In “The Swat Team Experience,” I discussed the events that might cause a SWAT team to be called to active duty.
Take a look at some of the equipment/gear they might use during an active crime scene:
The ballistic shield on the left is larger and heavier, covering more of the body, and has an armored viewing port. The smaller, lighter weight shield (#2) is preferred by some officers because it allows for an easier reach around it with weaponry. It does cover a smaller part of the body’s core. See #3: Both versions have hand holds on the back and attachments for neck support.
The equipment might weigh 50-65 pounds when fully hooked up. Many team members carry
They wear cargo pants because of the fit and all the practical pockets. Some tactical grade cargo pants have extra lining, allowing the officers to carry additional magazines (ammo), and are made of rip stop fabric. They are similar in weight and texture to several camping cargo pants I have from LLBean. They breathe well and allow sweat to wick away, but mine aren’t tough enough to hold ammo.
A sniper has to be prepared to observe and report the event as it unfolds, so they choose a spot within 50-75 yards of the scene that is good for watching, as well as shooting in case that has to happen. In order to communicate their intel, they use an encrypted digital signal that can’t be picked up on scanners, but can be heard by other members of the team. SWAT team snipers generally work in pairs, rotating positions every 15-30 minutes. Snipers want to be on the same plane as the target(s). The more off a 90 degree angle they are, the more off a straight line the shot will go after it hits glass, etc. that might be between the shooter and the target.
One of the tricky, but essential, parts in gathering information is to find is where in the house or building the target is. The agencies involved identify positions around the house for ease of information sharing, using letters or numbers. i.e.: “I’m at Position A, ten yards out.”
| Back of house
Or, using positions on a clock, an officer might say, “I’m at 12:00, twenty yards out.”
A SWAT team is not the bomb squad, although they are able to call upon a bomb expert if needed. In general, no robots are sent in to surveil the area, because the bad guy could pick the robot up and put it in a closet.
The scary part of breaching a building is not knowing what’s on the other side of the door. The teams get very quiet before entrance, but the ride after the mission can be very loud as they burn off the high intensity of the operation. The job does take a toll.
What is used to force out the bad guys?
Flash-bangs (stun grenades) are one tool, called that because of the blinding flash and ear-splitting bang meant to only temporarily blind and deafen, therefore disorienting the target. The goal is not to kill the suspects, just to flush them out into the open. Teams try not to use this in domestic situations because of the potential collateral damage.
Gas grenades: The s-6 multi-launcher gas rounds can cause pain in the face and eyes. FYI, the gas gets into the clothes of everyone in close proximity and lasts for more than 24 hours, even in the wash.
Remington Ball Camera: This can be tossed into the house, where it will land and take photos in a 360 degree arc. It also records sound.
In order to show you the relative size, an Academy participant held it upright while I took the photo.
The sniper rifle is very loud (308 caliber) and if shot inside a house might cause permanent loss of hearing to those in the room, so handguns or other firearms are used, if needed at all.
Armored vehicles: the teams wait in them while part of the team is working. Not all towns have them at a price tag of from $180K to $630K. Why the hefty cost? At the high end, the armored vehicles can withstand ammo assault from below and to the engine, are bulletproof through continued attack, and have the option of roof mounted gun turrets. The opening scene in Jamie Freveletti’s novel, “Blood Run,” gives a realistic portrayal of a substantially armored vehicle under attack.
This armored vehicle is used by the Neenah, Wisconsin Police Department.
Curious about salaries for doing this dangerous and challenging job?
Nationwide average in the USA: $59,475
Wichita Falls, TX average: $55,164
North Carolina average: $50,575
Thanks go to the Neenah Police Department members who shared their information and experiences at a Writers’ Police Academy held in Wisconsin.
Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing this outstanding annual event.
Additional information from:
All except armored truck: Patti Phillips.
Armored truck: Neenah, Wisconsin Police Department
S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, implying a special level of training and weaponry for the team members. When we hear that a SWAT team has been deployed, we know that a serious law-enforcement-required incident and threat to public safety has occurred, which may be beyond the scope of the typical police department or first responder.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has the reputation of creating the first SWAT teams in the USA, but Philadelphia coined the Special Weapons and Tactics phrase first, in 1964. Philly established a large team whose sole responsibility was to combat the rising number of bank robberies in the city, hoping to stop them in progress. LAPD organized their own program around the same time, but the focus was different, using their teams during civil unrest and riots, when people attacked police and attempted to overwhelm them from all sides.
SWAT team members always have experience in other agencies or departments before applying to and being accepted into this specialized arena.
Depending on the needs of the towns/counties, SWAT teams are larger or smaller, relative to the size and needs of the rest of the police force. The Wichita Falls, Texas, Police Department SWAT Team members are trained in everything from Hostage Rescue to Dignitary Protection during a 60 hour basic SWAT school. Wichita Falls has a little over 200 sworn officers, with a SWAT team of 18. The Wisconsin department we observed was a 40 person department, with a SWAT team of 10, including two snipers.
