The search or raid entry is over; the subjects are secure and being guarded; and the detectives are gathering their evidence. SWAT’s portion of the mission would appear to be over. So is it time to stand down and relax?
Not yet. Yes, the entry is over, but the scene is still active. SWAT (prisoner handlers) continues to guard prisoners until formally relieved by uniform personnel. Most teams secure prisoners in a single location, either inside or outside.
Prisoners are flexcuffed or handcuffed and either proned out or kneeling. Common sense should dictate who’s cuffed and who isn’t, particularly children and elderly, innocents caught in the middle of a bad situation, not of their doing.
A repositioned security perimeter remains in place to prevent uninvited hostile individuals and crowds from interfering with the search. Once the premises are secure, unneeded weapons and equipment are also secured and accounted for by the designated equipment officer. A separate officer is assigned to draw the diagram and take photos and/or video.
The SWAT raid team leader (TL) formally briefs detective and/or uniform supervisors about pertinent SWAT actions: suspects, evidence, weapons, necessary reports, etc. Barring unusual occurrences and the scene is stable, SWAT formally turns it over to detective and/or uniform supervisor(s) to conduct their investigation.
SWAT use of force is handled according to departmental policies and procedures. The SWAT TL takes charge, ensures crime scene protocols are followed, proper notifications are made, and that all personnel are OK, and that any injured personnel receive whatever aid is needed. The TL then officially turns the scene over to the proper departmental authority after briefing them.
All good, dedicated, SWAT TLs and supervisors understand their duty to take care of their troops. The TL’s mission is to do everything possible to make sure the troops go home in one piece, to see to their welfare, and to take responsibility for every mission he or she runs.
Taking care of the troops means devising and executing sound, proven tactics that enhance the success of the mission and the safety of the troops. Taking care of the troops also includes collateral duties such as, making sure morale is high; they’re not overtired, and they are focused, sharp and ready to go. Taking care of the troops even includes making sure they’re fed and hydrated. It’s a well-known fact that armies march on their stomachs. SWAT is no different. The fact is troops will go to hell and back for leaders who genuinely care for their welfare.
Barring any unusual occurrences on your previous mission, it’s time to return to base or head to the next assignment. Some teams grab food en route to eat before their next assignment. Regardless of your next destination, stay alert for occurrences requiring your immediate response (via police radio or computer system). I’m sure many of you have experienced “rudely interrupted” lunches.
SWAT is noted for the quality of its debriefs after assignments. The most common and effective type is the formal debrief involving all participants, usually at your secure base, in private, with no “outsiders” allowed.
However, there are times when debriefs can’t wait. You may be going from raid to search, without any break in between. Or you may have seen or heard something that can’t wait and needs addressing or correcting immediately.
Normally, the raid TL conducts these impromptu, informal debriefs. Sometimes they’re conducted by senior SWAT officers. Either way, they’re always SWAT only and are excellent for correcting on the go and usually brought up again during subsequent formal debriefs.
Formal debriefs are generally more structured than impromptu ones. Usually conducted at the SWAT base, they should include SWAT and “select outsiders” only so as to ensure open, honest dialogue.
Depending on the incident, initial SWAT debriefs can sometimes lead to additional, more encompassing debriefs to include non-SWAT entities. Formal SWAT debriefs are usually structured as follows.
The raid and/or incident TL provides the incident overview, complete with related diagrams and other pertinent information. The TL moderates the content and flow of the debrief by being the only one to talk, and not allowing distracting side discussions.
The TL then systematically offers an important opportunity for each participant to provide their input. This is followed by a TL-moderated group discussion and Q&A session. Depending on the incident, some debriefs can become heated, and it is up to the TL to keep things civil and on track.
SWAT debriefs are the final phase in the SWAT mission cycle, which includes: training, preparation, execution, and debriefing. Debriefs are outstanding learning tools, where we learn what went right, what went wrong, and why. They also provide opportunities for healthy venting, which effectively prevents small grievances from festering into open dissension.
To get maximum benefit from debriefs, conduct them as soon after missions as practical, while memories and interest are fresh. Regardless of your debrief method, what’s important is to conduct debriefs regularly.
This ends my series on SWAT raids and searches. I’ve only scraped the tip of the basic tactics iceberg. I’ve provided a general overview of this wide-ranging topic. One size definitely does not fit all, and every SWAT team that exists puts its own unique, individual spin on how it conducts searches and raids.
SWAT Raids and Searches—Part One
SWAT Raids and Searches Part Two: Search and Raid Preparations
SWAT Raids and Searches Part Three: Staging and Target Approaches
SWAT Raids and Searches Part Four: Containment and Cover