Home > What Does The SWAT Do – and How To Join a SWAT Team?


What Does The SWAT Do – and How To Join a SWAT Team?

What Does The SWAT Do - and How To Join a SWAT Team?

What Does The SWAT Do – and How To Join a SWAT Team?


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Just like in the military, there are special forces within local police departments. These highly-trained police officers are known as SWAT teams, or Special Weapons and Tactics teams. If you’re interested in joining SWAT, you must understand everything that goes into training for SWAT, being the best candidate, and understanding the myths about this lucrative position.

You can join a SWAT team by having an excellent service record as a police officer, getting mentally and physically ready to join forces with them, and continuing to further your education. All of these are great ways to become a SWAT team member.

Origin of the SWAT Team

In 1964, a series of bank robberies left Philadelphia shaken to its very core. These violent robberies were increasing in number, leaving the Philadelphia Police Department scratching their heads and wondering what they could do to improve crime and fight against these bank robberies.

Thus, the SWAT team was born. The acronym SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics team. The original SWAT unit at the Philadelphia Police Department inspired other law enforcement agencies to develop similar teams. The Los Angeles Police Department created its SWAT unit in 1967 in response to the Watts Riots of 1965. These riots devastated the city, leading to casualties, fires, and countless assaults.

Today, there are a variety of SWAT teams used in the over 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. Although methods and practices might differ slightly between SWAT teams, one thing is certain – the SWAT unit remains one of the most integral teams in any law enforcement agency. Without their training, high risk situations could pose a major threat with no type of resolution or formal training to help fight back.

What Training Does a SWAT Officer Receive?

SWAT officers are like the special forces in the police department. Being a SWAT team member means you will need to complete a variety of training geared toward helping you protect public safety, be a team leader, and know how to handle high stress, and crisis incidents.

Specialized training a SWAT officer might receive includes:

  • Special weapons training
  • Tactics for entering a home
  • Crisis negotiation training
  • Building searchers
  • Administering emergency medical care
  • Hostage negotiation training
  • Proper use of tasers
  • Crisis intervention for mental health or other issues
  • Self-defense training
  • Accident investigations
  • Crowd control
  • High-risk detainment and arrests
  • Proper use of riot gear
  • Local and federal laws 

In addition, SWAT officers are expected to complete rigorous physical exercise training to put them in the best physical shape and health possible. This will allow them to be better prepared when facing crisis situations.

Situations where SWAT is Needed

There are a variety of crisis situations where a SWAT team might be deployed. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Reaching barricaded subjects, including victims
  • Reaching barricaded suspects guilty of crimes
  • Active shootings, which are increasingly more common
  • Hostage negotiation and hostage rescue
  • Bank robberies or other armed robberies
  • Riots and protests
  • Terrorist acts
  • Incidents involving a sniper

In addition, SWAT units can also be asked to support efforts from other agencies. For instance, a SWAT officer can help in the security and transport of world leaders and politicians. They can also be on standby during an event that has been threatened with a terrorist act.

Agencies That Employ SWAT Teams

Many SWAT team members can be regular police officers employed in a local police department. However, there are other law enforcement agencies that utilize SWAT units besides local police departments. These include:

  • State police departments
  • Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, or FBI
  • United States Department of Treasury
  • United States Department of State
  • United States Department of Homeland Security
  • Local law enforcement agency
  • United States Department of Justice

These are just some of the many agencies that use SWAT teams to aid them during emergency situations and reduce the risk of serious injuries and even deaths occurring.

SWAT Salary and Job Outlook

A SWAT officer is also a police officer, so their salary will be much the same. There are no bonuses associated with SWAT teams in some departments. However, while on a mission, a SWAT officer can receive overtime pay. In addition, getting training that adds to a SWAT officer’s skill set can make them eligible for promotions, therefore increasing their salary.

As a SWAT police officer, you can get paid an average yearly salary of around $66,020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job growth will continue at 7%, meaning there will be many opportunities for you to join a police department and become a member of a SWAT team. Keep in mind that many states pay more than this average. For instance, a SWAT police officer in California can make around $100,000 a year. 

Can a Regular Person Join SWAT?

To join the SWAT team, you must first be a police officer for at least three years. Therefore, a civilian can’t enter the SWAT force. However, joining the police academy is quite achievable. Depending on where you want to be a SWAT team member, join the police department for that specific city. For instance, if you want to be a part of a SWAT unit in Chicago, you must first join the Chicago Police Department.

In addition, SWAT officers must also possess a high degree of:

Professionalism. Like all police officers, you must possess the training to accomplish the task at hand, while also remaining professional and poised around the people you’re sworn to protect.

Calm. As a SWAT member, you are going to come face to face with situations that no other person in the world will have to face. From active shootings to hostage situations, you must have the skills to be calm and ready to act at a moment’s notice.

Teamwork. Being part of SWAT means joining forces with existing SWAT members. Most members of SWAT are full-time police officers, so you must already possess the ability to be a team player. When lives constantly hang in the balance, teamwork and knowing how to interact with others are crucial.

Dedication. As a SWAT officer, you will be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You will be on call in case an emergency arises that only you have the training to do. This is not a weekend job, so you must be dedicated and committed to being ready to go to work at any time, day or night.

Command Presence. As a SWAT officer, you must be able to take command of a situation, whether as a team leader or as a public safety officer. During a critical incident, it’s important to have a command presence to help you take control of a situation and calm down others around you.

Tips To Be Chosen as a SWAT Officer

If you want to make the move, remember that many police officers are fighting for the chance to be involved in a SWAT unit. To increase your chances, remember to continue to have a good, clean police record. Something like poor misconduct or even a citizen complaint can be detrimental to your selection process.

Continue to exercise and practice good self-care. Not only will you need to be physically ready, but you will also need to be mentally ready to prepare for becoming a SWAT team member.

Refine your skills and see where you’re good at. Many SWAT members can use their skills for the benefit of their team. Are you an outstanding firefighter, or do you have prior experience working in the fire department? Do you view yourself as the best negotiator in your police department, with the ability to de-escalate and interact with just about anyone? Any of these skills can prove to be invaluable for members of the SWAT team. Make sure you’re paying attention to which skills of yours can be valuable, and work to refine them.

To do this, you can:

  • Continue your higher education. A master’s degree, doctorate, or even a simple bachelor’s can all give you a competitive edge against the rest of the police officers fighting for the position.
  • Take extra courses. Most law enforcement agencies will offer additional training and law enforcement courses. Ask your supervisors if you can attend these courses to enrich your knowledge and continue to learn new policing techniques.
  • Seek self-improvement. No one ever wants to admit they can improve. However, you can always improve your policing skills, physical and mental strength, and more. Never stop trying to better yourself so you can make it on a SWAT team.

Final Thoughts

Being a SWAT team member is like wearing a badge of honor. When there is a crisis, you can be at the forefront of it all and help save lives with your specialized training as a SWAT officer.

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