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In the United States, a SWAT team (special weapons and tactics, originally special weapons assault team) is a police tactical unit that uses specialized or military equipment and tactics. Although they were first created in the 1960s to handle riot control or violent confrontations with criminals, the number and usage of SWAT teams increased in the 1980s and 1990s during the War on Drugs and later in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In the United States by 2005, SWAT teams were deployed 50,000 times every year, almost 80% of the time to serve search warrants, most often for narcotics. By 2015 that number had increased to nearly 80,000 times a year. SWAT teams are increasingly equipped with military-type hardware and trained to deploy against threats of terrorism, for crowd control, hostage taking, and in situations beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement, sometimes deemed "high-risk".
SWAT units are often equipped with automatic and specialized firearms, including assault rifles, submachine guns, riot shotguns, sniper rifles, riot guns, riot control agents, smoke grenades, stun grenades, and stinger grenades. In addition, they may use specialized equipment including body armor, ballistic shields, entry tools, armored vehicles, thermal and night-vision devices, fiberscope cameras, and motion detectors for covertly determining the positions of suspects inside enclosed structures.
The United States National Tactical Officers Association's definition of SWAT is:
SWAT: A designated law enforcement team whose members are recruited, selected, trained, equipped and assigned to resolve critical incidents involving a threat to public safety which would otherwise exceed the capabilities of traditional law enforcement first responders and/or investigative units.
According to the Historical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, the term "SWAT" was used as an acronym for the "Special Weapons and Tactics" established as a 100-man specialized unit in 1964 by the Philadelphia Police Department in response to an alarming increase in bank robberies. The purpose of this unit was to react quickly and decisively to bank robberies while they were in progress, using a large number of specially trained officers who had a great amount of firepower at their disposal. The tactic worked and was used to resolve other types of incidents involving heavily armed criminals.Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Inspector Daryl Gates has said that he first envisioned "SWAT" as an acronym for "Special Weapons Attack Team" in 1967, but later accepted "Special Weapons and Tactics" on the advice of his deputy chief, Edward M. Davis.
The LAPD promoted what became known as SWAT teams for a variety of reasons. After the racially-charged Watts riots in Los Angeles in August 1965, the LAPD began considering tactics it could use when faced with urban unrest, rioting, or widespread violence. Daryl Gates, who led the LAPD response to the riots, would later write that police at the time didn't face a single mob, but rather "people attacking from all directions". : 112New York University professor Christian Parenti has written that SWAT teams were originally conceived of as an "urban counterinsurgency bulwark".
Another reason for the creation of SWAT teams was the fear of lone or barricaded gunmen who might outperform police in a shootout, as happened in Austin with Charles Whitman.
After the LAPD's establishment of its own SWAT team, many law enforcement agencies in United States established their own specialized units under various names. Gates explained in his autobiography Chief: My Life in the LAPD that he neither developed SWAT tactics nor the associated and often distinctive equipment; but that he supported the underlying concept, tried to empower his people to develop it, and generally lent them moral support.
SWAT-type operations were conducted[ when? ] north of Los Angeles in the farming community of Delano, California on the border between Kern and Tulare Counties in the San Joaquin Valley. At the time, the United Farm Workers union led by César Chavez was staging numerous protests in Delano in a strike that would last over five years. Though the strike never turned violent, the Delano Police Department responded by forming ad-hoc SWAT-type units involving crowd and riot control, sniper skills, and surveillance. Television news stations and print media carried live and delayed reportage of these events across the United States. Personnel from the LAPD, having seen these broadcasts, contacted Delano and inquired about the program. One officer then obtained permission to observe the Delano Police Department's special weapons and tactics units in action, and afterwards, he took what he had learned back to Los Angeles, where his knowledge was used and expanded on to form the LAPD's own first SWAT unit.
