Go to any police tactical trade show, and you’ll be immediately struck by the dazzling array of the newest and greatest technology designed to make police work more effective and efficient. The amazing thing is how many new products hit the market from one year to the next. This is especially true with tactical technology, which is considered cutting edge compared to general law enforcement technology.

To many outside the tactical world, the need for SWAT teams to have access to new technology and new products is often dismissed as SWAT merely wanting more “toys to play with.” This sentiment is especially prevalent at times when budget-strapped agencies are hard pressed to obtain and maintain the bare essentials for their patrol officers.

At such times, agencies are not happy when their SWAT units submit their wish lists of new “toys.” But as SWAT officers, we view new technology as anything but toys. We see new products and technologies as tools that can enhance our life-saving capabilities.

Anti-SWAT detractors also weigh in on the argument, voicing their fears of “militarizing the police.” They say that SWAT teams do not need more equipment. Indeed, they believe that SWAT shouldn’t even have access to military surplus equipment, vehicles, and uniforms, available through federal programs designed to assist local law enforcement. Detractors conveniently overlook the fact that much of this “militarized” equipment is actually designed to protect police from death and/or injury as they protect the public.

The 9/11 attacks resulted in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which has made federal grant monies available to local law enforcement. Federal Homeland Security grants have made the purchase of new SWAT equipment possible, something that was unheard of before 9/11. All I can say is it’s long overdue.

A lot of people are critical about where and how the Homeland Security has been spent. And they have a point. But I’m all for anything that helps good guys prevail over bad guys.
You see, I come from the early days of SWAT. Back then many of us had to beg, borrow, and cadge much of our basic equipment, vehicles, and uniforms. Most SWAT teams were treated as stepchildren and orphans, especially when it came to budget allocation for the tools needed to do the job. So, most of us had to learn to “improvise, adapt, overcome” because the job still had to be done. The prevailing attitude by many administrators was that SWAT was lucky to even exist, so we shouldn’t even dare to think about asking for anything new.

My SWAT team created a “unit fund” paid out of our pockets to obtain equipment our department wouldn’t supply to us. However, there was never enough money in our unit fund to pay for anything big. So, every year we submitted our “wish list,” and except on rare occasions every year we heard the same response…nothing.

Now things have greatly improved because of Homeland Security grants, allowing agencies to obtain much needed equipment. Which begs the question of whether much of this new technology will actually enhance SWAT tactics or is it merely new “toys” for SWAT to play with?

The fact is today’s technology is improving so rapidly that law enforcement (including SWAT) is hard pressed to keep up with innovative new tools. However, if new technology saves even one innocent life, it pays for itself a hundredfold.  

The next time you go to a police trade show, no doubt you’ll drool over the new technology you’d like to add to this year’s “wish list.”

Many of us also watch “Future Weapons” on the Discovery Channel and marvel at the new innovations in military and police weaponry, wishing we could trade places with the show’s host, former Navy SEAL (good man) Richard Machowicz. For a brief moment, we dare to dream about the possibilities. But reality quickly sets in, and we return to making our wish lists, hoping they qualify for federal grants, and then we keep our fingers crossed.

But regardless of how much or how little new technology you have or don’t have, the job must still be done. While technology clearly helps us, it is secondary to sound strategy and tactics, training, and a healthy dose of old-fashioned creativity.

However, the next time you watch “Future Weapons” or go to a tactical trade show—like the premier TREXPO conference and expo scheduled for later this month in Chantilly, Va. (www.trexpo.com)—go ahead and dare to dream. Today’s dreams might become tomorrow’s reality, and a safer citizenry will be the ultimate result.

Author

Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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