The time has come to roll up our collective SWAT sleeves and take stock of where SWAT really is today and where it needs to be tomorrow. You may not think your opinions count right now; however, many of you will be the future decision makers for your teams, and in some cases, also for your agencies and departments.
Our careers are continual learning experiences wherein we form opinions about what's good and what's not. Whether we're assigned to SWAT or elsewhere, we see and experience things that shape our views about how SWAT should be run.
There is one underlying question that has faced SWAT throughout its existence. How exactly does SWAT fit into an agency's overall scheme?
SWAT's New Role
SWAT's traditional role in LE is to handle high-risk incidents deemed beyond the capability of average officers. Hostage/barricade, high-risk warrants, snipers, etc., are all considered SWAT missions. However, active shooter situations have forced LE to rethink the roles of patrol and SWAT due to the time element, which is something that active shooters don't give us enough of.
The result is that for the first time in SWAT's forty-year history SWAT isn't always the answer for what are clearly dangerous, high-risk situations. This has led to some thinking about the entire SWAT concept: when, where, and why SWAT should be utilized.
Given the expense of training SWAT teams and the potential of reduced demand for SWAT, some question if there's any need for SWAT at all, with the exception of big city and regional teams.
SWAT is at a critical juncture, perhaps as critical as the daunting challenge faced during the formation of the first SWAT teams.
Today, we seem to have come almost full circle when it comes to SWAT, which has always been somewhat of a LE stepchild. What I firmly believe is it's up to us—those who believe in SWAT—to come up with the solution of how best to utilize SWAT. Who better than the practitioners to come up with the answers for what, where, and why SWAT belongs in LE?
When SWAT first began, most teams had to battle to convince their agencies of the need for and effectiveness of SWAT. These early SWAT proponents faced very stiff opposition; however, they stuck with it because, as Ron McCarthy always says, "It's the right thing to do." I agree 100 percent, not only back then, but also today, and far into the future.
Personally Strive to Improve Your Team
We are the ones who must make SWAT work in our own agencies. That means working hard to convince those doubters and detractors of the fact that SWAT is the best life insurance any LE agency can have.
SWAT should be capable of handling virtually any high-risk incident. Period. And that's where we come in. By acting like the true professionals we know we are, constantly training and improving our skills and capabilities, and offering our professional services to our respective LE agencies.
SWAT throughout the U.S. and Canada represents the cream of the tactical crop, and it's your voices that need to be heard. This column is one place to be heard, and also to learn from each other. I expect your views and opinions to vary as widely as the teams and agencies you represent. However, I also expect some common themes to emerge that will be universal to all SWAT teams everywhere.
I'll start the ball rolling by stating that instead of reducing the missions and assignments that SWAT handles, the exact opposite should be our goal. SWAT should be considered the "go to" tactical advisors and spearhead for their agencies.
However, it's up to YOU to make it happen, and in many cases it won't be easy, because despite 40 years of success, there are still some who question the need for SWAT.