A SWAT team is called out for:
The team’s mission is to save lives. A hostage rescue is the most complex and the most man power intensive of the possible assignments. The goal is to end it sooner rather than later. If there is no hostage in the house, with just one person in an isolated place, then a negotiator might be used, since the safety of others and time considerations would not generally be a factor.
The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) sets the standard for the country for the management and protocols in a hostage situation. The participants are identified and divided into categories:
The civilians are cleared out before a SWAT assault begins. Other jurisdictions may be called in to help. Past experience has shown that in situations like school shootings or bank robberies where a number of people are involved, everyone, including small children, is asked to leave the building with hands up in the air. This way, the law enforcement groups on the scene will know that the children have nothing hidden in their hands and/or are not being used to create more chaos or danger for the waiting crowd(s).
It’s important to note that school patrol personnel might have been employed a few years ago to keep drug dealers off the campus just by their very presence, without any expectation of violent confrontation. Now, more and more often, they are being trained in active shooter scenarios in order to be pro-active in the minutes before a SWAT team can arrive.
A SWAT team member’s mindset:
The men and women in SWAT have a warrior mindset and are confident in the fact that they will get the job done, that they are the best candidates for the job, and they are not afraid of being under fire. For a set period of time (6-12 months in various departments) after training, Field Training Officers (FTO) guide rookie SWAT officers through the many different scenarios that may occur. Team members are always ready for the callout, so training is intense and constant. If the team stays trained and never gets called upon, that can be tough on morale – “when am I going to be able to show what I can do?” It’s like a fine-tuned machine that never gets used. In big cities, that would never be an issue, but in smaller, less populated areas with fewer SWAT-needed situations, it might become a factor.
Many of today’s police departments have a greater social work component to hostage situations than in the past, so a hostage negotiator gets involved before SWAT starts knocking down doors. Often, negotiators are specifically assigned to the SWAT teams.
There is a certain gender bias that women must fight against in the job, mostly because it is thought by some that a woman may not be strong enough or tough minded enough to carry through in a hostile situation. The capability to shoot is never in question, but sometimes the willingness to shoot is a factor in the negative thinking. The physical tests are not adjusted in most jurisdictions, so women must do the same pushups and gear carries that men do. In truth, women perform valuable functions on the SWAT teams in the roles of negotiators, even if they can’t pass the physicality tests to breach buildings. In general, women have been found to be more observant, better at interviewing than some men, and more emotionally aware at a crime scene, valuable attributes for negotiators.
If negotiations fail, and/or the hostages are at risk of being injured or killed, more aggressive methods are used.
Unless a police department is headquartered in a big city, SWAT teams are often part-time, coming together as a unit when needed, perhaps once a month. However, training continues whether there is a case or not. It’s important for safety and efficiency for the team to train as a group on a regular basis – In Neenah, Wisconsin’s case, they train together for about 16 hours a month.
A team might be shared by other towns in a county, and the home town team members often perform other duties within the department until required for a bank robbery or other kind of hostage scenario. There just isn’t enough money in the budget for a small town to support a team they only need occasionally, but when SWAT is required, it’s essential that they be highly trained. It’s smart to share that capability.
Training, training, always training
You may have noticed photos of law enforcement officers on the front lines carrying large shields. The men carrying those shields must have excellent upper body strength, since they have to carry the shield in place with one hand and a rifle (or baton) in ready-to-fire position in the other. Try keeping your arms chest high in front of you, bent at the elbows, while holding ten pound weights in each hand. How long can you do it continuously without getting tired or losing focus?
Physical Fitness training needs to be done on their own time, and SWAT members make sure it gets done. Their lives and those of their team may depend on maintaining that strength, agility, and split second timing while carrying the 25-65 pound gear/equipment in all kinds of weather during attack or defensive actions.
A typical practice for snipers includes (while carrying a 25 pound pack)
Followed by a 2 minute break then (perhaps) 40 overhead lifts of that pack in 2 minutes.
Then, a two minute break followed by holding a plank position for 80 seconds.
Then, a standing broad jump of 6-7 feet, followed by a two minute break.
Then, a timed 1/4 mile run with the pack on the back.
Then, they repeat the whole routine in reverse.
*Many thanks to the Neenah, Wisconsin SWAT team members who shared their knowledge and experiences during a Writers’ Police Academy session held in Wisconsin.
Next up: “SWAT Equipment and Strategies”
First Battle of Manassas was the first major battle of the American Civil War. It’s also known as the Battle of Bull Run because of its proximity to the Bull Run River in northern Virginia. Manassas is located 30 miles from Washington, D.C., about a ten hour walk. There are two battles with that name: the Battle of First Manassas was fought in 1861; the Second in 1862 when the Union general decided that it was time to get revenge for the first rout.
