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”
“Do you want to be an FBI Agent? Part 1” highlighted the backgrounds of two former FBI Special Agents, their differing career paths, salary, and job aspects. Bucky and Chris Cox continued to chat, revealing more agency specifics and notes about a wide range of cases that the FBI oversees, in Part 2. Take a look:
FIELD OFFICE PERFORMANCE
Every field office undergoes performance reviews. The FBI is a statistic driven agency. Among other things, internal inspectors count the number of arrests and convictions at each office, looking for reasonable numbers of completed cases, and how efficiently they were concluded. But, the type of crimes is taken into consideration. While a specialist in bank robberies might clear 10-15 cases a year, white collar cases such as bank fraud, health care, or telemarketing can take longer to investigate and prosecute because of their complexity and the fact that they may be occurring in more than one State. Agents also have to prove that the suspect knowingly and willfully committed the crimes.
There are mandatory reports to be written after a case is completed. The standard rule applies: “If there is no paperwork, it didn’t happen.” Forms MUST be filled out so that people can be prosecuted and a decision can be made on what parts of the evidentiary findings can be more solidly prosecuted and whether the case will be tried in a federal or state court.
If you think this is a 9 to 5 profession, it’s not. There are many wakeup calls in the middle of the night because an agent is on duty 24/7. FBI agents may be called to other States or even to other countries beyond the home base if the case takes them there. If you are counting on a permanent posting in one city, look elsewhere for a career.
When applying to attend the Academy, you won’t be able to hide anything in your background and will have absolutely no secrets from your employers. Because of Robert Hansen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Russians on and off from 1979 until 2001, there are now polygraphs administered at the beginning of the application process as well as several times during a career in order to avoid further infiltrations by a foreign agent. Your personnel file is available to the Defense Attorney that represents the suspects (defendants) in the cases you work on, so if you have Lack of Candor (you lied or covered up a mistake during your career) in your file, you can be discredited on the stand in court. Agent credibility is essential for successful prosecution of the case.
The FBI’s Wide Variety of Cases
After 24 hours, kidnappings that cross state lines come under FBI jurisdiction – use of the telephone or email can make it an interstate crime. The FBI is called in (usually by the police) because of their expertise, resources, ability to negotiate, and quick access to required warrants. The FBI can’t tell families whether to pay any ransom or not, but there is surveillance on the payout if that choice is made.
FYI – In general, international kidnappings are handled by negotiators working for the big companies whose employees have been snatched.
If the FBI is the lead agency, the teams will arrive after First Responders have secured the scene. If the mail is involved, then Postal Inspectors will work the case as well, but if not, then the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) unit and an Evidence Response Team (ERT) will be involved. There is some negotiation between the different agency teams so that no duplication of effort occurs.
DEATH ON THE JOB
People see agents depicted as tough and resilient, but let’s face it, field work can be dangerous. Chasing and apprehending fugitives sometimes includes guns and shooting. Bank robberies and other crimes can involve hostages and lethal force.
DUPLICATE DRUG INVESTIGATIONS
It doesn’t often happen, but various other government agency investigations might target the same or overlapping drug cartels. Blue on blue conflict can be very risky, so big cities have de-confliction rooms. Before a big bust, someone checks a database for scheduled buys, so that law enforcement agencies aren’t tripping over each other at the scene.
COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
For people doing the day-to-day work, it’s not about the politics, but agents are cast in the same light as Senior Management. That can happen even if the agents personally might have nothing to do with what’s unfolding in Washington, DC or elsewhere in the world. The FBI played no part in the Rodney King events, but after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, a big bank case came up. A juror on that case said, “If the LAPD can lie, so can the FBI” and that works both ways.
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
White-collar crime refers to fraud perpetrated because of a desire for financial gain. Some scams have cost companies/investors billions of dollars and wiped out entire life savings. Among others, the FBI has investigated cases involving money laundering, securities and commodities fraud, bank fraud and embezzlement, election law violations, telemarketing fraud, and health care fraud. They have worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Treasury Department to catch the worst offenders.
Corporate Fraud is a serious threat to the economy and the FBI concentrates on cases that involve accounting schemes designed to deceive everyone about the true financial condition of a company. Agents specializing in white collar crime look for bogus accounting entries, and fake/illegal trades rigged to protect the trader or avoid regulation. They keep an eye out for insider trading, misuse of corporate property, and tax fraud.
LOVE IN THE BUREAU
Relationships have been known to begin within the agency, because not many people outside law enforcement understand/accept the demands of the job. For FBI couples that marry, if both spouses are street agents, the relationship is not an issue. But, if one or the other reaches management level, one can’t supervise the other. If a slot opens up where a spouse is posted, the other can apply, but there is no guarantee that the married applicant will get it.
WRITE ALL ABOUT IT?
Everyone must sign a non-disclosure agreement because they can never talk about classified cases. There is a special unit that handles whether or not an agent can write about something – all manuscripts must go through pre-publication review. The only cases that can be written about are those closed cases which are part of the public record. Also, former agents are not allowed to write about investigative techniques or their sources.
Besides being a top investigator, AN AGENT IS:
Ready to sign up?
Many thanks to Bucky and Chris Cox for generously sharing their time and knowledge about the details of the job of Special Agent in the FBI. 🙂
*Photo credits: official photos from the FBI