With summer upon us, this is a time of year when many police departments become busier than ever. Warm weather means more people out and about, which means more opportunities and victims for criminals to prey upon.
Whether backed up by statistics or not, the common perception is that crime and violence go up during summer. Traditionally, during the summer officers run from one assignment to the next, often without any break.
Summer is also America's vacation time and law enforcement is no exception. Right when their "busy season" starts, so do vacation requests. More crime, fewer police—the predictable result is a strain and drain on LE agencies and their personnel.
Compounding this dilemma is the fact that summertime is also a time of increased injuries in law enforcement—both on and off duty. This is the result of increased physical activities during the warm weather months: on-duty injuries caused in large part by increased physical encounters and confrontations; off-duty injuries the result of increased participation in sports and outdoor activities.
SWAT officers tend to be among the most physically active officers of all—both on and off duty. Injuries among SWAT officers tend to spike accordingly during summer. When combined with an increase in vacation requests, the predictable result is many SWAT teams find adequate—safe—staffing a constant challenge during this time.
All SWAT teams/officers are on call at all times, except when out of commission for an injury or out of call-up range on an out-of-town vacation. Otherwise, when called out, they're expected to drop everything and respond immediately.
SWAT officers do so willingly and unquestionably. Being on call 24/7 comes with the territory. That's because SWAT is a team, counting on each other, and members of the team can never let their teammates down. To do so would endanger the rest of the team. My experience is most injured SWAT officers speed up their recovery to return back to the team as soon as possible.
As in the rest of law enforcement, SWAT teams are usually at minimum staffing—only enough personnel to handle a "normal" situation. Lengthy sustained and or extraordinary situations are labor intensive and require far more manpower than normal.
Oftentimes, SWAT situations last for many hours, and sometimes even for days. Such extended situations require regular rotation of personnel in order to prevent fatigue and ensure effective coverage at all times.
Extraordinary SWAT situations include active shooters, multiple suspects, area search manhunts, multiple or simultaneous incidents (especially search warrants), disturbances and riots, and natural and manmade disasters.
A prime example of an extraordinary SWAT situation was the May 9, 2003 active shooter hostage situation in Cleveland, Ohio's Case Western Reserve University. The first responding university officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect. Responding city police established a perimeter and crowd control around the behemoth building—which they maintained throughout the incident.
Cleveland Police SWAT arrived and deployed within minutes and engaged the heavily armed suspect in a "cat and mouse" running gun battle lasting seven hours before they finally wounded and apprehended the suspect.
Due to the size of the building and the magnitude of the situation, Cleveland PD SWAT called for mutual aid from SWAT teams from Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, the FBI, and nearby Euclid PD. The combined 75 SWAT officers were needed to search and secure the building, rescuing and evacuating nearly 100 innocent, trapped persons from harm.
There are a few SWAT teams in the U.S. with enough personnel to handle sustained or extraordinary situations. The vast majority must rely on mutual aid and or non-SWAT "trained" patrol personnel to augment SWAT.
During their "busy season," heavily in demand SWAT teams often get very little or no break in between calls. Cumulative fatigue combined with summer heat, especially wearing 50+ pounds of SWAT gear, can drain even the fittest SWAT personnel.
SWAT medics are instrumental in ensuring that SWAT personnel remain at optimum physical alertness. Medics do so by watching for, and treating, any signs of physical distress. Medics also ensure team personnel are properly hydrated and rotated to maintain optimum alertness levels.
While summer is a challenging time for law enforcement, and for SWAT especially, it's also a time when LE and SWAT teams tighten ranks as a team to get the job done. That's because we know every second counts, lives are on the line, and we're duty bound to uphold our sworn oath to "protect and serve."
Somehow, someway, we manage to do the job each and every summer—and this summer will be no exception.