National Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Study

National Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Study

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Prior research tells us Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) approaches vary across all of the state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in the United States (U.S.), of which there are more than 17,000. In particular, SWAT staffing levels, composition, policies, training, and deployment can fluctuate noticeably when looking at major, midsize, and smaller agencies. Looking at SWAT operations from a policy perspective we also know there are substantial variations in the components that go into a SWAT or special operations unit, including, but not limited to, tactical, canine, conflict resolution, and medical response. The compositions of SWAT units vary as well, from functions staffed exclusively by fulltime personnel, to those operated by part-time personnel, and those which use both full- and parttime personnel. SWAT is often included in a broader special operations division (SOD) in many major county and city departments. There is also variation in the jurisdictional reach of SWAT, with some designed as city- or county-specific, while others may serve multiple cities within a specified region. Lastly, local SWAT teams often work in partnership with federal SWAT or special operations units, further complicating how SWAT activity statistics are collected, analyzed, and reported.

Over the past several decades, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) has worked diligently to create and support the implementation of best practice policies into SWAT operations across the U.S. Performance standards have been developed, as well as guidelines for minimum training, model policies, and learning validation, measuring officer comprehension and retention of policy details. Due to the complexity of the issue and a need from the law enforcement field, the NTOA contracted the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to conduct a national research study assessing critical trends and issues related to SWAT in the United States from 2009 through 2013. To avoid any unintended bias, the IACP engaged the services of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago to provide data analysis.

Through the development and implementation of the national survey, the NTOA has collected information from 254 law enforcement agencies regarding teams composed of specially selected, trained, and equipped personnel who are activated and, if necessary, deployed to resolve high-risk incidents.

Many individuals have a reasonable interest in understanding SWAT practices more fully, particularly citizens, the media, community organizations, and governing bodies. Generally, these individuals rarely get a chance to hear firsthand from either SWAT members or those involved in a SWAT action, which could help them better understand the complexities of SWAT deployments. This report reveals the results of the research studies and looks into the composition of SWAT teams, protocols, practices, training procedures, community relations, deployment decisions, outcomes, and incident reporting.

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