In late June, 1861, President Lincoln, who had been elected to office only a few months before, got word that there were Confederate troops guarding strategic locations near the Manassas railway junction. This proximity to D.C. made President Lincoln more than a little nervous (he had been surprised by the fall of Fort Sumter in April) and he wanted the Confederate Army quashed. This had become an in-your-face armed conflict, not just a small rebellion aimed at the policies of the newly elected government.
Early in July of 1861, Gen. Irvin McDowell’s army of 35,000 very green, 90-day volunteers left Washington, D.C. and headed toward the railroad at Manassas. McDowell hoped to capture the junction, then travel to the newly proclaimed Confederate capital of Richmond. The goal was to capture Richmond and end the war. A Union defeat was not remotely anticipated, and as was the custom at the beginning of the Civil War, people were prepared to line up with picnic baskets to observe the show.
McDowell arrived in the area on July 18, astonished to discover that the Confederate contingent was 22,000 strong. He attempted to approach both left and right flanks for the next two days. During that time, the Confederate General Beauregard sent word to Richmond for backup. 10,000 additional troops under command of General Johnston from Shenandoah Valley, gave the Union Army the slip along the way and arrived on July 20-21. Now the two armies were essentially equal in size.
McDowell’s plans of distraction and surprise under the cover of darkness and from different directions might have succeeded if he’d had a more seasoned fighting force. However, unfamiliar woods and hilly terrain were the Union Army’s enemy on the 21st. The Confederate Colonel Evans figured out that the attack at his location was a diversion and was able to briefly check the forward movement of McDowell’s troops at Matthew Hill.
But then, even with help, the Confederates had to fall back to Henry Hill, a relatively high position in the area. At that point, new brigades arrived to bolster the Southern troops (the nickname ‘Stonewall Jackson’ may have originated at Henry Hill).
Timing is everything in battle, and sometimes, taking a break to reorganize can be disastrous, even if necessary. The Union side paused for about an hour to regroup, and during that time, the Confederates took advantage of the reprieve to reform their own lines. The goal didn’t change for either side: to retain claim of Henry Hill. Renewed fighting went on for several hours until new Southern troops arrived to join the fray, forcing McDowell’s men to retreat.
In the long run, July 21st did not end all that well for either side. The withdrawing Union volunteers found the road back to Washington crammed with sightseers, preventing an orderly retreat. Panic ensued. The Confederates were too tired and disorderly to follow up on their success, so by the morning of the 22nd, the defeated Union army was safely back behind their lines.
Learning from that defeat that taking poorly trained and undisciplined soldiers into battle would end badly, Gen. George B. McClellan took charge of the Washington based Federal forces, established the Army of the Potomac and whipped them into combat readiness. The Union plan was to still to stop the Confederates by attacking Richmond, the Southern capital. When McClellan was ready in March of 1862, he left D.C. and had Richmond in his sights by May.
The Southerners left the Manassas position and after a series of bloody battles and a change of Confederate leadership to Robert E. Lee, pushed McClellan away from Richmond. In the next few weeks, Lee’s tactical advantage would shift back and forth, and he knew that to finally defeat the Union troops, he would have to send Jackson to outflank and defeat them decisively. On August 27th, Jackson’s well-trained troops seized the supply depot at Manassas Junction, burned the Union supplies, and moved to the woods near the first Manassas battlefield to wait for the Confederate army to return.
General Pope was angry that his supplies had been destroyed and left a successful battleground to take revenge on Jackson at Manassas. But, Jackson was ready and attacked part of the Union line as it passed on Warrenton Turnpike in a nasty battle that lasted for several hours. On the 29th, Pope’s information was faulty and hampered by a lack of strategic planning, kept throwing his men at Confederate positions, without doing sustained damage to their lines.
On the 30th, with poor intel again, Pope thought that the Confederates were in retreat, but in fact had not gone anywhere. Pope sent more men at Jackson’s line, a group attacked at the unfinished railroad’s Deep Cut area, but the Southerners prevailed in another bloody action. The Union Army was in disarray, and the Confederates pressed their advantage. Heroic fighting by the Union soldiers saved them from annihilation, and after dark, the remaining Union forces were able to escape back across the Bull Run River to Washington, D.C.
The Second Manassas campaign opened the way for the south’s first invasion of the north.
First Battle of Manassas lasted one day.
Combined forces of Union and Confederates: 59,200
Death toll: 870
In the year between the First and Second Battles of Manassas, the weapons became deadlier, the soldiers better trained, and the generals more determined to wipe out the opposing forces. Each side was deeply committed to the rightness of their own ideals.
Second Battle of Manassas lasted three days.
Combined forces of Union and Confederates: 125,000
Death toll: 3,300
Missing or captured: 5,000+
Not long after, the two armies would meet again at Antietam, the bloodiest battle in American history.
Memorial Day now falls on the last Monday in May in the U.S. It is a day to honor and remember those who gave their lives in active duty military service. If you have the opportunity, a visit to one of the national battlefield parks will explain in depth why we were at war, while paying tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
*Photos by Patti Phillips