& POLICE SPEC-OPS TEAMS
Training The Best Of The Best
the last thirty-five years, a new kind of military/police organization
has existed. It has captured -- and sometimes even terrified --
the American Public and without question commanded the rapt attention
of the worldwide news media. I'm talking about SWAT teams; those
highly-trained, well-organized groups of military or law-enforcement
personnel to whom are entrusted the most difficult, dirty and controversial
tasks -- jobs that can't be accomplished in any conventional way.
in the early 1960s with the infamous "Texas Tower" sniper
incident, both the military and police community became cognizant
of an emerging pattern of worldwide social, political and economic
chaos. They searched for a way to combat it, taking a hard look
at their standing operating procedures (SOP) and finding them inadequate.
The same was true of the individual soldier and police officer,
too. they examined his weapons, tactics, training, personality and
even his psyche, finding them also to be lacking.
a special breed of soldier and policeman was born. He's tougher,
smarter, more physically fit and skilled with weapons than his conventional
counterparts. Moreover, he's more psychologically stable; better
able to function under a wider variety of stress conditions. In
the hated words of the political left, he's unique -- elite.
The question then became: "What do we DO with them?" How
could they be organized and training to successfully counter the
unconventional threat? The answer seemed obvious -- they turned
to the U.S. Army, then by virtue of its post-WW2 training and experience
at its zenith of combat efficiency. Better-armed criminals, as well
as increasing socio-political terrorism, required specialized training,
more sophisticated armaments and a totally different outlook. The
para-military methods used by these elements dictated a para-military
response. Who, they said, could possibly be better suited to offer
assistance than the U.S. Army?
FBI, long looked upon by the law-enforcement community as a father-figure,
had for decades been the centralized source of data on nearly everything
police-oriented. Yet, "The Eye," too, had been caught
flat-footed and had little to offer. This revelation crystallized
the problem and gave further credibility to the idea of military
outlook, while fundamentally correct, caused some serious problems.
Almost everyone knows the mission of the military is to "find,
fix and destroy the enemy." But this kind of thing isn't a
police function, at least here in the United States. The policeman's
job is "To Protect and Serve." Our entire law-enforcement
concept was based upon the judicial required to apprehend offenders
with minimum -- not maximum -- force.
took some time for it to become clear that, while para-military
tactics, weapons and equipment are often used, a SWAT team is NOT
an infantry rifle squad. Nonetheless, the concept instantly drew
fire from the news media, who was, and remains, unable to resist
the comparison. Even more irksome is that they arbitrarily conclude
that the SWAT mission is also identical -- to kill the enemy. Even
today, after all these years, this impression is prevalent in many
locales, causing Police Chiefs "Excedrin headaches" of
truth, while a military SWAT team might be employed for specialized
offensive missions, its police counterpart is entirely defensive
in nature. Any degree of force used, to include killing the suspect,
is in direct response to the degree of threat he presents to the
arresting officers and surrounding community.
who oppose the use of SWAT teams often point accusingly at the SWAT
sharpshooter, equipped with a telescope-sighted rifle and scream
otherwise. "Look at him!" they exclaim. "How can
he possibly be defensive?" The answer is deceptively simple
-- the SWAT rifleman only fires if there is no other way to neutralize
the threat presented by the suspect(s) and bring the incident to
a conclusion. The ignorant merely assume that because he's armed
with a precision-rifle, his function is identical to a military
couldn't be more wrong. The SWAT sharpshooter's mission is to neutralize
a specified threat via controlled gunfire if ordered to do so, with
a minimum of shots fired, and these only with great precision, NOT
to engage targets of opportunity. If the SWAT rifleman fires his
weapon, he does so only to protect police officers and citizens.
This will occur only if it is decided that there is no other way
to solve the problem. Such a decision is made only after much deliberation
by the team commander, Sheriff or Chief of Police with the negotiators.
only occasion where the rifleman himself would make the decision
to fire would be in response to an instantaneous deterioration of
the situation that places either citizens or police officers in
lethal danger from the suspect(s).
he is held directly accountable for his actions. This is why SWAT
personnel are so heavily screened -- to insure that they can function
under such stress and have the capacity to quickly and intelligently
make hard decisions.
the function of the SWAT team is to "defuse" a dangerous
situation with maximum control over the way the scenario develops.
Military SWAT teams have a broader mission, one that occasionally
includes limited offensive operations. Such missions originate from
detailed intelligence information and highly specialized objectives.
one who spends considerable time training both military and police
Spec-Ops personnel, I have, over a twenty year period, noted certain
trends and principles. The first is that, other than for physical
fitness purposes, initial training should take place in a classroom
atmosphere. Critically necessary indoctrination to the team's purpose
and resulting operational parameters cannot be established any other
way. Such sessions should be kept as informal as possible, thus
inviting free exchange of ideas and questions.
addition, it's important that from both an individual and collective
standpoint, everyone understands the unit's mission and structure,
its tactical function and how everyone fits into "The Big Picture."