John Nelson was the officer who conceived the idea to form a specially trained and equipped unit in the LAPD, intended to respond to and manage critical situations involving shootings while minimizing police casualties. Inspector Gates approved this idea, and he formed a small select group of volunteer officers. This first SWAT unit initially consisted of fifteen teams of four men each, making a total staff of sixty. These officers were given special status and benefits, and were required to attend special monthly training sessions. The unit also served as a security unit for police facilities during civil unrest. The LAPD SWAT units were organized as "D Platoon" in the Metro division.
Early police powers and tactics used by SWAT teams were aided by legislation passed in 1967-8 with the help of Republican House representative Donald Santarelli. The legislation was promoted within the context of fears over the civil rights movement, race riots, the Black Panther Party, and the emerging War on Drugs.
The first significant deployment of the LAPD SWAT was on December 9, 1969, when an attempt by the LAPD to serve arrest warrants against the Black Panthers led to a four-hour standoff at their Los Angeles headquarters at 41st and Central, during which over 5,000 rounds were exchanged between police and the Panthers. During the shootout, Daryl Gates called the Department of Defense, requesting and receiving permission to use a grenade launcher; however, it was never actually used. The Panthers eventually surrendered, with four Panthers and four officers being injured. All six arrested Panthers were acquitted of the most serious charges brought against them, including conspiracy to murder police officers, because it was ruled that they acted in self-defense.
By 1974, there was a general acceptance of SWAT as a police resource in Los Angeles.
On the afternoon of May 17, 1974, elements of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a group of heavily armed left-wing guerrillas, barricaded themselves in a residence on East 54th Street at Compton Avenue in Los Angeles. Coverage of the siege was broadcast to millions via television and radio and featured in the world press for days afterwards. SWAT teams engaged in a several-hour gun battle with the SLA; no police were wounded, but the six SLA members died in the conflict, which ended when the house caught fire and burned to the ground.
By the time of the SLA shootout, SWAT teams had reorganized into six 10-man teams, each team being divided further into two five-man units, called elements. An element consisted of an element leader, two assaulters, a scout, and a rear-guard. The normal complement of weapons was a sniper rifle (a .243-caliber bolt-action, based on the ordnance expended by officers at the shootout), two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles, and two shotguns. SWAT officers also carried their service revolvers in shoulder holsters. Standard gear included a first aid kit, gloves, and a military gas mask. At a time when officers were usually issued six-shot revolvers and shotguns, it was a significant change to have police armed with semi-automatic rifles. The encounter with the heavily armed Symbionese Liberation Army, however, sparked a trend towards SWAT teams being issued body armor and automatic weapons of various types.
A report issued by the LAPD after the SLA shootout offers one of the few firsthand accounts by the department regarding SWAT history, operations, and organization. On page 100 of the report, the Department cites four trends which prompted the development of SWAT. These included riots such as the Watts riots, which in the 1960s forced the LAPD and other police departments into tactical situations for which they were ill-prepared; the emergence of snipers as a challenge to civil order; political assassinations; and the threat of urban guerrilla warfare by militant groups. "The unpredictability of the sniper and his anticipation of normal police response increase the chances of death or injury to officers. To commit conventionally trained officers to a confrontation with a guerrilla-trained militant group would likely result in a high number of casualties among the officers and the escape of the guerrillas." To deal with these under conditions of urban violence, the LAPD formed SWAT, notes the report. The report states on page 109, "The purpose of SWAT is to provide protection, support, security, firepower, and rescue to police operations in high personal risk situations where specialized tactics are necessary to minimize casualties."
