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Multi-Method Study of Special Weapons and Tactics Teams

NCJ Number
Date Published
142 pages
Based on a SWAT Operations Survey (SOS) and field research, this study examined the structure and characteristics of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams in American law enforcement; how SWAT teams prepare for and execute operations; and their use of force.
The study determined that SWAT teams were performing their intended purpose of resolving high-risk situations with limited force. This was done under a variety of organizational forms, structures, and practices. Although most of the teams were composed of officers from a single agency, some teams included officers from multiple jurisdictions. Some teams consisted exclusively of full-time SWAT officers, and others had officers who worked SWAT as an ancillary duty. Other teams included both part-time and full-time SWAT officers. Some teams trained 40 or more hours a month, but other teams trained very little. Other differences were found among SWAT teams regarding command and control of SWAT operations, negotiations, and emergency medical services. The field work determined that SWAT teams generally do in the field what they have been taught to do in training. The field research observed that SWAT teams take slow and controlled steps designed to resolve situations without gunfire. SWAT tactics typically included talking armed and dangerous suspects into surrendering peacefully, using low levels of physical force to take noncompliant suspects into custody, and using impact munitions against violent, mentally unbalanced suspects with guns. One of the problems revealed in responses on the SOS, however, has been the number of unintentional discharges of firearms (approximately 36 or an average of just less than 3 per year for the survey period). Two of the fatal shootings reported in the SOS were unintentional. This report concludes that with improved training, SWAT teams can improve on an already impressive performance of their assigned duties. 10 tables, 2 figures, and 23 references

Date Published: January 1, 2005