Learning From SWAT

At the foundation of modern police tactical teams are skills, tactics and methods that can easily translate to uniform patrol and investigative assignments. We can reduce injuries and operate more effectively if we learn these lessons.


Law enforcement tactical teams engage in a methodical planning process. Borrowed and adapted from the military, these models allow teams to plan and initiate operations in a short amount of time. In my opinion, if there is an area that is lacking in police supervisory training, it is this. A now-retired police supervisor once stated that the most tactical type of question he was asked in any promotional test he ever took had to do with the length of chain on a towed vehicle. Certainly, police supervisors are not promoted based on their tactical acumen. But when in a supervisory position, it is their responsibility to handle logistical and tactical issues in an emergency. With no training in this area, they could learn much from SWAT team leaders. For instance, a standard planning model is SMEAC: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and Signals. This planning model gets supervisors and officers focused on what they face, what they want to do, how they are going to accomplish their mission and how they will support and communicate it. A patrol supervisor that has no experience in this area can be quickly overwhelmed with all the minutia that rears its ugly head during any type of unusual situation, be it a barricaded bad guy, shooting or riot. A plan sketched out in the dust of a trunk lid is better than no plan at all. And as someone much wiser than I stated, "Those that fail to plan, plan to fail."


The ability of a group of officers to work together to solve a problem is the reason that police tactical teams succeed. No supervisor or patrol officer, regardless of skill, can achieve as much or be as successful as a group working together. Whether it's you working with your partner or other officers on your shift, you must take the time to come up with basic strategies and tactics. Whether it is employing the excellent tactic of contact and cover as developed and propagated by the San Diego Police Department, or you or a supervisor taking the time to talk about how you and your fellow officers will approach certain calls, these strategies and tactics when deployed in an actual incident will pay massive performance dividends. When on-duty officers responded to the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City recently after a gunman went on a rampage, they quickly entered the mall in a rapid deployment strategy where they assisted off-duty officer Kenneth Hammond, and were able to neutralize the gunman. This combination of well-trained and -equipped officers working together to execute a well-thought-out and pre-planned tactical concept stopped a shooter in minutes who certainly hoped to wreak more damage and devastation on mall-goers.

Tactical planning and operational concepts are not limited just to SWAT. Street officers, investigators and supervisors can learn much from police tactical teams. By focusing on the best that SWAT offers law enforcement and applying sound tactical concepts across the board, we can deploy more safely, plan more methodically and soundly and decrease officer and citizen injuries. That is a goal that is common to all and whether in a patrol uniform, a suit and tie or tactical team BDUs, we should strive to work and learn the best and safest way to police in what can sometimes be very challenging world.

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