Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be embedded with SWAT?
After three days with them, here is what I discovered.
Unlike the jobs most of us do, these officers are called to duty at a moment’s notice and at all hours. Their job demands sacrifice. Their entire attention is fully focused on protecting you, instead of their holiday dinner or their child’s birthday celebration that they are missing.
SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics. These officers have been trained for one purpose—to keep you safe. They know how to deal with the type of situations that put you or your family in the worst types of danger.
Envision a normal day. You grab a coffee and arrive at work early to prepare for an important meeting. Before you even get started, you receive a call that no parent ever wants to hear. You can hardly comprehend what the person is telling you. A coworker turns on the news and you see your house on the screen where your teenage kids are getting ready for school.
The person on the phone tells you that a pair of bank robbers running from the police have just broken into your home and taken your children hostage.
You say to yourself, “This can’t be happening, not in my neighborhood.” Helpless doesn’t begin to describe how you feel as you fall back in your chair. There are no words for what would run through your mind, except the desperate need for help. Your children’s lives are at stake and you need help now.
At that very moment, your local police department has responded, swift actions are already underway. Dispatch kicks into high gear. Before you received the call, SWAT had deployed and were in play in a matter of minutes. Roads are blocked off to protect bystanders and contain the situation. Help arrives on a vast scale with a formidable team who surrounded your home with over-whelming force.
There is both a science and an art to what is about to unfold.
In addition to the impressive SWAT team, they have a Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT). Both work hand-in-hand with the command unit. Depending on each unique circumstance, their combined skills are carefully coordinated to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone.
Safety matters. Every life matters. Every asset from highly trained officers, to specialized equipment, to exceptional communication, to armored vehicles are brought to bear for the protection of your children and ideally taking suspects into custody without harming them either.
With someone you love at the mercy of violent criminals who are heavily armed and determined to get away at all costs, a higher-level response is required. Our SWAT teams have to adapt in order to contain those who are determined to cause hurt to others.
For this reason, law enforcement today is committed to using exceptional restraint and a measured response. HNT engages suspects to de-escalate the situation whenever possible, even if that takes hours. The book Stalling for Time written by retired FBI agent, Gary Noesner, exemplifies the concept of taking the time needed to resolve a situation as peacefully as humanly possible.
If suspects refuse de-escalation efforts, then SWAT will engage with every non-lethal means possible to resolve a situation such as tear gas, pepper spray, bean bag rounds, flash-bangs, K-9s, or Tasers. When suspect still refuse to co-operate, our officers have no choice but to put themselves between the innocent victims and violent subjects to stop their aggression and protect life.
Seeing how seamlessly SWAT and HNT work together is not surprising. They have many methods of securing a scene and contacting perpetrators. HNT units are well skilled as are the members of SWAT. Their goal is to resolve the situation and get everyone out alive without anyone getting hurt, including the suspects.
SWAT officers say, “If anyone is hurt, we feel as if we have failed.” Safety for all is their number one priority. Unfortunately, there are some criminals who will not comply and don’t care who they hurt. Those individuals by their actions give officers two choices: allow the suspect to injure or kill victims or to respond as needed to protect the innocent. These officers choose the latter, but they don’t do it blindly.
It is stunning to witness a scenario such as this from inside the command units where an amazing amount of information is coming in on multiple monitors, headsets, and radios. People with exceptional training and focus quickly glean the important facts and stay on top of every critical turn in the case. The task is stressful, but these people are adept at turning chaos into calm and de-escalating emotions. Our officers are trained to have cool heads, even under fire.
You might ask how do they do that? It comes down to extensive training and unequaled dedication to duty. They practice and train continuously. They keep themselves and their gear in top condition. They are able to run in heavy gear on the hottest or coldest of days. Their comfort is not important to them—you are. They know when to move in and when to exercise the type of patience that will wait as long as necessary for a positive outcome.
If you were to see these men and women in SWAT preparing, you would be impressed by their attention to safety and details. When they are gathered for training, they pat each other on the back and help each other with their gear. They triple check all safety issues. Like a bunch of brothers, they also tease the hell out of each other.
However, there is something even more striking. When they are called to a scene, their single-minded focus is on the preservation of life, even if that means running into a fire fight.
Perhaps more stunning than all their gear and training and formidable presence—or even their exceptional bravery—is that these officers stand between danger and you.
These officers willingly march into lethal situations to protect total strangers.
There is no amount of respect that seems sufficient when one human being is willing to put it all on the line for another.
These officers are not warriors. They do not consider themselves heroes. They are not soldiers. Rather they are what I would call badass guardian angels who are there when you need them the most.
Now go back to the scenario with your children. As you wait with your family and friends for information, the SWAT team does their job. The suspects are given the time and hundreds of opportunities to co-operate. SWAT then exercises whatever measures are required to save your kids. The television screen crackles with BREAKING NEWS and you see your children surrounded by SWAT officers hustling them to the safety of an armored vehicle. Your phone buzzes. You answer. “We’ve got them. Your children are safe.” You then learn that the SWAT Doc put his life on the line to ensure he was there to provide immediate care if your children were injured. The emotions hit as you realize your children are safe. Your sense of relief is beyond words and you feel grateful for the men and women who did whatever it took to protect your family.
You now understand the full significance of SWAT and what it means to have a unit ready and dedicated to protecting you and your family when you need it most. They have the training, the strength, and the will and commitment to be there for you.