“SWAT never gets there in time.”
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That’s a movie line but it’s one of those rare times when Hollywood got something right.
The fact is – unless you’re dealing with a tentative barricaded subject – patrol has to deal with the “when seconds count” events. We were quite proud of our 30-minute response time when I was on our SWAT team and that’s about as good as it gets for part-time SWAT teams – which most are.
Share the knowledge
But wait, when the public needs help, they call the police. When the police need help, they call SWAT…right?
Not really, no. SWAT is a reactive organization when it comes to in-progress violent crimes. We should not think of SWAT as our active shooter response at all. If the tactical team has time to gather their gear, suit up and drive to the scene, the event is probably over and the outcome will not be good.
Consider active killer/shooter events: Depending on which study you read, one person is assaulted or killed every six to ten seconds. The number is even higher during the first minute.
Patrol officers are truly the tip of the spear. Law enforcement should have learned this lesson after Columbine, but – tragically – many still use 20th-century tactics with disastrous results. That said, why do SWAT team members get so much active killer training? The answer should be so they can share their knowledge with the patrol officers.
It takes a village to raise a cop
As I type this, our Investigative Services Unit is teaching gang recognition and response to our academy cadets. This is something my department has always done.
Part of our classroom and practical training involves officers from whichever division actually specializes in that field of study. Detectives teach investigation. Narcotics investigators teach narcotics enforcement. SWAT teaches room clearing, dynamic and static entries, breaching and active shooter response. Furthermore, at their request, we gave our SWAT team another day of training a few weeks after the first day to allow the students to myelinate their newly learned skills and practice them again.
Departments who use instructors without specialized knowledge presenting specialized subjects are not teaching. They’re just checking boxes. Our recruits and our citizens deserve better.
Let’s delve further into why your SWAT team or that of a larger neighboring agency should be involved in training.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) recommends that part-time teams train 16 hours per month or 192 per year. That number is 40 hours per month for full-time teams. How much tactical training do other officers in your department receive? Maybe, once in the academy? Even once per year would be setting the bar high. With that in mind, who would be able to more effectively teach your young cops how to survive an event where proper tactics may mean all the difference? That’s right, your SWAT officers.
There are many different and perfectly effective ways to write a report or a search warrant. The same goes for working a domestic or a neighborhood dispute. The same cannot be said for room clearing or other tactics. Officers must use the same techniques in order to work together safely. Having the same high-level instructors teaching tactics gives your agency continuity of training throughout your department. That means everyone uses the same techniques, which allows for smoother, more effective and safer responses.
While we’re at it, why not be greedy? What else could your tactical team teach first-line officers? Here’s some suggestions:
- Safe approaches on calls.
- When to approach and when not to.
- Weapon deployments.
- Less-lethal deployments.
- Breaching and distraction techniques.
- The information that should be gathered when requesting SWAT.
While we’re being greedy, why not have the SWAT team conduct annual in-service training on all the above subjects?
Your department’s SWAT team should be among your best cops. SWAT requires a high level of physical skills and cognitive abilities. Tactical officers must be self-motivated, disciplined decision-makers. They must be the best students and instructors. Do your agency and your citizenry the favor of sharing those qualities with the rest of your agency.