TV shows have made a huge impact on how people view the police. In the past, some shows have highlighted the daily struggles of patrol cops trying to bring some order to the streets. Countless programs have focused on detectives trying to bring murderers and rapists to justice. And even forensic specialists have become more famous, as they are portrayed using sophisticated technology to reenact crimes and figure out who are responsible. But none of them can surpass the almost mythic status of SWAT units.
What is SWAT?
SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics, and they perform some of the most dangerous tasks for many large police departments all over the US. They are at the frontlines when the tactical situations involving criminals are believed to be too dangerous for police officers with regular training.
While some historians credit the Philadelphia PD of establishing the first SWAT unit in the US, it was the LAPD SWAT units which first gained fame worldwide. The apparent inability of regular police officers to respond effectively to the Watts Riots (which involved snipers firing at police officers and civilians) in the late 1960s prompted the formation of SWAT in the LAPD.
Their confrontation with members of the Black Panthers in 1969 brought them national attention, when the Black Panthers eventually surrendered. Their reputation was cemented in 1974, when they engaged in a long firefight with heavily armed members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The fight was broadcast on both TV and radio, and by the time the smoke cleared 6 SLA fighters were dead with no police officer injured.
Today, SWAT members are called upon to intercede in a wide variety of situations that requires their special skills. These include:
- Apprehending armed suspects
- Capturing suspects that have barricaded themselves
- Responding to situations in which hostages are involved
- Crowd and riot control
- Counterterrorism ops
- Search and seize operation involving serious risks
- Serving a warrant in dangerous neighborhoods or when under fire
- Tracking fugitives in countryside areas
- Providing security for VIPs
In addition to all these special tasks, many SWAT officers perform more routine duties that are part of the responsibilities of more typical police officers. This may even include patrolling and enforcing traffic regulations.
How to Become a SWAT Officer
The process of how to become SWAT depends largely on which police department is involved. In general, SWAT members all come from the police department first. That means a SWAT member must at the very least have a high school diploma or its equivalent. But since competition for SWAT openings is fierce, how to get into SWAT usually involves a 4-year degree. The degree is often in criminal justice or law enforcement, or something similar.
In addition, most SWAT members must have served a requisite number of years in the police force. After that, SWAT requirements will screen applicants for physical fitness. They must be able to run long distances, climb stairs quickly, and lift and carry heavy loads. They must be able to endure all types of weather conditions.
Firearm expertise is necessary as well. Successful applicants must be being able to handle heavier weapons, although the SWAT training will help them become familiar with all types of weapons used by SWAT. In addition, you need to develop hostage negotiation skills and be able to plan and execute assault operations against various types of tactical situations.
For those who want to know how to join SWAT, here are some SWAT team requirements of major police departments.
- For LAPD SWAT, you must first be accepted in the LAPD and then work for 5 years as a regular police officer. The fierce selection process picks those who already have the necessary firearms and physical skills required, and that usually includes possessing an appropriate bachelor’s degree. Then the successful applicants must then pass a grueling 12-week training course.
- To become a member of the Chicago SWAT unit, you first need to serve for at least 3 years in the Chicago Police Department while still having a rank below that of sergeant. You also need to have the proper performance ratings. Other special requirements include not having any phobias regarding confined spaces and heights, as well as not having a beard. You will then have to undergo an extensive training program that includes achieving mastery in a wide variety of weapons and tools needed for SWAT operations.
- To enter the Dallas SWAT unit, you will also need to pass stringent physical fitness requirements, and you need to display firearms proficiency as well. You are also required to serve at least 4 years in a regular police unit before you can apply for an opening.
- The Detroit SWAT unit requires you to serve at least 3 years of active service in the policed force. Extensive background checks will be performed, and you will also need to demonstrate your advanced physical fitness and firearms expertise. A college degree may also be a realistic requirement due to the fierce competition.
What is the SWAT team salary?
This ultimately depends on which part of the country you are in. In general, the average SWAT salary ranges from $71,400 to $107,100. Those who are just starting out may earn anywhere from $58,800 to $88,200, while the most senior may expect to draw a salary ranging from $84,000 to $126,000.
In addition, part or all of their tuition for law enforcement degrees may be reimbursed by the police department. They also get sick and paid leaves, fully paid medical and life insurance, and an allowance for uniforms. Some pension plans may enable some SWAT officers to retire at half salary after 20 to 30 years.
But for many SWAT officers, it is the knowledge that they are at the frontlines against dangerous criminals which provide the greatest satisfaction. Other police officers know the additional risks they take, and so do the civilians in the community. The respect they receive from others may be the greatest reward of all.