In 1981 U.S. Congress passed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, giving police access to military intelligence, infrastructure, and weaponry in the fight against drugs. Reagan subsequently declared drugs to be a threat to U.S. national security. : 76–77 In 1988 the Reagan administration encouraged Congress to create the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Program. The program modified existing federal aid structures to local police, making it easier to transfer money and equipment to fight the War on Drugs. Police forces also received increased assistance from the DEA. The money resulted in the creation of many narcotics task forces, and SWAT teams became an important part of these forces. : 73–75
In 1972, paramilitary police units launched a few hundred drug raids annually within the United States. In the early 1980s, SWAT drug raid numbers increased to 3000 annually, and by 1996, 30,000 raids annually. : 73–75 During the 1990s, according to The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, weapons donations from the Pentagon greatly bolstered the number of SWAT teams and the extent of their operations. The paper reported that the military transferred nearly 100,000 pieces of military equipment to Wisconsin police departments in the 1990s. : 77
Criminal justice professors Peter Kraska and Victor Kappeler, in their study Militarizing American Police: The Rise and Normalization of Paramilitary Units, surveyed police departments nationwide and found that their deployment of paramilitary units had grown tenfold between the early 1980s and late 1990s.
The Columbine High School massacre in Colorado on April 20, 1999 was another seminal event in SWAT tactics and police response. As perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were shooting students and staff inside the school, officers did not intervene in the shooting, but instead set a perimeter as they were trained to do. By the time they did enter the school, 12 people were killed and Harris and Klebold had committed suicide. They were also heavily criticized for not saving teacher Dave Sanders, who had died from blood loss, three hours after the SWAT first entered the school. As noted in an article in the Christian Science Monitor , "Instead of being taught to wait for the SWAT team to arrive, street officers are receiving the training and weaponry to take immediate action during incidents that clearly involve suspects' use of deadly force." The article further reported that street officers were increasingly being armed with rifles, and issued heavy body armor and ballistic helmets, items traditionally associated with SWAT units. The idea was to train and equip street officers to make a rapid response to so-called active shooter situations. In these situations, it was no longer acceptable to simply set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT. As an example, in the policy and procedure manual of the Minneapolis Police Department, it is stated, "MPD personnel shall remain cognizant of the fact that in many active shooter incidents, innocent lives are lost within the first few minutes of the incident. In some situations, this dictates the need to rapidly assess the situation and act quickly in order to save lives."
According to criminal justice professor Cyndi Banks, the War on Terror, like the War on Drugs, became the context of a significant expansion of SWAT policing. : 33–39Whereas some have attributed this expansion to "mission creep" and the militarization of police, other scholars argue that increased SWAT policing is a response to real or perceived moral panics associated with fear of crime and terrorism. Banks writes that SWAT team employment of military veterans has influenced their tactics and perspective.
Countering the view that post-9/11 SWAT policing represents the militarization of police forces, scholar den Heyer writes that SWAT policing is part of a natural progression towards police professionalization. Den Heyer also argues that while SWAT teams continue to be deployed to execute large numbers of drug warrants, this is a rational use of available police resources. : 39 Other defenders of SWAT deployments state that police have every reason to minimize risks to themselves during raids. : 39
By 2005, the number of yearly SWAT deployments in the United States had increased to 50,000, : 183–4 : 13–14 most often to serve drug-related warrants in private homes. : 205 According to a study by the ACLU, just under 80% of SWAT deployments were used to serve arrest warrants.
Officers have cited safety as the main reason for use of SWAT teams, stating that SWAT units would frequently be called if there were a possibility a suspect might be armed. For instance, in 2006, only two police officers were killed in the arrest of 2 million drug suspects, a low casualty rate possibly stemming from the military equipment and tactics used in the raids. : 13–14
On February 7, 2008, a siege and subsequent firefight with a shooter in the Winnetka neighborhood of Los Angeles led to the first line-of-duty death of a member of the LAPD's SWAT team in its 41 years of existence.
Radley Balko, an analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute, argued in his book Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America that increased SWAT raids have made no-knock raids, and danger to innocents and suspects, far greater.Another study, Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments by Diane Cecilia Weber, also of the Cato Institute, raised concern about the increasing use of SWAT teams for ordinary policing tasks.
