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”
Picture an FBI agent in your mind. Most of you will envision neatly dressed men or women, garbed in conservative dark suits, plain blouses, and shirts and ties. An alternate view might be that of the navy blue windbreaker with the foot high, yellow FBI lettering emblazoned on the back. Haircuts are conservative for both men and women. If not exactly a uniform, very close. So, if you like to wear purple shirts to work and dye your hair turquoise, the job of a Special Agent is not the perfect fit for you.
“What Does the FBI Do?” dealt with a bit of history – how/why the FBI came into being and what it is responsible for now.
“The Road to Quantico” dealt with entrance requirements for the FBI Academy at Quantico.
You’ve passed the preliminary tests, set your sights on a life in law enforcement serving in one of the most famous agencies in the world. You’ve competed against hundreds of thousands of other applicants, and feel more than ready to take on the Academy challenges. What’s next?
You will report to Quantico for 21 weeks of intensive training and will live in dormitory style accommodations during your stay. The Academy site is much like a college campus, in that it has classrooms, conference rooms, a library, a gym, a pool, and a dining hall. What sets it apart in structure is that it also has a firing range, a mock town, and a high-speed 1.1-mile oval road track.
Much of the Basic Field Training Course will take place in a classroom, while candidates study a curriculum that reflects the experiences most likely to be encountered in the field. Special Agent trainees and Intelligence Analyst trainees will work together to develop the skills to collect, share, and use the information available to investigate terrorists and dangerous criminals. If the trainees fall short of the FBI standards, they will be sent home.
Basic Field Training Course includes:
Among other areas, the trainees study applications of the law, ethics, human behavior, report writing, intelligence techniques, and forensic science. Students learn how to manage and run a variety of investigations, including those dealing with counterterrorism, spies, weapons of mass destruction, and cyber crimes.
At Quantico, case exercises are a method of presenting real-life situations to prepare the candidates for their future of working in the field. A typical exercise starts with a tip and ends in the arrests of the suspects. Hogan’s Alley is a mock town at the Academy where some of this action may take place. In some scenarios, candidates might get to try the case in a mock trial.
It is assumed that at some point in their service, FBI Special Agents will have a deadly force encounter, so they must prepare for it. As of this writing (2018) the new agent trainees work with a Bureau-issued pistol, carbine, and shotgun. They focus on marksmanship, but also receive instruction on firearms safety and live fire situations.
Acquiring information in the classroom is only part of the training at Quantico. The ability to apply that information to real-life circumstances is essential to the success of any operation. The candidates work on the basics of disarming and handcuffing suspects, searches, surveillance, and tactical driving.
At Hogan’s Alley, trainees practice different arrest options, as well as street survival techniques. Realistic drills might include how to handle a bank robbery or a kidnapping.
Aside from acquiring the basic knowledge needed to do the job successfully, the agents must be in top shape. To that end, even after passing the entrance level of fitness tests, fitness training continues and so does the testing. Nobody is likely gain any extra weight during the 21 weeks at the Academy, but they may acquire a few more muscles. They must continue to do well in the number of sit-ups in one minute, a timed 300-meter sprint, a significant number of push-ups (untimed), and a timed 1.5-mile run. See the “The Road to Quantico” for more fitness details.
The rise of terrorism and the shrinking global community has forced law enforcement agencies all over the world to evolve. The FBI Academy now offers more focused training for intelligence analysts, recognizing that more informed collection and analysis of certain data can help to eliminate threats against our country. Teaching tradecraft is an aspect of the training. These days, it’s standard practice for the Intelligence Analysts and the Special Agent candidates to work side-by-side in the classes, developing a collegial approach to solving cases.
TV and the movies show us enough car chases to imply that this is a part of the daily life of any and all law enforcement officers. While not exactly true that it happens to everyone and/or on a daily basis, the men and women that attend the Academy must know how to handle those rare occasions when it does.
