Why do small agencies need SWAT?

To say that small agencies don’t need SWAT teams or armored vehicles is to assume we have some immunity to criminal behavior

I work in a remote region of the Southwest. We’re surrounded by mountains and can be cut off from the rest of the state when one good snowfall closes all of our mountain passes. 

Our six counties collectively have fewer than 50,000 people spread over more than 8,000 square miles. If you count every stripe of law officer, from campus cop to park police to deputy, we could muster 200 if we all were in the same place at the same time. 

To say that small agencies don’t need SWAT teams or armored vehicles is to assume that we have some immunity to criminal behavior. We don’t. 

Real-World Realities
Given the realities of shifts and down time, our maximum mutual aid capacity for one operational cycle would be maybe 40 cops. One officer casualty would put a huge dent in our capacity. Our clunky military-surplus armored personnel carrier was used to rescue a parole officer pinned down by gunfire not long ago. 

We have meth labs, bomb threats, and barricaded suspects. And we have one functioning SWAT team in the region — barely enough for a full operational cycle in a protracted event. 

We don’t like the fact that a backup tactical team, bomb robot, aircraft, and other assets have to be borrowed from four hours and two mountains away, but that’s our reality. 

The bottom line is that every piece of equipment that can be a force multiplier — or can prevent a catastrophic loss of mission capacity — is a legitimate tool to be properly held in stewardship. 

This is not a paranoid grab for big toys. This is police work. 

About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults

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