SWAT Selection & Training - Raising the Bar
By Paul Howe
Unfortunately, American law enforcement will one day face criminals and terrorists who have endured more rigorous and intense selection and training than their own SWAT personnel. Because of this and several other factors, it is vital that SWAT selection and training be kept at a high standard, free from political agenda and social experimentation. As in any enforcement action, the success of high-risk missions will hinge on a cohesive and highly trained SWAT element. Elevated standards in selection and training will help ensure the survival and safety of citizens and SWAT officers alike.
I am a firm believer that mediocrity in selection and training breeds liability. Furthermore, management attempts to artificially create equality at all costs is a liability, one that will erode unit cohesion at the very core. Going up against armed, hardened criminals is not a social experiment, nor should it be treated as one. We should select the best personnel for the job, period.
Many factors motivate officers to try out for SWAT. Obviously, serving in SWAT has several advantages over other assignments. SWAT service allows officers a platform from which to “serve and protect” at a higher level. By definition, tactical team members choose to enter harm’s way more often than those who perform other departmental duties. Additionally, highly motivated officers may wish to serve with other like-minded individuals, who seek an elevated degree of training and individual proficiency in their chosen profession.
It is not my intention to stab at any gender, race or socioeconomic group. My belief stems in part from the words of a former leader “when you can do what I do, you can go where I go.” This is simple, folks—if we apply a lower standard to the selection process for social reasons, we lower the overall unit’s standards and capabilities. If we promote a lower standard, we are doing an injustice to the people we serve. We must require all selection candidates to reach the same elevated mission-oriented standards, and not lower them to make anyone feel better or increase the numbers or quotas. In effect, when we raise the bar, we require selection candidates to rise to a higher level instead of catering to a weak human nature and lame excuses. I would much prefer going into harm’s way with a few select individuals that I know and trust, rather than a group that I have to monitor for safety, tactical proficiency and courage. I would rather devote a majority of my attention to the threat we are going up against.
How do we raise the bar? We need to have one set of goal-oriented standards that apply to the SWAT mission. Separate standards for genders or ethnic groups, whether physical, written or oral will only create ill will, mistrust and tension within the unit. How do we make tests equal? Simple. I will use the average weight of a dummy used in the drag test as an example. How do we determine what the weight of the dummy should be? First, add the weight of all team members in their full tactical gear together and then divide it by the number of people weighed to get an average weight. This should be the weight of the dummy. It’s not only realistic, it’s fair. More importantly, it’s geared toward a worst-case scenario should a real-life casualty have to be moved.
This causes the unit to regress and take a step back to retrain a weak link. On the other hand, I do believe in a rotation system where SWAT officers go back into the mainstream of the department after 6-8 years and give back to the overall organization. These rotations will spread the leadership wealth throughout the department and also allow regular officers to interface with SWAT personnel, helping to end the perception of elitism. This will lessen the animosity that is generally present within the department toward special operations personnel.
I don’t care who is behind me going through a door, but I do care that they made the same selection process and training standards as I did, and that they possess the same physical, mental and tactical skills necessary to fight through any situation and accomplish the mission. True professionals don’t care about the race or gender of their team members—they do care whether or not these individuals have the same elevated standards in selection and training. Long ago, I was taught, and still believe that we all bleed the same.
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