Regional SWAT: Northeast Ohio's Experience

Born of necessity, the regional SWAT concept has been around a long time, and has proven highly successful. Four suburban Cleveland, Ohio, SWAT teams are merging to form a single regional team, the latest in northeast Ohio.

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In my last blog post, I discussed the impact of the continuing economic recession on law enforcement agencies. Forced to cut costs and services wherever possible, a growing number of SWAT teams are being forced to "justify" their existence.

For many LE agencies, regional SWAT is the way to go. Especially for agencies without adequate resources - personnel, equipment, finances - to support their own SWAT teams.

Born of necessity, the regional SWAT concept has been around a long time, and has proven highly successful - evidenced by the growing number of regional teams nationwide. Regional teams are usually part-time, combining resources of participating agencies at a lower cost.

Recently, I cited the example of four suburban Cleveland, Ohio, SWAT teams that are merging to form a single regional team serving all four communities. This new combined team will be the latest to form in northeast Ohio.

In the Beginning

During the 1960s, Cleveland suffered a series of major, deadly riots. In response, CPD formed a full-time Task Force, which was replaced by the full-time Tactical Unit - the forerunner of CPD's current SWAT Unit.

In response to nearby Cleveland's riots, in 1970, five suburbs established WEB (Westshore Enforcement Bureau), eventually adding a tactical element.

WEB was followed by other regional SWAT teams (not necessarily in order): SEB (Southwest Enforcement Bureau), the largest regional team in Greater Cleveland with 18 cities; SEALE (Southeast Area Law Enforcement); SPAN (Suburban Anti-Crime Network); and VEG (Valley Enforcement Group), which covers Cuyahoga and Lake Counties.

Western Lake, Cuyahoga, Lake, and Medina County departments have their own SWAT teams including the Cuyahoga County Sheriff Department and Cleveland FBI.

Now greater Cleveland is well blanketed with SWAT team coverage, much of it provided by regional teams.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Meanwhile, the nearby cities of Akron and Canton also have SWAT teams, as do a number of their surrounding suburbs including Summit Metro - a regional SWAT team serving much of Summit and Portage Counties.

During the 1980s, four SWAT teams formed in adjacent Lorain County: two cities, a combined team from two other cities, and a countywide SWAT team under the auspices of the Lorain County Sheriff Department. All these teams were formed and trained with the same concept, which is a definite plus when working together on mutual aid callouts.

East of Cleveland, Ashtabula County - a combination of rural and urban areas - is Ohio's largest geographic county. The Ashtabula County Sheriff Department, which serves much of the county's population, has been reduced to bare bones due to the bad economy. At first, both Ashtabula city and county each had its own SWAT team. Then, in the 1990s, they combined to form one regional team serving all of Ashtabula County.

Other NE Ohio counties also have a number of their own SWAT teams - including several regional teams. A number of years ago, Mansfield combined its team with adjacent jurisdictions to form a regional team.

Since 9/11 and Homeland Security, SWAT teams everywhere are increasingly on the same page - including training, equipment, procedures, tactics, terminology, etc - a definite plus when it comes to mutual aid responses. This is a far cry from SWAT's early years, when teams were usually on different pages, and sometimes in completely different books.

Making it Work

While economically more efficient, the regional concept also has its challenges. For larger teams and less active teams, it's a challenge for team members to obtain adequate real-world experience.

For example, the Southwest Enforcement Bureau has 18 participating cities including a number of larger suburbs, notably Parma (Cleveland's largest suburb). This could easily pose logistic difficulties. However, SEB has come up with an innovative solution.

A number of participating SEB cities also have their own, smaller SWAT teams designed to handle "local" situations that don't require a full SEB response. For example, last September I participated in a mutual aid aircraft interdiction training exercise at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Federal Air Marshals, Cleveland SWAT, and Brook Park SWAT (an SEB member team) participated together. I was one of the "hostages."

In SWAT's early days, regional teams were unheard of. However, as time went on regional teams made sense for more and more LE departments. As you can see, the Cleveland/Akron northeast Ohio region has warmly embraced regional SWAT, using the model to provide SWAT coverage to nearly 3 million people in the area.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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