Writers Police Academy

KN, p. 240 “The SWAT Team Experience”

 

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:

 

  • Hostage Rescue
  • Barricaded Rescue
  • Suicide Situations
  • High Risk Search Warrant Services (i.e. drugs)

 

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:

 

  • Hostages
  • Civilians (neighbors)
  • Law enforcement
  • Suspects

 

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)

  • 50 yard sprint
  • 25 yard high crawl
  • 25 yard low crawl
  • 20 push ups with the 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”

 

 

KN, p. 223 “Underwater Evidence and Recovery: Searches”

 

Part 2 of “Underwater Evidence and Recovery” covers some of the search methods available to rescue and recovery dive teams.


Read Part 1: “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies” here.

 

Evidence has been found and tagged with rope and buoy.
The evidence team works together to place the evidence in the container while underwater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The divers each have different roles. In a three member team, one does the bagging and tagging and the other has primary responsibility to bring the evidence or a body back. The divers try to stay with the bag on the way up, so it doesn’t get snagged on rebar, fish hooks, or other debris known to be present in ponds and swamps. The large pond near my house has castoff evergreen trees around the edges – great hiding places for fish, but tough to work around when moving retrieval equipment near them.

 

One search method for remains thought to be in shallow, but cloudy, ponds is to form a ‘skirmish line.’ The team members lock arms and walk the area, to see if they can bump into the body. In deeper water, grappling hooks might be used if there is a suspicion that a body is snagged on a log or other large object. Sometimes, people drown in their cars after going off a road, and must be extricated before the car is towed out.

 

As upsetting as it might be to the families of missing loved ones, searches cost money. The men and women in charge of the searches must weigh their past experience in finding people under different circumstances and decide when to call it off officially.

 

Highly experienced divers have found bodies and evidence at a depth of fifteen feet, where it is extremely cold and almost pitch black. It’s not always possible to recover anything at that depth, with currents, storms, or toxic waste in the mix.

 

Searches are conducted with ropes because of the zero visibility. The bottoms of lakes are silky and murky and the divers see shades of dark. Lights don’t help because they bounce off particles in the water. The divers have to work by feel.

 

During training, already certified divers practice evidence recovery in clear water, then duplicate the exercise in black water. Some practice dives are done while wearing blackout masks. Trainees have been known to close their eyes and hum when getting used to the darkness. As one diver said, “It’s scary down there the first few times.” The job is definitely not for everyone. I certainly couldn’t do it!

 

A recovery buoy is attached to the evidence container.

 

The procedure after finding evidence or a body is to bag it while still in the water. The body bag has fine mesh on side to let the water out, but not the evidence. A design improvement created 6 points of attachment to lift the body bag, allowing more stability during the lift.

 

For a drowning, the divers buoy the body. For a homicide, the divers wait with a body bag and buoy it. Attaching a buoy allows for easier lifting.

 

Once out of the water, a record of the chain of custody is kept on the outside of the bag by the Medical Examiner.

 

 

Experts say that drowning deaths can be avoided by following some simple rules:

 

“Ninety percent of our fatalities could be prevented if they were wearing a life jacket (while boating),” North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Officer Hannah Shively explained.

 


If you see someone in distress, try and throw an object towards them, whether it’s a stick, fishing pole, cooler, or life jacket, to pull them to safety. Don’t let yourself or anyone else become a statistic.

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations and to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events.

 

 

 

KN, p. 222 “Underwater Evidence and Body Recovery: Lakes and Bodies of Water”

 

Warning: article contains details about dead bodies.

Crime scene tape has been posted around your favorite big pond or lake and nobody can get on/in the water until it has been searched. What has happened? Perhaps a body has been sighted underwater by a swimmer, or a fisherman has snagged something suspicious on his hook. A violent crime may have been committed in the area and the police are looking for discarded weapon(s). Or a report has come in to the police station about a missing person, and that missing person may have been seen in the vicinity of the water. Law enforcement is already on the case and if the crime scene tape is up, along with officers conducting an investigation, then a dive team is most likely working your formerly peaceful spot.

