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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

Standards Needed

A SWAT unit is a team of professionals who are dedicated to the highest standards of excellence, are highly trained, and are capable of dealing with extraordinary threats beyond the capability of other law enforcement. The concept has been proven over four decades by men and women who have to work like hell to make their teams and then work even harder to stay on them. It's a concept that saves lives, not only of officers, but innocent civilians, and even the bad guys.

Yet, today, there are those in law enforcement who still "don't get it," who resist the very concept of SWAT or distort what SWAT is or should be.

Take the example of a midsize Midwest suburban agency whose chief finally relented in the early 1990s and allowed his officers to form a tactical team. He OK'd the team and had it trained by a nearby highly respected, experienced city SWAT team.

This suburban agency's tactical team members were what you'd expect—dedicated professionals, eager to learn, which they did, drinking in every aspect of becoming "tactical." They completed the training with flying colors, and should have been well on their way to becoming a worthy SWAT team.

I say "should have" because the whole thing was a sham. The chief had no intention of letting the team ever deploy. The chief wanted a "paper tiger," a trained tactical team, but one without teeth that he would never allow out of its cage. I can only imagine the disappointment the team members felt when they realized their chief didn't believe in them.

I cite this example because had there been standards in existence at the time, this chief would have been hard-pressed to get away with what he did. Professional standards exist to serve as a guide for excellence in virtually every bona fide profession today. They exist to ensure the highest degree of excellence and consistency throughout these respective professions.

Models to Follow

Professions such as medicine, the military, education, fire fighting, and yes, law enforcement all have specified standards.

Every state in the United States has its own regulatory authority over its law enforcement agencies and officers. This includes SWAT—maybe not specifically, but usually under the wider umbrella of overall state law enforcement standards.

And beyond the standards set by each of the 50 states, select police specialties have established their own sets of national standards. A prime example is the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board (NBSCAB), established in 1998. NBSCAB developed nationwide guidelines and standards for the bomb squad community at the federal, state, and local levels.

If there is any police specialty unit that closely resembles SWAT, it's the bomb squad. As with SWAT, bomb squad work is hazardous and requires great skill. Explosives are unforgiving and impersonal in their destruction, and very clearly, only the most highly trained, experienced technicians should be allowed anywhere near suspected explosive devices of any kind.

One major difference between bomb squads and SWAT, of course, is that you never hear of any command officer hovering over the shoulder of a bomb tech trying to diffuse a suspected IED. No, during such incidents command and everyone, except the bomb techs, stay as far away from the vicinity as possible. They allow the bomb techs to do their job without unwanted interference or advice. Something I'm sure some in SWAT wish were true for them also.

That bomb squads universally subscribe to NBSCAB standards across the nation is a testament to their profession. Who better to establish guidelines and standards for bomb squads than those most qualified to do so, the bomb techs themselves?

CONTINUED: Standardizing SWAT «   Page 2 of 4   »

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