The relative infrequency of SWAT call-outs means these expensively trained and equipped officers cannot be left to sit around, waiting for an emergency. In many departments the officers are normally deployed to regular duties, but are available for SWAT calls via pagers, mobile phones, or radio transceivers. Even in larger police agencies, SWAT personnel will normally be seen in crime suppression roles—specialized and more dangerous than regular patrol, perhaps, but the officers would not be carrying their distinctive armor and weapons.
Since officers have to be on call-out most of the day, they may be assigned to regular patrol duties. To decrease response times to situations that require a SWAT team, it is now a common practice to place SWAT equipment and weaponry in secured lockers in the trunks of specialized police cruisers. Departments that often use this style of organization are county sheriffs, due to the different sizes of counties, and the predominance of back-roads. In places like Los Angeles, where traffic may be heavy, the LAPD uses cruisers such as this to respond with their officers so they do not have to return to a police station to armor up. However, heavier duty equipment may be needed depending on the situation that arises.
By illustration, the LAPD's website shows that in 2003, their SWAT units were activated 255 timesfor 133 SWAT calls and 122 times to serve high-risk warrants. The NYPD Emergency Service Unit is one of the few police special-response units that operate autonomously 24 hours a day. However, this unit also provides a wide range of services in addition to SWAT functions, including search and rescue, and car accident vehicle extrication, normally handled by fire departments or other agencies.
The need to summon widely dispersed personnel, then equip and brief them, makes for a long lag between the initial emergency and actual SWAT deployment on the ground. The problems of delayed police response at Columbine led to changes in police response,mainly rapid deployment of line officers to deal with an active shooter, rather than setting up a perimeter and waiting for SWAT to arrive.
SWAT teams use equipment designed for a variety of specialist situations including close-quarters combat (CQC) in an urban environment. The particular pieces of equipment vary from unit to unit, but there are some consistent trends in what they wear and use.Much of their equipment is indistinguishable from that supplied to the military, not least because much of it is military surplus.
SWAT personnel wear similar utility uniforms to the tactical uniforms worn by the military. Many police departments have diverged from the original standard black or blue uniforms, and SWAT uniforms now include plain military green and camouflage patterns.
Originally SWAT units were equipped with World War II-era surplus helmets, or even fiberglass motorcycle helmets.Modern SWAT units commonly use helmets similar to those issued by the U.S. military (such as the PASGT helmet or Integrated Head Protection System), though they may rarely also use riot helmets or soft headgear such as caps. Fire retardant balaclavas are often used to protect the face, as well as to protect the identity of team members. Ballistic vests, sometimes including rigid plate inserts, are standard issue. These vests are labelled with "POLICE", "SHERIFF", "SWAT" or similar, to allow for easy identification.
While a wide variety of weapons are used by SWAT teams, the most common weapons include submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles.
Tactical aids include flash bangs, stingers, and tear gas grenades.Canine units may also be incorporated within SWAT teams, or may be used on an ad hoc basis.
The 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun used to be the mainstay of most SWAT teams, but this has been phased out by many departments in favor of 5.56 carbines, such as the Colt CAR-15 and the more modern M4. Common shotguns used by SWAT units include the semi-automatic Benelli M1 and, to a lesser extent, the pump-action Remington 870.
Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular sidearms. Examples may include, but are not limited to: M1911 pistol series, 92 series, Glock pistols, H&K USP series, and 5.7x28mm FN Five-seveN pistol.SIG Sauer series (especially the P226 and P229), Beretta
The Colt M16A2 may be used by SWAT marksmen when a longer ranged weapon is needed. caliber sniper rifles for more intense situations.Common sniper rifles used are M14 rifle and the Remington 700P. Many different variants of bolt-action rifles are used by SWAT, including limited use of .50
To breach doors quickly, battering rams, shotguns with breaching rounds, or explosive charges can be used to break the lock or hinges, or even demolish the door frame itself. SWAT teams also use many non-lethal munitions and weapons. These include Tasers, pepper spray canisters, shotguns loaded with bean bag rounds, Pepperball guns, stinger grenades, flash bang grenades, and tear gas. Ballistic shields are used in close quarters situations to provide cover for SWAT team members and reflect gunfire. Pepperball guns are essentially paint ball markers loaded with balls containing oleoresin capsicum ("pepper spray").
