No, they’re not swatting flies…S.W.A.T. stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. And no, it’s not like in the movies. Of course, this would not be a lesson on S.W.A.T. if I didn’t get to ask about the scene at the end of National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation when they crash in through all the windows of the house simultaneously. No, they don’t actually do that. So what is it that they actually do?
First off, our presenters were Officers Atkins and Russell, who stated that their “Number one job is to save lives.” S.W.A.T. is called for situations involving barricaded subjects, high risk raids and search and seizure warrants, and high risk vehicle take-downs, or boarding suspicious ships in port. They will work with Baltimore County’s teams as needed. Negotiators or not a part of S.W.A.T. but work with them on an as needed basis.
The national history of S.W.A.T. began in 1964 with a sniper on the loose in Los Angeles. Officers found themselves overpowered and out-gunned. After this incident, there was a shift in need for specialization, a force especially trained to handle higher risk situations. They often partner with the DEA, FBI, ICE, and ATF. Baltimore city’s S.W.A.T. team, originally called QRT (Quick Response Team), formed in 1976.
Speaking of being outgunned, and apropos of the current controversy over militarization of the police force, the S.W.A.T. presenters were adamant about the need for the military surplus equipment they receive. Not surprisingly, they believe “the more gear, the better.” However, S.W.A.T. is a separate division from the regular police force (and one could argue for more of a need than standard patrol officers). They receive more specialized training than regular officers, better equipment (e.g. shields and vests), camera devices, tools to get through doors, and explosives that regular officers cannot use. They even have robots the size of toilet paper with a camera the opens door handles.
How often are they dispatched? Baltimore City has seen an increase in raids, with over 500 last year involving multiple murders and human trafficking. When not on missions, they are training.
Baltimore city’s S.W.A.T. team consists of two platoons with 15 people in each. There are currently no women on the teams, though they had two in the past who were very highly regarded. Our presenters explained that there are simply not many women trying out.
So what are the requirements for S.W.A.T.? Officers must already have 3 years in the police department, complete psychological screening, an interview process, and training in shooting, having to pass within at least the 90th percentile. There is also a physical component to trying out. They must be able to run one and a half miles in about 12 minutes, do 15 pull-ups, 50 push-ups, and 50 sit-ups. Given these fitness requirements, I know I wouldn’t qualify, and I practically live at the gym. Normally, I would say “challenge accepted!” but I hate running and still haven’t managed pull-ups. Oh well, guess I’ll stick to blogging!
After making it through try-outs, officers attend a 3 week S.W.A.T. school, similar to boot camp, where they train with other counties through the Maryland Training Commission.
Given all of the high-risk situations these officers are involved in, one would expect this to be the most dangerous area for an officer to work in. On the contrary, Officers Atkins and Russell argued that their job is much safer than that of regular patrol officers. Not only are they highly trained for specific situations, but they go in having intel on what the situation is that they are walking into, including background information on the suspect. Regular patrol officers are less equipped and do not know what to expect or what situation may come up, or who they are dealing with at any moment when they are out on the streets.
Last but not least, we got to see the armored S.W.A.T. truck which is only used in specific situations. The city only has one truck that they call the “Bear Cat.” It’s actually an armored Ford F-450, weighing 19,000 pounds. It has a turret on top, gun ports, and run flat tires. It carries various equipment including gas canisters and battering rams.
For more in depth knowledge and history of S.W.A.T. go here.