If you're like many tactical team members, you probably consider SWAT to be a profession within a profession. SWAT is a special breed of dedicated volunteers who are tactically oriented, knowledgeable, trained, equipped, armed, and capable of handling any and all high-risk missions they're tasked with. Associations allow these like-minded individuals to share best practices as well as each other's company.
The SWAT community is a tight-knit one speaking a language of its own often understood only by other SWAT officers. The world of SWAT is very different from the rest of the law enforcement community, and oftentimes SWAT operators find they have more in common with other agencies' SWAT operators than with non-tactical members of their own departments.
The early SWAT years were marked by a sharp division between two very different schools of tactical thought - East Coast (NYPD ESU) vs. West Coast (LAPD SWAT). A second, equally sharp division was that of SWAT vs. negotiators (CNT).
Very clearly, the world of SWAT was in need of unified direction. That direction came in 1983 with the formation of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), the brainchild of LASD Lieutenant John Kolman. John's original concept was for the NTOA to provide an interchange of tactical information among SWAT teams throughout the United States.
I'm not sure John realized the major impact NTOA would have, not only on SWAT but also on the entire law enforcement community. Today, 25 years later, NTOA is the world's premier tactical organization, with a membership of 30,000. It's been open to all sworn law enforcement and corrections officers since 1996.
It's safe to say that NTOA has become the guiding light for SWAT teams everywhere. Its publication, "The Tactical Edge," is filled with tactical information and is prized by all who read it. The NTOA annual conference is a top draw and top drawer. As are NTOA's many tactical training courses.
Owing to the success of NTOA, a number of state and regional SWAT associations began to spring up in the mid 1980s. Same as NTOA, these associations quickly grew and spread in popularity.
Currently, the NTOA Website lists 27 state and regional SWAT associations and 26 CNT associations, along with a number of TEMS associations. In addition to those listed, there are new SWAT associations springing up every year. It's safe to say that SWAT associations are here to stay.
The benefits of belonging to a SWAT association far outweigh the minimal cost of yearly dues. And discounted dual membership is offered by NTOA and a growing number of state and regional associations. Benefits include tactical publications, reasonably priced training and conferences, and perhaps most important of all - networking with fellow SWAT officers from other LE agencies. This alone is worth the price of admission.
In September 2008, NTOA published its "SWAT Standards for Law Enforcement" - destined to be the definitive guide for SWAT teams throughout the U.S. Recognizing this, the Ohio Tactical Officers Association (OTOA) invited SWAT commanders from throughout Ohio to a seminar taught by NTOA to explain the provisions of the "SWAT Standards" report. Hosted by OPOTA-Richfield (NE Ohio's state training academy), this seminar was a golden opportunity for those who attended.
The benefits of joining SWAT associations reach far beyond teams to individuals at all levels. Whether commanders, supervisors, trainers, operators, CNT, TEMS, patrol or detectives - SWAT associations have something that will increase their tactical knowledge and capabilities. And this translates to enhanced officer safety.
I'm a longtime active member of NTOA, OTOA, and CATO. My experience is belonging to a SWAT association is a "must" for any level of tactically oriented officers. Even if there are no SWAT associations in your jurisdiction, many - including NTOA - offer membership to all qualified sworn officers.
With SWAT considered a profession within a profession, it's natural that SWAT officers at all levels constantly seek to learn and improve their tactical knowledge and capabilities. One low-cost, effective way to do so is through membership in SWAT associations.
What I find truly amazing is that only 40 years ago SWAT didn't even exist. And only 25 years ago, neither did SWAT associations. But thanks to LAPD, today SWAT is an integral part of la enforcement. And thanks to John Kolman, NTOA is the world's "go to" SWAT association, which continues to inspire a growing number of regional SWAT associations.
I strongly urge you to join or renew membership in the SWAT association of your choice. You'll be glad you did.