SWAT units often employ ARVs (Armored Rescue Vehicle)for insertion, maneuvering, or during tactical operations such as the rescue of civilians, officers, firefighters, and/or military personnel. Helicopters may be used to provide aerial reconnaissance or insertion via rappelling or fast-roping. To avoid detection by suspects during insertion in urban environments, SWAT units may also use unmarked police cruisers.
During the 1997 North Hollywood shootout, LAPD SWAT commandeered an armored truck, which they used to extract wounded civilians and officers from the scene.
Common armored SWAT vehicles include the Lenco BearCat, Lenco BEAR, BAE Caiman, Cadillac Gage Ranger, Cadillac Gage Commando, and other similar vehicles.Some departments use decommissioned or acquired military vehicles, such as MRAPs and APCs, typically acquired from the Law Enforcement Support Office.
The use of armored vehicles by SWAT teams is controversial, and it has been alleged that police armored vehicles escalate situations that could otherwise be resolved peacefully. Some smaller police departments and sheriff's departments also acquire armored vehicles, often retired military APCs such as the M113, despite very few incidents occurring in their jurisdiction that would require their use.
Due to the tactical and specialized nature of SWAT work, hundreds of television series, films, video games, and fictional works have depicted SWAT teams.
SWAT teams in media are often depicted as significantly more militarized or aggressive than they actually are—or, alternatively, are unnaturally able to cleanly defuse all kinds of situations without controversy or unnecessary casualties—and have been criticized as being inaccurate depictions.
The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is the elite tactical unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The HRT was formed to provide a full-time federal law enforcement tactical capability to respond to major terrorist incidents throughout the United States. Today, the HRT performs a number of tactical law enforcement and national security functions in high-risk environments and conditions and has deployed overseas, including with military Joint Special Operations Command units.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), officially known as the City of Los Angeles Police Department, is the municipal police department of Los Angeles, California. With 9,974 police officers and 3,000 civilian staff, it is the third-largest municipal police department in the United States, after the New York City Police Department and the Chicago Police Department.
Daryl Gates was the Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from 1978 to 1992. His length of tenure in this position was second only to that of William H. Parker. Gates is co-credited with the creation of SWAT teams with LAPD's John Nelson, who others claim was the originator of SWAT in 1965. Gates also co-founded D.A.R.E.
The North Hollywood shootout was a confrontation between two heavily armed and armored bank robbers, Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu, and members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California, United States on February 28, 1997. Both robbers were killed, twelve police officers and eight civilians were injured, and numerous vehicles and other property were damaged or destroyed by the nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police.
The Special Duties Unit, nicknamed the "Flying Tigers", is the elite tactical unit of the Hong Kong Police Force tasked with countering terrorist attacks, hostage rescue, underwater search and recovery, and tackling serious crime involving firearms.
A SWAT vehicle, also known as an armoured rescue vehicle, a vehicle used by police tactical units to respond to incidents. These are often non-military armored vehicles which offer protection to the passengers and can additionally be used to transport specialized equipment such as weapons and breaching tools.
Militarization, or militarisation, is the process by which a society organizes itself for military conflict and violence. It is related to militarism, which is an ideology that reflects the level of militarization of a state. The process of militarization involves many interrelated aspects that encompass all levels of society.
The Emergency Task Force (ETF) is the tactical unit of the Toronto Police Service. Created in 1965, it is mandated to deal with high risk situations like hostage taking, emotionally disturbed persons, high risk arrests, warrant service, and protection details and crowd control. The Emergency Task Force is also responsible for responding to any terrorist incidents that occur throughout the City of Toronto.
The Special Assault Team is a police tactical unit in major Japanese prefectural police departments, supervised by the National Police Agency.
