The murders of Florida officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department and St. Petersburg Police Department rocked their communities, as well as all of law enforcement. In both instances, officers entered buildings to search for suspects without calling for backup from tactical units.
Suspect searches consistently rank among the most dangerous, deadliest LE assignments. Recognizing this, SWAT is often utilized to conduct known high-risk, dangerous searches.
In his feature article, "Duty Dangers: Into the Hearts of Darkness," Dean Scoville nailed it, "Most tactical teams have the weaponry, shields, and sophisticated surveillance tools such as pole cameras to mitigate the hazards of such a search."
NTOA trainer Don Alwes puts it another way. "It comes back to the three Ts — time, tactics, and troops."
SWAT can't be everywhere, or handle everything. Every LE agency needs to determine the criteria for utilizing SWAT. Policies vary greatly among LE agencies. For example, some departments mandate SWAT for felony and drug searches. Others only call SWAT for the highest-risk searches. The majority of department's policies strike a middle ground.
Other factors for SWAT utilization include violent crime rate, size of LE agency, and the availability of a full- or part-time team. There's another seldom discussed factor that often determines SWAT requests. The reputation and rapport between patrol, detectives, and SWAT.
Simply put, some SWAT teams have poor reputations in their departments. These teams are usually viewed as arrogant, unapproachable, elitist, too slow to respond, and seldom requested. In contrast, teams with good reputations are respected, considered approachable, non-elitist, respond rapidly, and stay busy.
A SWAT unit's reputation is earned through experience. SWAT exists to protect and serve citizens and fellow officers. It's critical that every SWAT team has a good reputation. Any team that doesn't, needs to do whatever it takes to fix that immediately.
SWAT's reputation in its own agency is sometimes overlooked. However, there's no higher sign of respect for any SWAT team than to be respected by their fellow officers. That reputation needs to be mutual. Because we're all in this together.
There's an old saying from SWAT's early years, "When citizens are in trouble, they call the police. When police are in trouble, they call SWAT."
Just as citizens need to feel they can call police when they're in trouble or need help; police need to feel the same about counting on their SWAT teams when they're in trouble or need help. There should never be any bad blood or friction between SWAT and the rest of their agency. If any exists, it needs to be nipped in the bud immediately.
Whether we realize it or not, every SWAT officer is an ambassador for our teams, and also the entire SWAT profession. Just as LE agencies/departments have reputations, so do SWAT teams. A team's reputation begins in a team's own agency/department.
SWAT teams need to also develop a good rapport with other SWAT teams, especially those in their region.
Why is it so important for SWAT teams to have a good rapport with the rest of LE? For the very same reason SWAT was created in the 1960s, and continues to exist today, more than 40 years later. It's to save lives — citizens and police alike.
So much in LE involves judgment calls that are often made under the pressure of time and circumstances. Suspect and drug searches are prime examples. Searches that range from high to unknown risk — most falling somewhere in between — all having the potential to become high risk.
This gray area is where judgment calls are usually made, whether before the fact or at the last minute on the street. I'm a believer in calling and talking with SWAT when an assignment might be something better suited for them. You'll never know unless you ask. This is where a team's reputation comes into play.
And that's the point. SWAT has the duty and obligation not only to citizens, but also to their fellow officers.