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“Community Oriented” SWAT

The elderly WWII Veteran bravely made his way across to street to see what the men in black were doing in his neighborhood. Some people may have hesitated, but this man had crossed Europe with the 3rd Army, while being shot at, and his old hero could see these people were friend not foe. The old warrior admired the black helmet and weapon of the modern warrior, standing guard at a large van marked “POLICE.” He knew enough about action to know that the intensity had passed—he could see they were just “mopping up”—and he could now move in and ask his questions.

“Young man, what brings you to my neighborhood?” asked the old vet.

The young helmeted and vested police officer smiled at the old gentleman and answered, “We’re the COSWAT Team,” said the officer.

“What is the COSWAT Team?” asked the gentleman, who was happily watching his drug-dealing neighbors as they were being led from the blighted two story piece of trash that stood in the middle of his block. They had turned his friendly little neighborhood into hell.

“The COSWAT Team is Community Oriented Special Weapons and Tactics Team. We listened to your complaints about this house and now we are here to solve this problem in your neighborhood. Feel free to call this number if the problem returns,” said the officer. The officer handed the man a card.

The old man smiled and said quietly, “Thank you officer. God bless you.”

In the 1990’s, the Federal Government pumped millions of dollars into local law enforcement and (on paper) added 100,000 new police officers committed to Community Policing. It was like a new dance step that had swept the nation.

To some agencies it meant a one percent increase in personnel that was removed from “policing” to do something called “community policing.” That lasted until the funding ran out and then those positions were history.

To some, community policing was a philosophy not program or a position. The philosophy is practiced by an agency and cost nothing. It is a philosophy, which when practiced can be a powerful tool. Here’s a secret though: it’s not new. The best beat cops have always done it—the just called it “policing.” The “community oriented” was implicit and unstated, but understood. You can’t be your best as street cop if you forget that it’s the community that you are out there for. You can’t be as good a community oriented police officer as want to be if you forget that policing is what you are out there for.

You might ask, “Why is a columnist who writes about SWAT talking about community policing?” Well because a SWAT Team can be a valuable asset to any community when the team embraces the concept of being apart of and not apart from the community, they serve. Many SWAT Teams have been doing this for years. SWAT Teams are one of the only problem solving teams that are on call 24 hours a day seven days a week.

There are SWAT team leaders that use the problem solving model on call outs that is taught nationally in community policing and problem oriented teaching classes. (SARA)

Scanning (Learn about the problem, learn more about the problem)

Analysis (Who are the actors and actions creating the problem and what and where is the problem? The problem needs to be identified and isolated. What interim action needs to be taken?

Response (OK. Now that I know the ‘who, what, when, where, why, and how’ of the problem and I have it isolated it, what is the plan? Implement the plan.)

Assessment (Debrief after the plan is implemented.)

The biggest mistake made about community policing (still made by cops and agencies that do not “get it”) is that it is somehow not police work. Good, effective police work is the essence of community policing. Solving problems in the neighborhood is where the rubber of community policing meets the road.

SWAT is all about solving problems — indeed, the biggest ones — in the neighborhood.

When a community oriented SWAT Team hits a crack house, they do not just arrest the bad guys. SWAT Teams have identified thousands of endangered children at risk and removed them legally from abhorrent conditions.

They have saved neighborhoods and apartment complexes from incredible tragedies by removing meth-labs from their midst. Most of these removals have been done without incident even though they present one of the more devastatingly destructive potential imaginable.

Community Oriented SWAT teams call building inspectors and after the scenes are secured, these inspectors inspect the property. Often the properties are condemned on the spot. These places get fast-tracked for demolition and in a matter of days or weeks they are either fixed up or knocked down. When this happens the neighborhood has a new empty lot for kids to play in, and one less drug house.

This community oriented approach is happening all over the country because the community oriented SWAT Teams are becoming not just reactive, but proactive in their approach to problem solving. Team members are establishing partnerships and resources and learning that there are talents outside the agency at their disposal, when needed.

Community oriented SWAT Teams have also become resources. Their members are assisting in facilitating free speech, by becoming involved in event planning and controlling disorderly demonstrators like professionals, when the events occur. They assist in protecting candidates to enable free elections. Members of these teams are assisting in proactively coming up with plans for schools, churches and malls in the event of an active shooter. SWAT Team commanders and members are being utilized as a valued resources by their communities all over the nation.

Let me make something very clear. Officially, there are no COSWAT Teams out there. The best teams have always done it. The “community oriented” part is simply understood.

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