Talking Strategy and Tactics

I’m a strong believer that once SWAT takes over a situation, SWAT should determine and carry out the tactics. Period. There are many horror stories where interference and micro managing resulted in bad outcomes and tragedies.

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Strategy and tactics. On the surface, they would appear to be interchangeable terms. But while closely related, I see subtle yet distinct differences between the two.

I view strategy as referring to the overall, big picture. An example of this is agencies employing SWAT to resolve high-risk situations, including hostages, barricades, warrants, and the like.

Conversely, tactics refer to the methods SWAT employs to resolve specific high-risk missions.

Generally speaking, strategy is determined by agencies at the command level. Command determines SWAT's missions, the what, when, and where. Command also determines how SWAT is set up from its name (SWAT, SRT, ERT, ESU, etc.) to whether it's full or part time, individual or multi-agency. In our work, strategy refers to implementing departmental policy.

Tactics are generally determined by SWAT itself. Tactics are how specific missions will be accomplished. Examples include dynamic entry vs. surround and call out for high-risk warrants. Or if and when to employ chemical agents for barricaded suspects.

At least that's the way SWAT's originators intended it to be, and they set up a system that has proven consistently effective for 40 years. I mention this because success doesn't always result in imitation. There are agencies that, for whatever their reasons, micromanage everything SWAT does, including tactics.

At best, this micro managing results in undermining SWAT's capabilities, creating confusion, and lowering team morale. At worst, this type of interference defeats the purpose of having a SWAT team at all and dramatically increases the potential of getting someone hurt or killed.

I'm a strong believer that once SWAT takes over a situation, SWAT should determine and carry out the tactics. Period. There are many horror stories where interference and micro managing resulted in bad outcomes and tragedies.

Tactics are SWAT's primary specialty. All SWAT personnel at every level-COs, team leaders and operators-need to be accomplished tacticians who understand and can execute successful tactical resolutions of dangerous and hazardous high-risk situations.

These tactical successes aren't accidental. Instead, they are the result of long hours of hard work, training and teamwork, along with a thorough understanding of tactical principles. Every time SWAT trains or deploys on missions, they are honing and perfecting their tactical skills, along with gaining valuable experience.

The cycle of preparing for, deploying, and debriefing SWAT missions and training ensures that lessons experienced are lessons learned. Incredibly, there are those SWAT critics who oppose SWAT training and debriefs as unrelated or unimportant. This is one area where SWAT needs to hold the line and adhere to its proven successful practices. If we don't, we risk diluting our tactical effectiveness and inviting eventual potential disaster.

In addition to strategy and tactics, two closely related, complementary words are essential to the success of all SWAT teams. These words are techniques and skills.

What strategy is to the overall big picture and tactics are to the mission's resolution, techniques and skills are to the individual SWAT team member at all levels.

Skills are the "what," the individual proficiency in all areas of SWAT. These include weapons, shooting, movement, maneuver, cover, concealment, camouflage, the use of chemical and less lethal agents, just to name a few. Techniques are the "how," the ability to utilize individual skills appropriately at the right time and place under the right circumstances.

Successful SWAT teams and individual members start with the basics, strong individual skills and techniques, followed by team tactics. And all must fit into the agency's strategy.
In the coming weeks and months, I'll be discussing specific SWAT/tactical strategies, tactics, techniques, and skills. Due to the sensitive nature of some of these topics, certain columns will be restricted to "Law Enforcement Only," accessible by all qualified LE personnel.

So if you are a law enforcement professional and you haven't registered for LE access to all areas of this site, sign up. You won't want to miss what promises to be meaningful discussion of pertinent SWAT topics, not only from myself, but also from a variety of SWAT experts and practitioners.

Reader input in the form of discussion, comments, opinions, and questions are both welcome and invited. SWAT is a dynamic, constantly evolving specialty, one where we all learn from each other.

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About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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