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.

Talking Strategy and Tactics

You’d be surprised how many people in and out of law enforcement have no grasp of these concepts.

November 26, 2008  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author

Strategy and tactics. On the surface, they would appear to be interchangeable terms. But while closely related, I see subtle yet distinct differences between the two.

I view strategy as referring to the overall, big picture. An example of this is agencies employing SWAT to resolve high-risk situations, including hostages, barricades, warrants, and the like.

Conversely, tactics refer to the methods SWAT employs to resolve specific high-risk missions.

Generally speaking, strategy is determined by agencies at the command level. Command determines SWAT's missions, the what, when, and where. Command also determines how SWAT is set up from its name (SWAT, SRT, ERT, ESU, etc.) to whether it's full or part time, individual or multi-agency. In our work, strategy refers to implementing departmental policy.

Tactics are generally determined by SWAT itself. Tactics are how specific missions will be accomplished. Examples include dynamic entry vs. surround and call out for high-risk warrants. Or if and when to employ chemical agents for barricaded suspects.

At least that's the way SWAT's originators intended it to be, and they set up a system that has proven consistently effective for 40 years. I mention this because success doesn't always result in imitation. There are agencies that, for whatever their reasons, micromanage everything SWAT does, including tactics.

At best, this micro managing results in undermining SWAT's capabilities, creating confusion, and lowering team morale. At worst, this type of interference defeats the purpose of having a SWAT team at all and dramatically increases the potential of getting someone hurt or killed.

I'm a strong believer that once SWAT takes over a situation, SWAT should determine and carry out the tactics. Period. There are many horror stories where interference and micro managing resulted in bad outcomes and tragedies.

Tactics are SWAT's primary specialty. All SWAT personnel at every level-COs, team leaders and operators-need to be accomplished tacticians who understand and can execute successful tactical resolutions of dangerous and hazardous high-risk situations.

These tactical successes aren't accidental. Instead, they are the result of long hours of hard work, training and teamwork, along with a thorough understanding of tactical principles. Every time SWAT trains or deploys on missions, they are honing and perfecting their tactical skills, along with gaining valuable experience.

The cycle of preparing for, deploying, and debriefing SWAT missions and training ensures that lessons experienced are lessons learned. Incredibly, there are those SWAT critics who oppose SWAT training and debriefs as unrelated or unimportant. This is one area where SWAT needs to hold the line and adhere to its proven successful practices. If we don't, we risk diluting our tactical effectiveness and inviting eventual potential disaster.

In addition to strategy and tactics, two closely related, complementary words are essential to the success of all SWAT teams. These words are techniques and skills.

What strategy is to the overall big picture and tactics are to the mission's resolution, techniques and skills are to the individual SWAT team member at all levels.

Skills are the "what," the individual proficiency in all areas of SWAT. These include weapons, shooting, movement, maneuver, cover, concealment, camouflage, the use of chemical and less lethal agents, just to name a few. Techniques are the "how," the ability to utilize individual skills appropriately at the right time and place under the right circumstances.

Successful SWAT teams and individual members start with the basics, strong individual skills and techniques, followed by team tactics. And all must fit into the agency's strategy.
In the coming weeks and months, I'll be discussing specific SWAT/tactical strategies, tactics, techniques, and skills. Due to the sensitive nature of some of these topics, certain columns will be restricted to "Law Enforcement Only," accessible by all qualified LE personnel.

So if you are a law enforcement professional and you haven't registered for LE access to all areas of this site, sign up. You won't want to miss what promises to be meaningful discussion of pertinent SWAT topics, not only from myself, but also from a variety of SWAT experts and practitioners.

Reader input in the form of discussion, comments, opinions, and questions are both welcome and invited. SWAT is a dynamic, constantly evolving specialty, one where we all learn from each other.

Become part of the discussion.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

coy @ 12/1/2008 7:09 AM

When possible we give commands to go to the floor, once they are down we give commands to put arms out palms up and don't move. It seems to work well for our team.

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

Recharging Your Batteries: The Benefits of "Unplugging"
There is certainly benefit to being current on events involving the people you consider...
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...

Police Magazine