SWAT and Mobile Field Forces—A Perfect Pairing

Perhaps because there haven't been any recent major riots, Mobile Field Forces have "lost their training flavor," in favor of flavors with more "taste." This is a big mistake—because police near-riots occur somewhere in the U.S. on a regular basis.

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Recently, I had a near-Mobile Field Force (MFF) training encounter at a tactical conference. I say "near" because no trainees showed up. There we stood—the instructors and myself—talking MFF strategy and tactics, waiting and hoping for someone to come in to learn about what promised to be a very informative, useful training session. But no one showed, so the instructors packed their training items and departed the scene.

There were a number of possible reasons for no one showing up, including competition with other training sessions. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the real reason may have been as simple as something I heard from renowned tactical trainer Bruce Siddle. Siddle was discussing training topics and the importance of training basics, as opposed to what he calls "the training flavor of the month."

I realized the MFF no-show I had just witnessed was proof of Siddle's theory. Perhaps because there haven't been any recent major riots, Mobile Field Forces have "lost their training flavor," in favor of flavors with more "taste." This is a big mistake—because police near-riots occur somewhere in the U.S. on a regular basis. The combination of SWAT and MFF has proven to be an effective, potent riot strategy and tactic throughout the nation.

Just as SWAT and Crisis Negotiation Teams (CNT) pair up for hostage/barricade situations, SWAT and MFF pair up perfectly for riots or disturbances. The SWAT/MFF concept was born out of necessity in the wake of major riots, such as have occurred in Los Angeles (1965) and Miami (1980s). Proof of their success has been the establishment of the SWAT/MFF strategy as the nation's "gold standard" for diffusing high-risk incidents. Just as SWAT led the way with active shooter response tactics and training, SWAT now leads the way with MFF tactics and training to involve law enforcement officers in providing unified responses to emergency situations. It all goes back to SWAT officers being the tactical leaders and advisors for their agencies.

But unlike SWAT situations, which occur with regularity, riots and disturbances that require MFF are far less frequent. Many police administrators concern themselves only with the "crisis of the day," so the predictable result of MFF atrophy will be disinterest, disuse, and eventual disbanding.

SWAT can prevent this from happening, but why would SWAT want to become involved in MFF problems? The answer is simple: When a fan-hitting major riot or disturbance occurs, the most effective police strategy is a comprehensive, organized response carried out by trained, equipped, motivated officers working together as a single unit. In major riots and disturbances, police typically are outnumbered by swirling, mobile masses of out-of-control people bent on destruction and harm. Those who have experienced riots and disturbances recognize their enormity and danger. SWAT can't do it all alone, which is where the SWAT/MFF partnership comes into play.

SWAT and MFF is a natural fusion of riot/disturbance strategy and tactics. Taken separately, both are potent. Together they become the most powerful, effective police riot response developed thus far. It is also in SWAT's best interest to have meaningful input into how, where, and when SWAT and MFF are deployed.

Case in point—30 years ago, my department was preparing for anticipated major disturbances due to court-ordered forced school busing. An early version of Mobile Field Forces were developed and deployed to two staging areas in the city. MFFs consisted of multiple squads of eight personnel in two cars, each led by one or two SWAT squads. Command decided that because of its training, SWAT would respond to every report of trouble throughout the entire city, and then determine if MFFs would be needed.

The flaw in this plan was immediately evident—three squads of SWAT would be racing from one trouble location to another, while the greatly larger MFFs were on standby. Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed and instead MFF squads were dispatched to scout trouble reports. If validated, additional MFF/SWAT squads responded to quell the problem. This deployment reversal proved highly effective, and freed SWAT for a number of hostage/barricade situations that occurred during the detail. In the end, SWAT/MFF combined into a single, cohesive, effective unit. True to tradition, when the detail ended, so did MFFs. It would be another 15 years before my department resurrected MFFs.

Since history repeats itself, there is a real danger that MFFs will be allowed to atrophy and fade into "paper tigers" until the next riot or disturbance hits the fan. Then SWAT will be forced to carry the entire response alone.

As tactical specialists, each SWAT team needs to lead the way for its agency's riot/disturbance planning, preparation, and response, and that includes spearheading Mobile Field Forces. This is win/win strategy for everyone: the agency, MFF, and SWAT. So, if you haven't already done so, get involved and lead—the "SWAT" way.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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