There are a lot of inventors, entrepreneurs, and defense contractors worldwide who have developed tactical equipment in the last few years. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the worldwide threat of terrorism, and the body counts racked up by active shooters have fueled the market for such products and spurred innovative people and companies to produce a wide variety of high-tech equipment and gear with the hopes of selling it to the military and to law enforcement.
Much of this stuff is really expensive and more applicable to war fighting than police work. But some of it is just what SWAT teams want...If they can find a way to pay for it.
So what kinds of new "toys" are police tactical teams using on the job? The answers are both predictably high-tech and surprisingly low-tech.
Things are not technologically stagnant in the SWAT community. With some 50,000 SWAT deployments each year, the SWAT community can't afford to rest on its laurels. New versions of the tried and true, as well as innovative uses of modern mechanisms, simultaneously bring SWAT teams closer to suspects in the safest way possible and bring situations to safer conclusions. These tools are the outgrowth of the innovative synergy created among SWAT reformers, clever budgeters, and yes, better mousetrap builders.
In some instances, innovation has meant simply taking existing tools and modifying them to a unit's needs.
The San Bernardino (Calif.) Sheriff's Office did just that with its "tank."
The SBSO's "tank" is actually a Caterpillar skip steer loader that has been retrofitted with armor capable of defeating .50 caliber rounds. It's also essentially a new twist on a battering ram that allows officers to breach into numerous types of structures. And as is so important in contemporary law enforcement operations, the tank doesn't just tear holes in buildings for SWAT to enter, it videos the entire operation.
Lt. Nils Bentsen believes SBSO's tank was the first such tool deployed in the SWAT community, although a few other teams have since adopted the tractor because of all the things it can do.
"In many barricade situations, suspects have the advantage by knowing where doors, windows, and walls are and exploiting them," Bentsen says. "By systematically eliminating such portals, the tank puts the SWAT officers on equal footing."
Upon gaining entry to a location via its decidedly low-tech tank, the SWAT team can use a variety of high-tech less-lethal weaponry to neutralize threats. One of the most effective tools in the team's arsenal has proven to be the Extended Range Electronic Projectile (XREP)-a wireless TASER launched from a 12-gauge shotgun platform.
Bentsen acknowledges that the tank has garnered controversy because of the amount of structural damage it is capable of inflicting. But he also is quick to counter that concern.
"When all is said and done, I believe that any repair costs are more than offset by the money that would be spent cleaning up the aftermath of flash-bangs and other contaminating agents otherwise deployed," Bentsen says.
If that isn't enough to knock the fence-straddlers from their perch, consider this: No suspect or officer has been lost incident to the tank's deployment.
Beyond that, use of the tank has enabled the SBSO SWAT unit to cut operation times from an average eight-hour standoff to three or four hours without cutting corners or sacrificing officer or civilian safety.