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Cover Story

Standardizing SWAT

The time has come for SWAT teams to meet and maintain professional criteria set by a national authority.

March 01, 2009  |  by Robert O'Brien - Also by this author


When SWAT was born in the late 1960s, there were no standards to guide the new concept. The only standards were those established by the SWAT pioneers, namely the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

But last year—40 years after the creation of SWAT teams—the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) established the first-ever national SWAT standards. That's something that many SWAT practitioners and observers consider long overdue.

A Long Road

Before I go into the NTOA SWAT standards in more detail, an understanding of SWAT history is in order. In the early days, we struggled not only to establish our teams, but also to determine when, where, and how SWAT would be deployed. Even the "SWAT" name was a source of controversy. This was especially true after the "S.W.A.T." TV show, which was popular for two seasons in the 1970s.

Yet, despite these challenges and even vocal opposition from some administrators, the SWAT concept migrated across the nation in the 1970s and really took off in the 1980s. By the 1990s, SWAT had become entrenched as an essential law enforcement component.

While there may not have been nationwide SWAT standards until very recently, individual SWAT teams developed their own strictly enforced high standards. The twin pioneers of SWAT standards were LAPD SWAT and LASD SEB SWT. And many early SWAT teams modeled themselves after these two highly respected teams—who while similar in basic concepts—in fact, were very different from each other.

LAPD and LASD served as role models when it came to SWAT standards. Back then, if you wanted to learn about SWAT, you asked "LA." So, it's no surprise that the nation's premier SWAT organization, the National Tactical Officer's Association (NTOA), was founded by John Kolman, a retired LASD SEB SWT captain.

Kolman and other pioneers like Ron McCarthy, a retired LAPD SWAT sergeant, have worked tirelessly to turn the NTOA, which was founded in 1983, into the respected SWAT authority it is today. Early SWAT was influenced by LAPD/LASD, but today NTOA has an even bigger impact on SWAT.

Getting here wasn't easy. For 40 years, SWAT has faced troubles and challenges. Especially in the early years, there was often fierce resistance to SWAT, just as there was with transitioning from revolver to semi-auto or adopting body armor. Law enforcement is traditionally resistant to change, so it's not surprising that even today, there's still resistance to SWAT in some law enforcement agencies.

One prime example was my agency, the Cleveland Police Department. On the CPD we went through five different "tactical" concepts/units from 1970 to 1978, before we were finally allowed to form the current CPD SWAT Unit. That's not conducive to winning, nor maintaining professionalism and teamwork.

CONTINUED: Standardizing SWAT «   Page 1 of 4   »

Tags: NTOA, SWAT Tactics, SWAT Training, LAPD, L.A. County Sheriff, Counter-Terrorism Initiatives

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