For an FBI agent, real life might include high speeds and guns and terrorist activity. At the Tactical and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (TEVOC), candidates, the DEA, and other government and military personnel are taught how to maneuver at high speed, how to spot threats with a second’s notice, and how to react effectively. Onsite is the oval road track and off road training is given as well.
Many types of FBI and government personnel are sent to high-risk postings overseas and they might receive more specific training at TEVOC. Awareness of the risks and the sophistication of enemies here and abroad has caused an uptick in the need for curriculum that blends survival training and driving techniques in meaningful ways for many law enforcement groups.
Long after graduation, the Special Agents and the Intelligence Analysts will return to the Academy for fine-tuning and for courses that will keep them updated on the latest techniques and threats. Academy training is considered among the best in the world, so international groups and people in private security work have been trained here as well. In addition, other United States law enforcement groups have participated in training at Quantico as threat levels from all sides have ramped up.
*All photos from the FBI website.
The name ‘Quantico’ has been synonymous with FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) training for decades, but in fact, Quantico is the town where the Marine Corps Base is situated in Virginia (USA). The FBI Training Academy is located on 547 acres within the Base, and is run by the FBI’s Training Division. Additional training happens elsewhere.
Special Agents are the most visible FBI agents to the public at large and for the most part, those are the men and women we see depicted on TV and in movies.
So, how do you get to become an FBI Special Agent? Only the best and brightest need apply.
Before you ever get to the Academy, there are a few items to check:
If you can say with certainty that you meet the minimums listed above (there are others as well) then you might be eligible to apply to be a Special Agent.
But before you fill out the paperwork, consider what you will be asked to do. The application process takes at least a year. Then, if you pass all the tests, get through Quantico, this is a twenty year commitment, not a six months to a year try-it-see-if-you-like-it job. You will be required to:
Would you and your family be on board with all of that?
Then here’s what the recruiters and interviewers are looking for:
Still interested? Here’s a little of what to expect:
Once all that is completed satisfactorily, then the candidate might be invited to attend the FBI Academy.
The application testing process deals with academics, analytic ability, and health related questions, but the Physical Fitness Test is the one that points to a lifestyle commitment. For the Special Agent applicant, there are four challenges to be tested:
To give you an idea of what is involved:
A woman can score 1 (one) point for doing 35-36 situps in one minute. 10 (ten) points can be scored for doing 57 and over in one minute. That’s not a typo. Try doing that many situps unless you are in really good shape. Right. I never liked situps. If the candidate stops at any point during the minute, only the situps completed up to that time are counted.
The 300-meter sprint looks easier to me, because I ran sprints (and won races) when I was younger. Now? I’d be happy to score 2-3 points, but then I’m not 23 (or even 36) years old anymore. 😉
Now for the pushups. These must be performed with a straight body, arms fully extended and elbows away from the body, feet together, and continuously. 45 pushups or more without stopping will earn you 10 (ten) points – guys must do 71 (seventy-one) without stopping to earn the 10 (ten) points. Women can actually get points subtracted if they only do 4 (four) pushups, and won’t earn any points unless they can perform at least 14 (fourteen) pushups without stopping. There is no time limit for the pushup event, but the candidate must score at least one point in order to pass this section. If the candidate pauses at any time during the event, only the pushups completed up to that point are counted.
The 1.5 mile run is a timed event. The female candidate must complete the course in no slower than 13:59 in order to get on the board with one point.
You are allowed no more than five minutes between each activity and are scored on each one. If you fail one, but do well on the others, it doesn’t matter. You fail the entire test and can retake it at a later date. But not too much later. There is a time limit to re-taking this particular test. Even if you have done well in all other testing, if you can’t pass the PFT, you will not become a Special Agent.
Now what? You’ve passed the tests, you’re smart enough, fit enough, and work well with others. You’ve been accepted to the FBI Academy at Quantico.
Stay tuned for information about the FBI Academy Training.
*Photo credits: the FBI website