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SWAT team facts for kids

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection SWAT officers preparing for a training exercise
FBI Hostage Rescue training from helicopter
Federal Bureau of Investigation SWAT agents fast-roping from a helicopter during training

In the United States, a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team is a generic term for a police tactical unit that uses specialized or military equipment and tactics.

SWAT units are generally trained, equipped, and deployed to resolve "high-risk situations", often those regular police units are not trained or equipped to handle, such as shootouts, standoffs, raids, hostage-takings, and terrorism. SWAT units are equipped with specialized weapons and equipment not normally issued to regular police units, such as automatic firearms, high-caliber sniper rifles, stun grenades, body armor, ballistic shields, night-vision devices, and armored vehicles, among others. SWAT units are often trained in special tactics such as close-quarters combat, door breaching, crisis negotiation, and de-escalation.

The first SWAT units were formed in the 1960s to handle riot control and violent confrontations with criminals. The number and usage of SWAT units increased in the 1980s during the War on Drugs and the 1990s following incidents such as the North Hollywood shootout and Columbine High School massacre, with further increases in the 2000s for counterterrorism interests in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In the United States by 2005, SWAT teams were deployed 50,000 times every year, almost 80% of the time to serve search warrants, most often for narcotics. By 2015, the number of annual SWAT deployments had increased to nearly 80,000 times a year.

Definition

The United States National Tactical Officers Association's definition of SWAT is:

SWAT: A designated law enforcement team whose members are recruited, selected, trained, equipped and assigned to resolve critical incidents involving a threat to public safety which would otherwise exceed the capabilities of traditional law enforcement first responders and/or investigative units.

Organization

SWAT team approaches building at Fort Hood 2009-11-05
DoD SWAT officers responding to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting in Texas

The relative infrequency of SWAT call-outs means these expensively trained and equipped officers cannot be left to sit around, waiting for an emergency. In many departments the officers are normally deployed to regular duties, but are available for SWAT calls via pagers, mobile phones, or radio transceivers. Even in larger police agencies, SWAT personnel will normally be seen in crime suppression roles—specialized and more dangerous than regular patrol, but the officers would not be carrying their distinctive armor and weapons.

Since officers have to be on call-out most of the day, they may be assigned to regular patrol duties. To decrease response times to situations that require a SWAT team, it is now a common practice to place SWAT equipment and weaponry in secured lockers in the trunks of specialized police cruisers instead of forcing officers to travel to gather their equipment or only use a single dedicated SWAT vehicle.

By illustration, the LAPD's website shows that in 2003, their SWAT units were activated 255 times for 133 SWAT calls and 122 times to serve high-risk warrants. The NYPD's Emergency Service Unit is one of the few police special-response units that operate autonomously 24 hours a day. However, this unit also provides a wide range of services in addition to SWAT functions, including search and rescue, and car accident vehicle extrication, normally handled by fire departments or other agencies.

The need to summon widely dispersed personnel, then equip and brief them, makes for a long lag between the initial emergency and actual SWAT deployment on the ground. The problems of delayed police response at Columbine led to changes in police response, mainly rapid deployment of line officers to deal with an active shooter, rather than setting up a perimeter and waiting for SWAT to arrive.

SWAT equipment

SWAT teams use equipment designed for a variety of specialist situations including close-quarters combat (CQC) in an urban environment. The particular pieces of equipment vary from unit to unit, but there are some consistent trends in what they wear and use. Much of their equipment is indistinguishable from that supplied to the military, not least because much of it is military surplus.

Clothing

Active shooter exercise at Navy EOD school 131203-F-oc707-008
Crestview Police Department SWAT officers wearing different combat uniforms during an active shooter exercise at Eglin Air Force Base in 2013

SWAT personnel wear similar uniforms to those worn by military personnel. Traditional SWAT uniforms are usually solid tones of dark blue, black, grey, tan, or olive green, though uniforms with military camouflage have become popular with some SWAT units since the 2000s.

Early SWAT units were equipped with a variety of headgear such as M1 helmets, motorcycle helmets, bump helmets, or even soft patrol caps. Modern SWAT units use helmets similar to those issued by the U.S. military, such as the PASGT helmet or Future Assault Shell Technology helmet, though they may also use riot helmets or soft headgear such as caps. Balaclavas and goggles are often used to protect the face and protect the identities of team members. Ballistic vests, sometimes including rigid plate inserts, are standard-issue. These vests are labelled with "POLICE", "SHERIFF", "SWAT", or similar, to allow for easy identification.

Weapons and equipment

SWAT units are equipped with special weapons that are not normally used by regular police units, typically military firearms such as assault rifles, submachine guns, riot shotguns, sniper rifles, riot control agents, smoke grenades, stun grenades, and stinger grenades. Though these armaments make SWAT teams resemble military infantry squads, they are still law enforcement units tasked with arrest, and are thus often also equipped with less-lethal weapons such as tasers, pepper spray, pepperballs, baton rounds, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets to incapacitate suspects. Many SWAT units also have access to specialized equipment such as ballistic shields, entry tools, battering rams, armored vehicles, thermal and night-vision devices, fiberscope cameras, and motion detectors.

Canine units may also be incorporated within SWAT teams, or may be used on an ad hoc basis.

Vehicles

May 31 2020 Charleston County curfew
SWAT officers on a Lenco BearCat, an infantry mobility vehicle notable for common police use, in Charleston County, South Carolina

SWAT units often employ SWAT vehicles, also called "armored rescue vehicles" (ARV), for insertion, maneuvering, and during operations such as the rescue of personnel and civilians who may be in danger of receiving fire from suspects if extracted through other methods. Common armored SWAT vehicles include the Lenco BearCat, Lenco BEAR, BAE Caiman, Cadillac Gage Ranger, Cadillac Gage Commando, and similar vehicles. Some departments use decommissioned, disarmed military vehicles acquired from the Law Enforcement Support Office. Alternatively, SWAT teams may use unmarked police cars to respond faster, provide better mobility when splitting up, or avoid detection.

Police aircraft, commonly helicopters, are used to provide aerial reconnaissance or insertion via rappelling or fast-roping.

The use of armored vehicles by SWAT teams is controversial, and it has been alleged that police armored vehicles escalate situations that could otherwise be resolved peacefully. Some smaller police departments and sheriff's departments also acquire armored vehicles despite few incidents occurring in their jurisdictions that would necessitate their use.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: SWAT para niños

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