Police militarization and an argument in favor of black helicopters
Every time a SWAT operation goes south, the anti-SWAT crowd bloviates, so we must do everything we can to minimize the chance of mistakes
Men dressed like futuristic soldiers rappel from a helicopter with speed and determination. As they clear their rooftop objective, witnesses post on popular social media the presence of black helicopters in their neighborhood. Comments are numerous and rumors of a government takeover take root.
“Entry team leader to command post, objective clear, two in custody, weapons secure.”
This tactical operation wasn’t a government takeover, but a warrant service on a homicide suspect.
After this operation, I was fascinated by the social media discussion that blossomed among ill-informed knuckleheads who were certain that the government was taking over. As they came to learn that the black helicopter had delivered a SWAT team, the conversation turned to the topic of “overkill” on the part of the police.
While reading a recent article on the website of a popular mainstream publication, the tenor was similar.
“What would it take to dial back such excessive police measures?” the author wrote. “The obvious place to start would be ending the federal grants that encourage police forces to acquire gear that is more appropriate for the battlefield. Beyond that, it is crucial to change the culture of militarization in American law enforcement.”
We trainers have spent the past decade trying to ingrain in our students the concept that the American police officer works a battlefield every day he patrols his sector.
The fact is, more American police officers have died fighting crime in the United States over the past 12 years than American soldiers were killed in action at war in Afghanistan. According to ODMP.org, 1,831 cops have been killed in the line of duty since 2001. According to iCasualties.org, the number of our military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan is 1,789.
Cops on the beat are facing the same dangers on the streets as our brave soldiers do in war. That is why commanders and tactical trainers stress the fact that even on the most uneventful portion of your tour, you can be subjected to combat at a moment’s notice.
What is it with this growing concept that SWAT teams shouldn’t exist? Why shouldn’t officers utilize the same technologies, weapon systems, and tactics that our military comrades do?
We should, and we will.
I do believe to some degree that we SWAT operators should swathe ourselves in a cloak of mysteriousness. We are (or should be) unassuming, quiet professionals operating without the need for recognition. For example, I always required my SWAT cops to conduct the operation, clear the objective, turn over the scene quickly, and depart in an orderly and professional manner. By the time we leave a scene a crowd has usually gathered, and the glimpse of the men in black as they slip away will leave an impression with the onlookers.
Where many SWAT commanders have failed is in deploying SWAT teams when a tactical team is unnecessary and, more importantly, unjustified.
Critical to success is the focus on detail. A warrant service by your tactical team should require a lengthy (16 pages for my team) document known as an “Operation Plan” to be prepared by the team commander prior to briefing the team.
A significant advantage of this document is detailing the need for the tactical team and justifying its use. Before the team commander even starts his operation plan, he should receive a “threat matrix” from a detective indicating what level of response (if any) would be required from the team. The document we used on my team had a numbered scoring system that dictated the level of response from the SWAT team. Utilizing such documents will reduce your exposure to mistakes and litigation.
Safe and Efficient
SWAT teams are safe and efficient. When facing a high-risk warrant service, barricaded gunmen, suicidal subject(s), hostage situation, or acts of terrorism, a well-trained, well-equipped tactical team can save your city a lot of grief.
The negative press comes on the rare occasion when commanders make mistakes such as using a NFDD (flash bang) when young children are known to be in the home, or deploying the team to apprehend a person that isn’t a threat just to get your team some practice serving warrants. The most common mistake is hitting the wrong door.
These mistakes grab headlines and feed the anti-SWAT crowd, but they are also avoidable with proper tactical planning (hence the threat matrix and 16-page operation plan).
Black helicopters and mysterious warriors exist. They are America’s answer to the evil men that the anti-SWAT crowd wouldn’t dare face. We will make mistakes but we are duty-bound to do what we can to minimize the chances of mistakes occurring.