The only way to truly know how a piece of technology will work is to try before you buy. Ask the manufacturer to loan out the equipment for test and evaluation. Ask for references and contact departments already using the products. Pose questions that include: Does the product work as advertised? Did your team have to greatly alter techniques and tactics to incorporate it? Is the product reliable?
"These are all things they need to know before they buy," Gnagey says. "Don't just blindly go in and buy a piece of equipment without checking it out. There are many cases where the product doesn't live up to what the manufacturer says it will do."
Then take a good look at how the technology fits into the team's mission, Gnagey recommends. This too requires asking key questions, including: How often is the team in a situation where this technology is appropriate? Is the technology useful for a variety of applications? Some technological tools might only be useful for barricade situations, for example, or they might be applied to both barricade calls and hostage scenarios. The best technologies offer dual uses.
Be realistic and know the difference between a necessity and a nice to have, adds O'Connor. "You're not going to buy a robot if you're in a place like Garden City, Kan.," he says. "It costs $15,000 and that's your entire SWAT budget. But you might buy the TASER AXON. It's not extremely expensive and it records everything you're doing."
Set the standard
Being part machine, RoboCop didn't need to train as hard as today's tactical officer. Technology — at least for today — does not replace the human element.
"Technology augments a SWAT team's capabilities but it doesn't replace the team," explains Hannon. "It is essential for teams to train in the basics and build from there. It's like playing golf. You can have the world's best clubs, but if you don't know how to use them, you've wasted a lot of money."
The Warwick Police Department operates a part-time tactical unit, comprised of a 15-person react team, a five-person SWAT team, snipers and a four-man crisis negotiation team. Hannon advocates SWAT standards, as adopted by states such as California and Rhode Island and those put forth by the NTOA, have helped Warwick and other teams better prepare and equip officers for tactical work. "Training and standards are the top things SWAT teams must have in order to do a good job," he says.
Rhode Island represents one of a handful of states requiring tactical team certification. In July 2008, Rhode Island followed California's lead requiring SWAT teams to meet exacting standards. The Rhode Island Tactical Officers Association mandates teams be reviewed by three officers from three separate entities to attain certification. The reviewing board looks at core competencies such as weapons and ammunition, equipment, team movements, tactics and decision-making, safety policies and more. Certification lasts for three years, at which time teams must reapply.
The NTOA recommends tactical officers train a minimum of 16 hours a month on perishable skills, meaning movement, shooting, cover and concealment. An officer adding a specialty, such as sniper, needs an additional 8 hours of training. Furthermore, those officers selected to use a new technology, such as a robot, must tack on at least 8 more hours a month. "You can see how it compounds," says Gnagey. "Not only do officers need to train on new technology, they also need to learn to maintain it. That all goes into how many hours they spend training."
Hannon purports technology can and should be incorporated into training scenarios to limit extra technological training time. As the Warwick tactical team stays current with its core skills, it puts new technology through the paces, allowing officers to see what works and what doesn't in given situations. For instance, as the team prepares for an explosive breaching training scenario, members select tools they think will benefit them. "We train with those tools to learn things like: How big a charge has to be. What type of charge is needed. Where it should be placed. How it affects the team as they make an explosive entry," Hannon says. "We need to train as a team with the equipment to become familiar with it, and see its capabilities and limitations."