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SWAT and the Law: A California Commission Has Drafted SWAT Standards That Agencies Nationwide Would be Wise to Adopt

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 27 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2003 Pages: 58-60
Eugene P. Ramirez
Date Published
May 2003
3 pages
This article discusses SWAT standards adopted by a California commission.
California has more than 180 police tactical teams. Some agencies use SWAT teams as often as possible to justify the expense of having them. These policies have led to some problems that have resulted in legal action. While well-trained SWAT teams can reduce exposure to injuries for civilians and officers, many teams operate without adequate training, leaving them vulnerable to litigation. The SWAT Commission, formed in April 2001, was tasked with assessing the level of tactical capability in California and making recommendations to the Attorney General regarding improvement to the system. The Commission formed four subcommittees -- tactics, training, policy, and equipment -- to review tactical operations. The recommendations by the Commission can serve as a model of how to operate and manage a tactical team for agencies nationwide. One conclusion of the Commission was that there is no agreed upon definition as to what constitutes a SWAT team. The Commission developed a matrix defining various levels of team capability. Level One is a basic team capable of providing containment and intervention for critical incidents beyond the training and resources available to line officers. Level Two is an intermediate team capable of providing containment and intervention that possesses tactical capabilities above the Level One teams. Level Three is a full-time tactical unit whose members spend 25 percent of their on-duty time in SWAT training. A concern that was addressed by the Commission was the need for mandated training standards for SWAT teams in California agencies. The Commission recommended on-duty training, continued development and certification of contemporary curricula for basic and advanced SWAT training, annual needs assessment, and written safety protocols and on-site safety officers. A lack of uniformity in tactical utilization of SWAT teams was found. Recommendations include developing an operational plan for responding to each incident; debriefings after every deployment; and sound risk-management analysis when dealing with tactical teams.