding officers the dept should be providing them just as much.
Despite the new training and tactical protocol SWAT will always be needed.

hammer115 @ 1/10/2008 7:03 AM

It would seem that the trend is towards a larger role for swat teams. Of course we all know that this world has changed in several aspects since Columbine, 911, VT, etc. I think that one thing that has sort of been lost is that we need to continue to train the initial responding officers in aspects of tactics that swat uses. Not only is this highly beneficial to the street officer, but it allows them to understand what and how swat operates. We have incorporated this type of training in our department due to possible active school shootings, especially for the SRO’s. Most likely there will be a combination of officers and with different levels of training. We all have the same goal in mind, training the same will help us think the same.

CAPONER @ 1/10/2008 7:18 AM

Some thoughts: The traditional SWAT team concept still has a place, but modern policing needs to be about SPEED. In an active shooter, armed robbery, or even a violent domestic, there is no time to wait for SWAT to assemble, if saving victims is a priority. SPEED of response is key, and this is of necessity done by the first responding patrols. We must be "on top of" the "bad guy" before his/her/their plan is fully underway. Even speed of response to a "suspicious person" complaint outside a school can avert a tragedy. The words, "Hey, pal, let's see some ID," are among the most powerful in law enforcement.

I would like to see more emphasis on highly trained SWAT members training up "regular cops" to prepare them for rapid response, and "embedding" SWAT members with regular patrol, with acknowledgement of their tactical leadership role when required. SWAT could also do tactical assessments of vulnerable sites, and help develop rapid response plans.

Think of school attacks from Beslan on down, and think how well it worked out to wait for special teams to assemble. In contrast, think of the Trolley Square City Mall, where a "regular cop," off-duty, and "from out of town" was able to use SPEED to engage and cut short the shooter's plans.

As I see it, SWAT's role, in today's threat environment, is to provide a second team for protracted or contained engagements, and to train all cops in rapid deployment and neutralization tactics. SWAT commanders, have the responsibility of "training" their bosses that in an unfolding violent situation, "Wait for SWAT" may be less relevant than "Get in there!"

bohica246 @ 1/10/2008 7:56 AM

I come from a small department. SWAT, TAC, SRT, ect. is a needed tool for every police department. From search warrants, arrest warrants, to any types of call outs. If you live in an area that has CRIME, you need SWAT. SWAT tools and Tactics are different than patrol tactics. Stealth entries, dynamic entries, equiptment. All of these items come with training. I have been on patrol for 10 years and SWAT for 1 year. It is not the weapons, like the MP-5 or AR-15's, It is the other tools like 37-40mm gas, flax vests, flash bangs, and the most important, team training. You have to be comfortable that your team and stack will be where they are susposed to be. If you take a 3 bedroom house, which all communities have, and someone gets into something in Bedroom 1, your team still has to take bedroom 2 & 3 and the rest of the rooms prior to worring about bedroom 1 where 2+ TRAINED officers should be. If you start worring about what the other officers are doing, you will get blindsided. I feel that all patrol need more tactic training, but a team that trains togehter can not be replaced. Knowing that you have a job to do, doing it, and not worring about the rest of the team doing their job is important. You do not get that "flow and trust" with regular patrol. It comes with training and time together. No city is too small for SWAT and exempt for SWAT situations and the only way to get what you need is training together, and having the "other" special equiptment that is required.

jg206 @ 1/10/2008 9:15 AM

I also believe that SWAT is improtant and there will be situations where there is the time to establish a perimeter, wait and get all available resources on scene to successfully end a situation.
Too often when talking to SWAT guys, I get the sense they believe they have the same rules of engagement of British SAS, where nobody but the good guys walk out alive. When I ran a SWAT team back in the 80s the mantra was a successful mission was where everybody came out alive. Then stealth entry was king, not wanting anyone to know you were inside until you tapped them on the shoulder and asked them to surrender. Dynamic entry had it's place but, was actually low on the desired scale.
The McDonalds shooting in CA showed the practice of setting up a perimeter and waiting for SWAT was not always the best action.
I believe every officer should be trained in high risk active response and each shift should have time training those situations where something has to be done right now. The training will allow shift members to work together just like the SWAT guys get to know each other. I also firmly believe each officer needs to set up a bug out vest or bag to be in their trunk and trained with the equipment so when the stuff hits the fan they can respond. Also a lot of times, when you have an immeadiate response, the officer(s) on scene can work the situation to where you now have the time to slow down, set up a perimeter and get further resources in to bring the situation to a successful completion.
We as a profession are cops not "operators". In some drastic situations the line blurs and we need to be ready to do what has to be done but we need to remember who we are.

RyanNREMTP @ 1/13/2008 6:08 PM

Speaking only has a Tactical Medic, I see 2008 being similar to 2007. The only changes I see is the speed of video and information getting to the media. When we do something good it won't make much news but when we do something wrong... Tactics and equipment will change some mostly due to the increase of school and workplace shootings. Gun free zones will wind up becoming death traps for the unprotected.