The Felony Investigative Assistance Team (FIAT) is a multi-jurisdictional police task force comprising 16 law enforcement agencies in Cook County, Illinois, and DuPage County, Illinois, ]. The taskforce covers approximately 300,000 residents in those jurisdictions. It is broken down into five units, four of which are staffed by assigned officers.
Special Operations Response Teams are a group under the US Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP for short, a component of the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The BOP is responsible for maintaining the custody of anyone convicted of committing a federal crime. To achieve this goal, the BOP maintains a number of correctional facilities, which are divided into six regions, throughout the US. These facilities house approximately 211,195 inmates of varying security levels. Facilities are designated as either minimum, medium, maximum, or the most recent addition, super max.
Reinforced Regional Task Force, prior to 2015 officially known as Piketen is a regional special operations asset of the Swedish Police Authority, similar to SWAT type units in the United States. RRTF is called upon when situations occur that are too dangerous for ordinary police to handle such as hostage situations, serving high-risk arrest warrants and confronting armed criminals. RRTF units are based in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
FBI Special Weapons and Tactics Teams are specialized part-time police tactical units (SWAT) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI maintains SWAT teams at each of its 56 field offices throughout the United States. Each team is composed of a varying number of certified SWAT operators, dependent on office size and funding.
The Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) is the agency responsible for law enforcement within the city of Bakersfield, California, in the United States. It has over 590 officers and professional staff, covering an area of 151.2 square miles (392 km2) serving an urban population of more than 400,000. The current chief of the department, since April 2020, is Greg Terry. The department protects the city, split between two areas and six zones with two stations, the main department headquarters and the west side substation. The department administration is made up of the chief of department, two assistant chiefs, four captains and eleven lieutenants.
Metropolitan Division, also known as METRO, is an elite division with in the Los Angeles Police Department under Special Operations Bureau which is responsible for managing the department's specialized units, including the Line Platoons(B Team, C Team), K-9, and SWAT. The division as a whole is tasked with numerous crime-fighting duties including solving major crimes, search warrant service, dignitary protection, surveillance, providing counter-terrorism details, and attending high-risk barricade situations.
The Trup Tindakan Cepat, or TTC, is an elite counter terrorism unit within the Malaysian Prison Department.
The Lenco BearCat is a wheeled SWAT vehicle designed for military and law enforcement use. It is in use by several military forces and law enforcement agencies around the world.
Tactical Emergency medical services (TEMS) is out-of-hospital care given in hostile situations by specially trained practitioners. Tactical support provided through TEMS can be applied in either the civilian world, generally with special law enforcement teams such as SWAT and SERT, as well as with military special operations teams. Tactical EMS providers are paramedics, nurses, and physicians who are trained to provide life-saving care and, sometimes, transport in situations such as tactical police operations, active shooters, bombings, and natural disasters. Tactical medical providers (TMPs) provide care in high risk situations where there is an increased likelihood for law enforcement, civilian, or suspect casualties. TEMS units are also deployed in situations where traditional EMS or firefighters cannot respond. TMPs are specially trained and authorized to perform live-saving medical procedures in austere and often times unconventional environments. TMPs are also expected to be competent in weapons safety and marksmanship, small unit tactics, waterborne operations, urban search and rescue, and HAZMAT. TMPs also serve to train their respective teams in complex medical procedures that may be performed in their absence. TEMS providers are sometimes sworn police officers cross trained as paramedics, paramedics that are operators trained and integrated into the SWAT Team, or medical providers trained in tactical EMS who are then integrated into law enforcement or military units.
The militarization of police is the use of military equipment and tactics by law enforcement officers. This includes the use of armored personnel carriers (APCs), assault rifles, submachine guns, flashbang grenades, sniper rifles, and SWAT teams. The militarization of law enforcement is also associated with intelligence agency–style information gathering aimed at the public and political activists and with a more aggressive style of law enforcement. Criminal justice professor Peter Kraska has defined militarization of police as "the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model".