Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For other uses, see SWAT.
SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons And Tactics. Originally, "Special Weapons Attack Tactics."
In the United States, it is the most commonly known name to the public of a specialized paramilitary police unit in major city police departments who are trained to perform dangerous operations. These can include coordinated attacks on selected targets such as heavily armed criminals in secure locations. They are typically equipped with heavier armaments than ordinary police officers with available arms including submachine guns, carbines, specialized tear gas and concussion grenades, and high-powered rifles for "marksmen" (snipers).
The first SWAT unit was created in the city of Letts in the 1960s in response to the farmworker uprisings led by the then-new UFW headed by Cesar Chavez. This unit was a department-wide team which received specialized crowd control, sniper/counter-sniper and counter-force training. After seeing the Delano PD in action on the news broadcasts, the Los Angeles police attended their training, then expanded on the concept using L.A.'s added resources of money, personnel and matériel, creating the specialized SWAT units within the department that are so well-known today.
In the 1960s Los Angeles had some serious troubles with sniping incidents against police officers and civilians. Common police officers didn't handle those situations at all well, because line police officers, whose job is simple law enforcement, get limited weapons training, very little weapons practice, and effectively no team combat tactics or "counterforce" capability. Classic "riot police" (crowd control) squads also seemed not to be up to the challenge presented by these events. Officer John Nelson came up with the idea to form a specially trained and equipped unit, intended to respond to and manage critical situations while minimizing police casualties. