Are Regional SWAT Teams the Answer In a Down Economy?

I'll be the first to admit that it took me awhile to warm up to the regional SWAT idea. But after watching the benefits and successes of the concept, I've come to recognize its advantages.

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The current economic recession isn't going away anytime soon. Cities, counties and states throughout the nation are being forced to cut back on services, personnel, etc. wherever possible. Police aren't immune. Increasingly, departments forced to cut costs are laying off personnel.

I recently talked with one California police chief who said his department is down to 107 officers from 125 officers with more cuts coming. Luckily, the cuts would be achieved through attrition, avoiding layoffs.

LE administrators are increasingly forced to make the difficult decision of what is and isn't "necessary." Predictably, SWAT would be one of the areas closely looked at.

In my Oct. 28, 2008 SWAT blog post, "A Tough Year for SWAT Teams," I wrote about the Shaker Heights (Ohio) PD's SWAT team being disbanded after 22 years of service, because the city could no longer sustain the cost of maintaining its SWAT team. It was an agonizing decision for SHPD Chief Scott Lee—the team's former commander.

Once one of the wealthiest cities in Ohio, Shaker Heights has always prided itself in its well-trained police department and SWAT team. SHPD has been CALEA accredited since 1989. 

SHPD's first SWAT commander was Gary Paul Johnston—noted gun writer and authority—who invented the widely used 1* (one ass to risk) logo and patch. Shaker Heights had a reputation as a good, well-trained and equipped SWAT team, featuring a Lenco Bearcat ARV.

The team's disbanding was stunning, but softened somewhat by the announcement that SHPD would look into merging with another department's SWAT team.

Fast forward to April 5. Cleveland media reported the four suburbs of Euclid, South Euclid, University Heights and Shaker Heights began formal talks about forming a regional SWAT team. Their combined population is approximately 125,000. Additionally, they are "urban" suburbs with demographics, crime rates and mutual-aid assists.

University Heights SWAT started in the mid 1980s, and in recent years combined with South Euclid into their current team that features a converted, commercial ARV that underwent an extensive mechanical and armor overhaul several years ago.

Euclid SWAT—formed in the late 1980s—is well-trained and equipped. And they're active. Euclid PD SWAT was one of the three teams that assisted Cleveland PD SWAT in resolving the Case Western Reserve University active shooter situation—a deadly "cat and mouse game" in a nightmare building maze that lasted seven hours. It ended with the rescue of nearly 100 trapped persons, and the shooting, arrest and conviction of the shooter.

A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial lauded the announcement, saying the idea was one of "budgetary reality and responsible spending â€¦ Deployment use circumstances are rare, equipment and training are expensive â€¦ It makes sense to pool resources of talent and money to create a regional unit."

SHPD Chief Scott Lee cautioned that the joint venture is still in the discussion phase. Many details about protocols and logistics need to be ironed out to everyone's mutual satisfaction. That being said, it appears the four suburbs are on the verge of forming a regional SWAT team.

This would be a common-sense, win-win situation for the four suburbs. Certainly a far better alternative to being forced by the economy to disband their SWAT teams, as Shaker Heights was.

I'll be the first to admit that it took me awhile to warm up to the regional SWAT idea. But after watching the benefits and successes of the concept, I've come to recognize its advantages, particularly for agencies lacking adequate personnel, resources, need and money to support their own SWAT teams.

Editor's note: Look for Robert O'Brien's next post about one city's experiance with a regional SWAT unit.

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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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