Another concern that was addressed by the Commission was the need for mandated training standards for SWAT teams in California agencies.
The Commission recognized immediately that there was a wide variance among agencies in terms of SWAT training. Formal training was found to be offered throughout the state by both private organizations and public agencies. It was noted that the California Peace Officers Standard and Training Commission (POST) did not establish any training standards in connection with SWAT operations and had no mandate to do so.
To address this issue, the Commission made the following recommendations:
- SWAT Teams should provide on-duty training in accordance with their mission.
- POST should continue to develop and certify contemporary curricula for all basic and advanced SWAT training.
- SWAT personnel (excluding support) should participate in POST-certified basic and advanced SWAT training. New SWAT Team members should not be deployed in operational functions without having first completed POST-certified basic training.
- In-service SWAT training should be relevant to SWAT missions, as defined in agency policy. Such policy should address individual team members' responsibilities, performance-related skills, use of force, and command and control functions. Training should be performance based and ensure that individual team members maintain physical and operational competencies.
- SWAT training "needs assessments" should be conducted annually by each agency to ensure that training matches agency policy
- SWAT training must include lesson plans and records of attendance that should be retained pursuant to agency policy.
- SWAT personnel, team administrators, and potential incident commanders should receive training regarding SWAT mission assessment, deployment criteria, operational training, incident command, multijurisdictional protocols, decision making, tactical options, and communications and accountability.
- SWAT training, including firearms training, should incorporate established written safety protocols and on-site safety officers.
- SWAT Teams should regularly participate in scenario-based training to
include all relevant agency crisis intervention components such as field command, patrol, traffic, hostage negotiations, canine, and bomb technicians, as well as outside agency responders, including fire, EMS, and allied law enforcement agencies.
The Commission found a lack of uniformity in tactical utilization of SWAT teams. Some agencies utilized their teams to execute all search warrants related to narcotics. Others called their teams out only in cases of hostage-taking situations, high-risk arrest warrants, and similar operations. Widely disparate techniques were noted in the execution of SWAT operations, including dynamic entry and surround and call-out tactics. The utilization of SWAT for "knock and notice" operations was also discussed.
The Commission made the following recommendations:
- Time permitting, an operational plan for responding to each incident should be prepared.
- Generic checklists should be developed to be worked through prior to initiating a tactical action.
- Standard methods for determining whether or not a warrant should be regarded as high risk should be developed.
- A method for deciding how to best serve a high-risk warrant with alternatives being reviewed in accordance with risk-benefit criteria should be developed prior to selecting the method of response.
- Written officer-involved shooting policies applicable to SWAT operations should be developed.
- There should be a debriefing after every deployment of a SWAT Team for the purposes of improving future performance.
- Departments should develop sound risk-management analysis when dealing with tactical teams.
- The presence of legal counsel when appropriate should be discussed.
- There should be a standardization of equipment deployed by tactical teams.
California appears to be the first state to take a close, hard look at the operation of tactical teams. Consequently, the SWAT Commission's Final Report should be used as a model by police departments nationwide on how to organize and develop their tactical teams. It is also important to note that those attorneys who sue police departments are likely to use this report to attack SWAT teams in future litigation. Thus, it is incumbent upon each department to evaluate its tactical team according to the recommendations of this report, and to determine that the team is being appropriately used and supervised.
Eugene P. Ramirez is a founding member of Manning & Marder, Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez, LLP. He is an instructor for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Basic SWAT Schools, legal Advisor for the National Tactical Officers' Association (NTOA), and a member of the California Attorney General's SWAT Commission.