Will SWAT technology eventually trump tactics?

BearCats, pole cameras, robots and thermal imagers are just a few of the technological advances that help SWAT teams accomplish their missions

Technological advances are occurring at a phenomenal rate — from computers to smartphones to solar cells — and private enterprise is not the only segment of our society cashing in on these advances. Law enforcement is using technology to make the industry (and the public) safer.

In the past, when officers encountered extraordinary circumstances that were high-risk, they looked to SWAT to resolve the situation.

Today, SWAT teams across the country are looking to technology to enhance their capabilities and make their jobs safer.

Technology Making SWAT Safer
Technology has made the task of hunting and neutralizing dangerous felons less dangerous because it minimizes the need for tactical officers to expose themselves to unknown threats. With the aid of BearCats, pole cameras, robots, and thermal imagers, SWAT team commanders can get real-time information to aid them in making tactical plans and reduce the risk to their personnel.

•    BearCats have protected teams and have helped them to resolve conflicts by deploying their monstrous vehicles right up to the front steps of the suspect’s residence and simply asking the perpetrator to surrender.
•    Pole cameras can see around corners, letting SWAT clear a second story window or even a stairwell.
•    Tactical robots have all but relieved SWAT teams of the necessity of making entry — these machines are capable of surveillance, negotiations, and even engaging the suspect by lethal or non-lethal means.
•    Thermal imagers have assisted teams by providing a clear picture of the suspect’s location and situational status — whether out in a field or from an exterior wall — without unnecessarily exposing themselves or making entry.

This newfound intelligence allows SWAT to better plan and strategize what their responses will be, and assists in setting out negotiation strategies.

SWAT Cops or RoboCop?
Although these advances in technology have improved officer safety, they still require trained operators to deploy them in a tactical environment. The risk has been reduced, but not completely eliminated. Murphy is still alive and well, and anything that is man-made is subject to failure.

Tactical teams must still continue to train and be prepared to transition to plan B when these technological tools are unsuccessful or become non-functional.

Who knows what the future holds? Will SWAT become just a glorified perimeter team that relies on technology to resolve the conflicts that were traditionally entrusted solely to them?

I doubt it. SWAT has been and continues to be a necessary and desired component in our ability to resolve hostile and potentially catastrophic events.

However, in the future, we may be able to rely on technology to deal with armed suspects, rather than risk officers’ lives.

The fictional character in the 1987 science fiction action film RoboCop — which is now being remade into a new feature film due out later in 2014 — may not be so fictional after all.

About the author

Daniel S. Danaher, is a Sergeant with the Livonia (Michigan) Police Department. Dan has more than 22 years of law enforcement experience and is currently assigned as the Training Coordinator for his agency. He is a former Marine Non-Commissioned Officer, where he served as a Rifleman, Scout/Sniper and Marksmanship Instructor. Dan also served in the Persian Gulf, on the USS Okinawa and Mobile Sea Base Hercules in Operations Earnest Will and Prime Chance, during the Iran/Iraq War.

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