A member of a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team performs the same duties as any other police officer, as well as additional tasks as a SWAT team member. The majority of SWAT team members are on the team as a backup and spend the majority of their time as a regular officer or detective. A SWAT team member is expected to be able to deal with situations that are out of the ordinary, such as heavy firearms and intense situations requiring riot tactics or antiterrorism methods, as the name implies. Being a SWAT officer is typically a sign of intense personal training, despite how glamorous film and television representations of SWAT teams may be.
The first SWAT team was formed in 1968 in Los Angeles, California, in response to an increase in extreme events such as riots and the potential for snipers and guerrilla-style combat erupting in the city. SWAT was created with the goal of having a team of police officers who were trained, armed, and equipped to deal with situations that were not part of a city’s normal criminal activity. A member of a SWAT team is trained to perform tasks such as hostage rescue, riot control, assisting other officers on special missions such as drug raids, and carrying out anti-terrorism operations.
While some major cities, such as Los Angeles, can keep a SWAT team with officers who are the team’s primary members, most cities have officers on the SWAT team as backup. This means that on most days, SWAT team members are part of the regular police force. They’ll look into crimes, patrol neighborhoods, and generally try to keep things civil and legal. When called upon to perform the duties learned in secondary training, these officers will equip themselves and join the other members of the SWAT team in special situations.
Most SWAT team members have a bachelor’s degree, usually in criminal justice or police science, and must have served on the police force for a certain amount of time before applying to join the SWAT team. Positions on a SWAT team are often highly sought after, and joining one usually necessitates competing against other highly skilled and qualified applicants. After being accepted, a new team member will receive extensive training in weapon use, body armor, and special tactics in order to perform the tasks required of a SWAT team member.