Law enforcement, like any profession, must accept change and continuously evolve to better serve its basic mission of protecting the community. The past decade has mandated that law enforcement revolutionize their intelligence sharing capabilities, intelligence linking and tactical responses to achieve mission success. The traditional criminal element is no longer the only threat to America's communities. Terrorism, 4th and 5th generation warfare are rapidly becoming the paramount concern.
Fourth generation warfare is defined as one which is being conducted by insurgent groups with Fifth generation being that of Lone Wolf type individuals whose only purpose is to conduct random attacks with focus on instilling terror on the populace. Significant events often benchmark the changing of tactics. For law enforcement, the well known Texas tower incident that occurred in 1966, where Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded an additional 32 was one of those benchmarks. This shooting, which occurred on the University of Texas was second only to the Virginia Tech slaughter that occurred in 2007 for deadliest school shootings. The Texas massacre, arguably, spawned the creation of the Specialized Weapons and Tactics unit, SWAT.
Due to the advent of Active Shooters the need for immediate law enforcement intervention is becoming the norm in today's society. The luxury of waiting for specialized units such as SWAT is no longer considered best practices. The school shooting at Columbine High School is perhaps the most evident incident that demonstrated the need for a Tactical Patrol Response. The Columbine High School shooting incident, according to many law enforcement experts, substantiated that law enforcement can no longer rely on specialized units; rather the burden of protecting modern community threats relies on the Patrol Officer.
Departments who stagnate in evolution and view the traditional Patrol Officer as just that - nothing more than a patrol officer - are doing a discredit to the communities they serve. Consider current trends: the current Patrol Officer is better equipped for immediate intervention. Patrol Officers, largely around the country, now carry AR-15s, .40 caliber side arms, less lethal options, such as FN rifles and Tasers. Today's Patrol Officer's arsenal is mimicking that of traditional SWAT operatives. Patrol Officer training is more complex than ever before. Free training is offered from a variety of federal and state institutions to assist in developing a modern warrior. Training offered varies from Weapons of Mass Destruction to Intelligence and Analysis applications.
Incidents being resolved by well trained Patrol Officers are evident. The commonly referred to Fort Hood Shooting which occurred in November 2009 is just one example of how modern Patrol Officers saved countless lives by immediately intervening and stopping the ongoing shooting which was initiated by a terror subject. Of course the Fort Hood incident is a nationally recognized event, however it should not underscore the countless confrontations between patrol officers and suspects that occur daily which have the potential of similar consequences as the Fort Hood incident if the suspect(s) had not been neutralized.
Undisputedly, the need for specialized tactical units exists; commonly referred to as SWAT, these teams are essential in supporting community safety. However, it is my belief that future law enforcement best practices will limit SWAT's responsibilities to incidents such as high-risk search warrants entries, barricades, hostage rescue scenarios, motorcades and soft target protection at times of elevated national security. SWAT applications will become more and more specialized, mandating immediate intervention to critical incidents by the modern Patrol Officer.
In closing, the Patrol Officer is America's best defense in protecting its citizens. Departments who neglect to invest training in their Patrol Officers are drastically omitting valuable resources. The need for immediate, well trained, Patrol response is evident in modern times. Patrol Officers are morphing from the traditional beat cop to Tactical Patrol Officers protecting our communities.