Special Weapons and Tactics teams have lately gotten a bad rap both here on TTAG and in the press. Stories abound of SWAT teams kicking in doors (sometimes the wrong door), shooting the family dog, killing innocent people and generally being a major nuisance. It’s enough to have us crying from the tops of every tower to disband SWAT teams and go back to the good old days of policing. The problem is that the world has changed . . .
The concept of the SWAT team dates back to the late 1960’s in the Los Angeles area where the need for more highly trained and better equipped units of the police forces were necessary to deal with situations that were beyond the capability of regular officers. It can be argued that as time has gone on, the need for these types of teams has grown as the drug trade has gained a greater foothold in this country and we see more instances of both domestic and foreign terrorism.
These bad guys seem to have no problems procuring the latest weapons with which to do their worst, including full-automatic weapons. They also have access to advanced body armor. And they’re not necessarily stupid or poorly trained. The average small-town police department could easily find themselves hopelessly outgunned if they stumble upon a meth lab or serving a warrant.
This latter case was made starkly clear this past April in Greenland, NH. The local Police Chief lost his life attempting to serve a warrant on an offender with a drug and firearms arrest history. The offender killed one officer wounded four others. Mistakes may have been made but it seems reasonably clear the situation required a more heavily armed force.
Society needs some form of specially trained well-equipped police team to handle these dangerous situations. The existence of SWAT teams is not the problem. It’s the way the concept has been applied in recent years. As the death of U.S. Marine Jose Guerena illustrates [above], SWAT teams need better training, supervision, deployment and accountability.
Officers on SWAT teams should receive the highest possible level of training, to the level required by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). The officials responsible for organizing the teams should pay as close attention to the Tactics portion of the name as they do the weapons.
Of course this type of training costs a lot of money. Which is why responsibility for SWAT teams should rest at the State Police level. Not every podunk city needs a SWAT team. Equipping and training a small number of elite teams would be cheaper and more effective than having every city put its own force of poorly trained teams on the street.
The myriad of “mistakes” perpetrated by some members of SWAT teams should not be tolerated. If an officer has an ND (Negligent Discharge), they should be off SWAT. In the case of a particularly egregious offense, termination of employment altogether or jail time should follow. Any SWAT action should be personally approved by senior police officials who know that their ass is on the line for mistakes.
As a law abiding citizen, I certainly fear the day when a team mistakenly kicks my door down in the middle of the night. But, at the same time, should I or my loved ones ever find themselves in the sort of position where a highly trained SWAT team might mean the difference between them living or dying, I’ll be damn glad if there’s such a team ready to help.
SWAT is a good and necessary concept in today’s world. The current execution model sucks. But not always . . .
We all read about the mistakes made by SWAT teams, but we seem to never hear much about the situations where the right team with the right training saves the day. We need some form of militarized police forces, we just need to do a better job figuring out how to gain the benefits without the drawbacks.