In these bad economic times, between hiring freezes and layoffs, increasing numbers of law enforcement agencies find themselves hard pressed to maintain adequate personnel staffing. This couldn't come at a worse time--summer--when calls for police service and crime typically increase, and officer vacations and injuries reduce available personnel. The result is often that understaffed patrol cannot keep pace with the rising crime rate.
That's when many departments turn to SWAT for additional crime suppression personnel. But it's important that tactical teams and supervisors maintain control over tactics and deployments.
Tactical teams are often assigned during summer to supplement patrol by targeting select high-crime areas. This strategy is nothing new, having proven effective for as long as SWAT has existed. Many LE commanders view SWAT as an effective manpower pool to tap when needed. Most commanders also know SWAT has a "chilling effect" on street thugs who prefer to avoid them. And those who try to take on SWAT quickly regret doing so.
The word that SWAT is on the street tends to spread very quickly throughout communities. Most street thugs prefer not to take on SWAT. Citizens take comfort in knowing there are more police in their neighborhoods, and patrol officers find reassurance from having SWAT as backup "muscle."
Recent examples of SWAT teams assigned to high-crime areas include Chicago PD and Lorain (Ohio) PD, in areas where recent spikes in street shootings and violent crime have people on edge. I have no doubt that in both cities SWAT's presence will dramatically deter and reduce violent crime.
Striking a Balance
What sounds good in theory can turn into a nightmare if not properly planned and executed. This is where SWAT supervisors come in. They need to stay heads up and anticipate the predictable. They need to ensure that planners understand how SWAT best fits into a law enforcement agency's overall crime-fighting plan.
Some LE planners have little understanding of how SWAT works, viewing team members as interchangeable chess pieces to be moved at will. A prime example of this "chess piece" mentality is scattering SWAT team members throughout a geographic area, under non-SWAT patrol supervision. This is a mistake and dramatically diminishes SWAT's capability, while also greatly reducing team morale.
A better approach is for SWAT supervisors to get involved in the planning of any operation involving SWAT, and stay involved throughout the entire mission. SWAT's strength lies in working as a team-and determining tactics to accomplish the mission.
Success starts with wise SWAT supervision that has the vision to foresee and understand what's coming, and how SWAT fits into the overall plan. SWAT commanders and supervisors are the bridge connecting what the department wants done and how the SWAT troops get the job done.
Once SWAT proves itself initially, commanders and planners tend to rely on the team for strategic and tactical expertise. This quickly becomes a win-win cycle for both the department and SWAT. The department knows SWAT will accomplish the mission, and SWAT knows it controls the tactics.
However, there's a potential danger for full-time teams that become so successful departments start to employ SWAT for everything. When this happens, the troops can easily become fatigued or view missions as "routine." Both results are counter productive, and can be prevented by SWAT supervisors who strive for a healthy balance to ensure SWAT maintains optimum readiness at all times.
Part-time teams, particularly when seldom used, face the exact opposite situation of successful full-time SWAT teams, and can experience rustiness, low morale, and lack of teamwork. Whether single or multi-agency, if seldom activated, a team's effectiveness and cohesiveness can easily be diminished.
Same as their full-time counterparts, part-time team commanders and supervisors need to find ways to keep their teams sharp. The best way to stay sharp is through missions and training featuring teamwork.
I'm an advocate of seldom-used teams volunteering for any and all real world assignments they possibly can-particularly those requiring multiple personnel, teamwork, and coordination. Event crowd control and missing person searches come readily to mind as examples of team missions. There's only so much training time, and besides, doing something together as a team is far better than a team that does nothing together.
Whether full or part time, busy or slow, SWAT teams require fine tuning to keep them running at an optimum level of effectiveness. The trick is to find the best fit for your individual team, that elusive "just right" position where your team is running smoothly on all cylinders.
Summertime should be "SWAT time," and regardless of your situation you should take advantage of the opportunities afforded your team during this season.