So You Want to Be a SWAT Operator?
Jose Medina, APCLLC President/Operations Director of Education and Services
So you want to be a SWAT Officer, huh? Many individuals can put together an article about theories and research from their respective fields of training and tactical experiences. Many can also quote statements from books that have been written from many of the so called modern day warriors in years past. However, looking at today’s modern times and current threats to society, for a law enforcement officer looking to become a SWAT operator, one need not look any further than the most serious threat facing a SWAT operator today: LAWSUITS!
It’s not bad enough that the media is currently hounding the law enforcement community whether its police or corrections, the sudden “TWIST” that is put on current police related incidents totally shadows the many great things men and women in law enforcement do everyday in their jobs.
With that in mind, my point about SWAT operator candidates works this way: Many departments are developing many specialized units, i.e. SWAT, ESU, SORT, CERT, etc. Although putting that team together in today’s climate requires more than just buying a bunch of “cool gear” and shooting up some rounds. There are other educational areas in which people need to understand about specialized units.
During my tenure in specific units I worked with and still do, many in the team hated the fact the training was too “strict” or too “discipline orientated.” In my opinion those who did not meet the standards and did not at least “try” to meet the standards were advised they should not be on the team. We would get much resistance from other members as they wanted to be the “good ol boys” network and that getting rid of their friend off the team was not cool. What they did not understand was that it was not a “hate” contest but rather having the right operators for the job which was the most important thing out of anything else. If an operator could not qualify with a handgun let alone an assault long arm particularly after instructors constantly worked hard to get them up to proper level with negative results, how can we then deem them a true operator if they could not simply advance their weaponry skill levels? With that in mind, we still have teams who have people on the team to justify a number or a head count. Is this acceptable? I would think not considering the ramifications when a critical incident occurs and someone either gets seriously hurt or killed.
Many of the teams we train in our basic SWAT program or the advanced level, we always ask them why they are putting a team together or why they have joined the team. Many of the responses range from “want to advance my weaponry and skill levels” to “I want to take bad guys out of our town.” Those can some times be a good response over the current talks of “I want to blow someone’s head off” to “I just want to blow stuff up!” Make sense? Hardly.
Here are some things to consider when starting a team, becoming a member of a team and what things to be aware of if you have thought of it:
1. Did you know a large percentage of SWAT operators lack in the knowledge of SWAT case law incidents? Meaning, you have a set of team members who know nothing about critical events that occurred in a SWAT environment leading to possible law suits?
2. Did you know a large percentage of SWAT operators have no knowledge of what type of weapon they use other than the name such as M-16, M-4, Sub-Machine gun?
3. Did you know if you asked a SWAT operator what type of ammunition they use in their weapon, many of them say just 223, 45, 9mm etc? Ask them what brand and how many grain ammunition, many will give you a blank stare.
4. Ask a SWAT operator approximately the maximum effective range of certain ammunition and possible penetration capabilities; they will probably not give you a very rapid response.
My point; It is time for SWAT teams to start looking deeper into their team members and their current training protocols and begin to establish a stronger educational standard for their entire team. Remember, the courts will look at the team in this way – “A more organized controlled chaos event” over a normal patrol officer where a sudden attack leads to a sudden response by the officer, good, bad, or indifferent. But that same officer will not take the huge hit by the legal daggers if his or her training is deemed far less than that of the high end operational SWAT member. Remember, in SWAT we are held to a standard that is much higher than those in the normal patrol or any other sector in law enforcement. So when setting up a team or perhaps revamping a team, take into consideration that there are many legal areas that you must cover for the team to continue to be successful.
The courts will dig deep into finding those flaws such as officer’s character and mental stability, specific quotes stated in “fun” or simply the type of training and knowledge the operator possesses. Our training programs starting with Basic SWAT 1 to Advanced Level SWAT 2 covers the legal aspects of the team training, building of the team and philosophies. We do this not to have what many in the industry call “Warriors” but simply, “Well educated highly skilled tacticians.”
Remember, the original founding name for specialized units was and still is SWAT: Special Weapons And Tactics, not Sit Wait And Think.