Only then does the training move to the firing range, rappelling
tower, airfield or other tactical areas.
firing-range sessions, emphasis should be placed on a "hot"
range, meaning that those receiving training maintain loaded weapons.
while this may mildly alarm the novice who has been indoctrinated
to safety procedures, "Hot" ranges are actually quite
safe as long as proper discussion of its integral elements is accomplished.
fosters a feeling of self-confidence, both collectively and individually,
and demonstrates to the team that its trainers have faith in them.
As well since team members will be carrying loaded weapons during
actual field operations, it is imperative that they have no illusions
about them. If the guns really are loaded, there is no "playing
around," e.g. pretending that they're loaded when everyone
knows they really aren't.
in all facets of team activity is also imperative and it should
be understood by all personnel that so-called "split-second
timing" and elaborate weapon-handling are dangerous myths,
suitable only for the movie screen. The KISS principle (Keep It
Simple, Stupid) is valid -- and so is Murphy's Law! History has
repeatedly proven that both exist, so recognize them for what they
are and incorporate them both into your training at every opportunity.
weapon-handling and tactical techniques should originate from an
intelligent appraisal of the team's needs. Because someone is an
IPSC, NTI, IDPA or PPC shooter doesn't mean that the techniques
involved in competitive events at the best or even adequate, for
SWAT use. In fact, usually the reverse is true. Superior techniques
do in fact exist and, as opposed to those which originated from
the competitive sector, have proven to be far superior.
same can be said of weapon selection. Due to conventional military
influence over SWAT operations in its formative years, the disproportionate
use of the assault rifle, usually the U.S. M-16, has often prevailed
even though the facts dictated otherwise. In truth, the assault
rifle has, at best, only a limited function. In contrast, the submachine
gun, with its lower recoil impulse, lesser muzzle blast and superior
compactness, is a better general-purpose alternative.
about the assault rifle are usually a result of someone or a group
of individual officers forgetting that they are part of a team and,
on the basis, decided what they need without considering the teams
overall needs. The classic military firefight that seems to preoccupy
such personnel illustrates a dangerous loss of perspective. If we
wanted to shoot up the countryside with "firepower," we
wouldn't need a special team! We could simply have everyone show
up with their personally-owned "heavy artillery," hunting
rifles, souvenirs from the wars, etc., and have at it!
should also be placed on rope-work like rappelling and fast-roping,
live-ordnance training, booby traps, communications, teamwork and,
of course, tactics. Only by incorporating these into realistically-conceived
training scenarios can maximum benefit be realized. Too often, tactical
simulations requiring lethal suspect-neutralization are emphasized
instead of those which mandate live-capture and removal.
some feel that using live ordnance and booby traps constitutes too
much stress, I've found that is encourages enhanced situational
and environmental awareness, thus making it a highly useful training
tool. The obvious benefit of such awareness in real operations therefore
more than justifies it as a normal practice.
course, good judgment should be used. There is no benefit to unnecessarily
injuring someone. However, the fellow who trips a CS blast-dispersion
grenade booby-trap will remember it for a long, long time! To put
it mildly, the sound of that safety-spoon popping free and knowing
you have only a couple of seconds to react, definitely leaves its
mark! And in the field, that mark might well save lives if the booby
trap is explosive. Traumatic, yet harmless tricks of this kind are
an excellent confidence-builder as well as a superb means of testing
the team's performance in unexpected situations.
of the most common deficiencies I encounter when reviewing both
military and police SWAT training curriculums is the exclusion of
leadership personnel from participation in tactical problems. As
strange as it sounds, the team commander and other element leaders
are often prevented from functioning in their official capacities,
assuming instead the role of a regular team member.
is dangerous because no matter how expert in fundamental skills
the team becomes, it will fail to function cohesively in the field
unless those entrusted with leadership assignments are allowed to
practice them in training. Too, all team members should understand
how everyone else functions, preferably to the point where they
know at all times exactly what other team members will be doing
at any given point in time.
area often neglected is communications, be it hand/arm signals or
radio. Radio procedure can easily range from being excessively verbose
to just plain incoherent and add to this the tendency to raise our
voices when excited and the picture is complete
-- chaos reigns.
formal instruction in proper radio procedure, as well as the integration
of such procedures into actual team exercises, is needed. Incidentally,
voice-actuated radios, while theoretically handy, are a particular
problem because a special effort must be made not to breathe heavily
or yell in their vicinity, thus unwittingly causing their activation
and paralyzing the teams communications net. For this reason --
and I agree -- many team choose not to use them.
accompanying photography illustrates many specific things of which
SWAT personnel should be aware. In both training and actual field
operations, remember that success or failure is heavy influenced
by all of them. It is essential that the team keeps abreast of newly-developed
method and techniques, but without losing their perspective in the
father of Spec-Ops, the legendary COL Otto Skorzeny, said it best:
for volunteers for dangerous work. Pick out the best.
train them in fellowship. Then they will develop qualities that
has ever suspected them to possess. They will follow you through
anything -- they will even live and fight and go on to certain death
found COL Skorzeny's observations to be true and thus integrated
them into every phase of my own SWAT training programs. And judging
from the high degree of professionalism exhibited by many SWAT teams
these days, I'm not the only one.