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How to Start a SWAT Team

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 27 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2003 Pages: 28,30,33
Dean Scoville
Date Published
March 2003
5 pages
In describing how to start a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team, this articles discusses justifying a need, getting started, deciding on a team, asking for help, lessening liability, and selecting SWAT members.
SWAT teams are special units within a police department who have been trained to be experts in the use of a variety of weapons and tactics required to deal with special challenges, such as hostage-taking, school shootings, and terrorist activity. Although some agencies without SWAT teams fear that they may cause more problems than they solve, the failure to develop and maintain a SWAT unit, where viable, can be costly. If an agency is called upon to deal with incidents that require expertise and equipment beyond that normally found in any given shift's field force, then it is vulnerable to lawsuits for negligence. Operating costs, while substantial in the short run, may ultimately prove much cheaper than lawsuits that may be incurred in the long run. Once undertaken, it is imperative to have clear-cut lines of responsibility, whether it is a mission statement, a selection process, or an organizational chart. Agency size is subordinate to the availability of qualified personnel, and many agencies composed of 70-100 officers have proven capable of fielding 10-member teams, although a 24-person squad is preferred. The selection process must be based on performance standards. Written standards should be in place for safety equipment, team incident reports, and after-incident critiques. Mutual aid policies should also be clearly defined. Any department contemplating the development of a SWAT unit should contact agencies of comparable size that already have teams in place, so as to determine how they recruit, train, and equip their units. Regardless of a SWAT unit's size, configuration, or equipment, the team's performance will depend on the officers selected for the team. Of particular importance are good working attitudes and the ability to work within the team environment.