Louis Dirker @ 1/14/2008 2:14 PM

The one thing that facing an active shooter has done is to place the responsibility for rapid, tactically sound and immediate response back on Patrol where it belongs. SWAT is still very necessary, but not all situations will wait or hold until SWAT arrives. The one benefit that SWAT has besides better equipment is a large number of Officers to respond to a critical situation. I was a SWAT commander and I will always be a supporter of SWAT, but not to the extent of taking responisibilty from patrol units. Soem of the money that goes toward equipping SWAT teams might be better spent equipping patrol units. i recently boought a Batshield to be carried in a supervisory vehicle and I received some flak from some SWAT guys, but after some discussion they were convinced that this was a good idea. SWAT and patrol need to work togther more in training and SWAT officers need to share their expertise with their fellow patrol officers.

Louis Dirker @ 1/14/2008 2:14 PM

The one thing that facing an active shooter has done is to place the responsibility for rapid, tactically sound and immediate response back on Patrol where it belongs. SWAT is still very necessary, but not all situations will wait or hold until SWAT arrives. The one benefit that SWAT has besides better equipment is a large number of Officers to respond to a critical situation. I was a SWAT commander and I will always be a supporter of SWAT, but not to the extent of taking responisibilty from patrol units. Soem of the money that goes toward equipping SWAT teams might be better spent equipping patrol units. i recently boought a Batshield to be carried in a supervisory vehicle and I received some flak from some SWAT guys, but after some discussion they were convinced that this was a good idea. SWAT and patrol need to work togther more in training and SWAT officers need to share their expertise with their fellow patrol officers.

david davis @ 1/15/2008 5:29 PM

I have been in Law Enforcement for 35 years and have worked at several departments. I am presently a Captain at a good department(some know the difference) and am in charge of SWAT. I have always believed that as an officer I could handle most anything, esp when I get good training and practice. Our Dept. is small (20) and most are on SWAT, which is not a full time team. So they benefit from the extra training and we always encourage non-SWAT member to attend the extra training as well. It does cost money to equipment a team. Some people ask why have a SWAT team if they , like me , feel that a well trained and experienced street officer can do his job (her job-- I did say I have been in long time). Welp there is a reason we have SWAT. Sometimes we have exceptionally dangerous and complicated situations that would require a lot of those well trained and experienced street officers doing their best to win. Now wouldn't it make sense to go ahead and train a group to work as a team and give them the equipment to get it done? Now you have given these street officers the training and equipment that allows them to do exceptional work. And if your department is like ours we would love to be able to afford to have all the equipment needed in everyone's trunk, but can't afford it. But we can afford one set of everthing. We do train all Officers as first responders because they will get there first and most of the time will handle the job fast. After that we may need a team.

ROCKWELL @ 1/17/2008 1:28 AM

Wow, in reading the comments, I think some readers still have a misunderstanding of what a SWAT team's role is. To many of the comments are related to active shooters. Active shooters are the responsibility of first reponders and their departments should be responsible for training them. SWAT does not usaully have any role in an active shooter situation, because in most circumstances the incident is over in a short period of time.
SWAT should be responsible for high risk warrants, barricades, HRT, vehicle assaults, and so on. Patrol is responsible for containing an incident like bank robberies as one reader suggested. If the suspect(s) begin shooting the hostages then it has now turned into an active shooter.
Training patrol officers to the level of a full time SWAT team is ridiculous. I have been with a full time team for over three years. We serve about 150 high risk warrants and handle about 30 barricades each year. It takes a full time operator about two to three years before he truely begins to feel comfortable and understand his/her duties. Operators are given special equipment and training to deal with higher risk situations.
One of your readers suggested to be trained in gas. What about all the training snipers or explosive breachers receive to mention a few.
Think of it this way, traffic officers are given special training regarding accident reconstruction and all the variables that deal with a serious fatal accident that may lead to years of criminal and civil procedures. We usually don't train all officers in advanced reconstruction.
SWAT has a huge role to play in law enforcement. They are the ones called when patrol officers don't have the training and tools to deal with a serious situation. Every agency needs one. Think about your loved one being held hostage in your home by a suspect and then ask yourself if you want a patrol officer with a heavy vest and a machinegun with some training attempting to resolve the issue.

entryman22 @ 1/22/2008 2:04 PM

As mentioned by david davis, I too come from a small department (18) and the majority of us are SWAT. This cross training that we have received only betters us in our day to day patrol activities and keeps us all much more alert. Our department has come a long way from walking the streets with "sticks" and a "six". There are many in my community that feel it is entirely unnecessary and that "this is a small community, there is no reason to scare everyone" (actual quote from a town official) but let me tell you what, my kids go to the schools here and I will be damned if we are not prepared for the day when the wolf shows up.

I see nothing but good things in the future for SWAT, there can be no other way. You all know first hand from working this job that our society is in a different place now, facing an animal with no remorse, morals, values, or respect for human life. It is our job to prepare for them and await there arrival. They will come, and we WILL be ready, on all levels.
Be safe and Godspeed.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Speaking on the Unspeakable: Ending the Pandemic of Police Officer Suicide
I've talked with officers who have lost a colleague to suicide—as well as many widows of...
Love and Hate: Some Observations about the Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack
It's somewhat disappointing that it takes an act of evil for the pure good in people to...

Police Magazine