Calling for Help
One of the most important lessons a SWAT commander can learn from training and from real-life experience is when to reevaluate the situation and ask for help. It's a hard lesson that some teams have learned at great cost.
McCarthy emphasizes that there is no shame in calling for help when you need it, and the SWAT commanders who fail to do so court disaster. "The commander has to evaluate honestly and say, 'You know what? My team is not prepared for this operation.' If you can't say that when you need to, if you fail to do that, then you have Waco."
When a SWAT team needs help, the best place to turn is to another area team that has more equipment and capabilities, or just additional officers. And to prepare for such an eventuality, area teams should train together and agree to help each other long before an incident occurs that requires their joint efforts.
A good example of this kind of cooperation between teams is the mutual aid agreement between the St. Mary's, Calvert, and Charles County (Md.) Sheriff's Departments. "We have 14 SWAT officers here in St. Mary's and another 14 in Calvert," Cameron explains. "And if an incident becomes protracted, we can call in the Charles County team and rotate duties. So what we do is one team takes perimeter, another team is the entry and arrest team, and the other team rests." He adds that on one three-day-long hostage barricade incident the three teams considered calling for even more help.
Beyond just exhaustion, another reason for a SWAT team commander to fight his ego and call for help is just the sheer size of an event. Chabali says a good example of this would be an active shooter in a multiple building office complex or school campus.
The lesson here is that contrary to popular culture, a SWAT team's greatest weapon is not its submachine guns or its sniper rifles, but the brains of its leader and its members. Superior and prudent tactics can beat a better armed opponent, and so can common sense.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu's "Art of War," never fight a battle you haven't already won. And you win battles before they start with training, planning, and superior force. When a SWAT team commander engages the bad guys without these things in place, he's writing checks that his team can't cash.
"If you lead your team into an operation that you're not prepared for, then you're just hoping they're not going to get shot and killed," McCarthy says. "And some leaders do that. It's an ego exercise for them and they get officers hurt or killed, or somebody gets shot or killed who shouldn't."
Manufacturers of ballistic shields, such as RBR Armor (above), offer training programs for SWAT teams.
The two greatest tactical advantages that a SWAT team possesses when it has to approach a barricaded suspect are cover and concealment. But when there is no cover, and concealment is scarce, a SWAT officer's best friend is armor.
SWAT armor is available in several different types: personal body armor, shields and blankets, and vehicles.
The personal body armor worn by most SWAT teams usually consists of a heavy Level IIIA NIJ-tested ballistic vest and a ballistic helmet. This helmet and vest combination provides SWAT officers with limited protection from ballistic threats up to and including high-velocity 9mm submachine gun rounds. Hard armor plates can also be inserted in the vests to protect the wearer from armor-piercing rifle rounds, including 7.62 (AK-47), .223 (AR-15),.308, and .30-06.
A well-equipped team will also have ballistic shields or breaching blankets. Ballistic shields are hard armor shields carried by individual officers. They feature clear viewing ports so the officer can see his or her surroundings. Depending on construction, ballistic shields can usually withstand a pounding from high-velocity pistol and sub-gun ammunition.
In contrast, breaching blankets are designed for team protection. They are basically bullet-resistant fabric fences carried as cover and protection by a stack of SWAT officers. The blanket is composed of ballistic fibers such as Kevlar that are stretched over an aluminum frame. Most breaching blankets used by SWAT teams offer NIJ Level IIIA protection and some can be fitted with hard plates to protect against rifle and assault rifle fire.
The problem with personal ballistic armor and ballistic blankets and shields is that not every part of the user's body is protected and some common weapons will punch right through them. But that's not the case with the ultimate tactical police armor, the armored vehicle. Police tactical armored vehicles range from the foot-powered Mobile Armored Device (MAD) from Supreme Corp., to true armored cars and trucks.
Supreme Corp.'s MAD is essentially an armored box on wheels. Composed of aluminum and Kevlar, MAD offers Level III protection for two officers and features gun ports so that they can return fire. The 520-pound tactical box fits most building elevators and can be "Flintstoned" into position for hostage rescue and to respond to active shooters.
Powered armored vehicles are available from a number of sources, but two of the most common are GM Defense and Textron. The GM Defense RG-12 is a heavy, armored truck that features the Mobile Adjustable Ramp System (MARS) from Patriot 3. Using the RG-12 and the MARS ramp, officers can enter a danger zone with protection from small arms fire, and deploy into a multiple story building at several entry points to effect a hostage rescue or make an assault.
Textron Systems' new Peacekeeper II is a military-style armored car designed specifically for police operations. The Peacemaker II accommodates eight persons and features sloped armor that can stop AK rounds, run-flat tires, and a diesel engine that generates 300hp for a top speed of 70mph.
For More Information
American Body Armor (ABA)
First Choice Armor
General Motors Defense
Protective Apparel Corporation of America (PACA)
Point Blank Body Armor
Protech Armored Products
RBR Tactical Armor
Reliance Armor Systems
Second Chance Body Armor