 

The USA has a great many lakes and assorted other bodies of water, both natural and man-made. Just a few examples:
 

Alaska: over 3,000,000 lakes (yes, 3 million)

Minnesota: 10,000 lakes (it’s even written on the license plates)

New Jersey: 366 named ponds, lakes, and lagoons

North Carolina: 78 named lakes as well as several bays, sounds, and hundreds of ponds.

Texas: over 200 large lakes and reservoirs.

 

When that many bodies of water are part of the landscape, it makes sense that the Sheriff’s Department (County law enforcement) and First Responders have teams that specialize in underwater evidence and body recovery. Why the Sheriff’s Department? It’s not about deep pockets financing the operations, it’s all about jurisdiction and best use of available resources. Many large lakes cross town lines, and the Sheriff’s Department has jurisdiction in all the towns in its County. No need to duplicate personnel, when prevailing thought is that one or two teams per County will be able to handle the job of underwater evidence and body recovery.

 

Note: the local Fire Department usually has a First Responder team on the site of any accident – they are trained for rescue. At some point, it will be determined whether it is a recovery or a rescue and/or if there is a need to preserve evidence. It’s usually a recovery rather than a rescue at a lake, because after a person spends ten minutes under the water without air, it becomes a recovery operation.

 

Are there enough on-the-water deaths to make certified-for-recovery dive teams necessary? Sadly, yes. The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project tracks those stats for the five biggest USA lakes. There were 99 deaths reported in 2016, 88 in 2017, and as of this writing, 47 so far in 2018 in the Great Lakes alone. North Carolina has reported 10 lake deaths so far in 2018.

 

Most of the time, the lake deaths are accidental, but on occasion, bodies are found because of a homicide.

 

A body will float after 72 hours, and continue to float for a couple of days. After that, the naturally occurring body gas is expelled and it will sink again. Bodies are often found fairly quickly, but a body gets like jelly if it’s been in the water for a while, complicating the collection process.

 

Cold water will preserve a body, and warm water will cause more rapid decay, so divers must work carefully in the warmer locales. Cadaver dogs can pinpoint the location of a body to speed up the work. It’s been discovered that the longer the body is in the water, the wider the smell arc for the dogs. It’s a little like a dead fish smell, more concentrated closer to the body.

 

If no cadaver dogs are available, the divers swim in ever bigger arcs from the chosen starting point onshore and they work in grid patterns. If the search area is large enough, one of the onshore/on boat team members keeps a map/record of the searched areas.

 

In general, when working in shallow water, the investigation and recovery can be accomplished by dive teams alone. In deeper water, it will be a combination of boats and dive teams that do the search and recovery.

 

Most dive teams have the same equipment. They dive with aluminum scuba tanks and 3200 pounds of air will last about an hour. The basic dive suit is worn for warmth and protection – below 10 feet, it’s cold, no matter what the weather is up top. They also have hazmat suits to dive with in toxic environments.

 

Buoys are color-coded and are released to show when the diver(s) need help or when marking the spot.

 

With the smallest team of 3 people, there are:

  • Diver
  • Safety diver
  • Surface tender

 

With a team of 11 people, at any given time, there are five people in the water.

 

It is protocol to always keep one diver on the surface, ready to assist under water or switch places with the diver already in the water. The “tender” stays on the surface (whether in a boat or on the shore) and directs the search using a rope. The tender signals by tugs; he/she lets the rope play out, and then gives more when needed.

 

The “tender” not only controls the line and the search pattern, but keeps track of the air time and the clock time on a log, which becomes the official record of the diver/search activity. If there is a new diver on the team, the tender tracks to see the average air use, an important stat to have when making sure a sufficient supply of air tanks is on hand for each team member. The tender can estimate the time/air left in the tanks in use after observing the previous pattern of intake by the newbie.

 

After spending time in the water, the divers will be dehydrated, another thing the tender keeps track of.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part 2: Searches.”

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at two Writers’ Police Academy events in North Carolina. Many thanks to Lee Lofland for organizing the annual events, and to the members of the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department for their informative presentations.

 

 

 

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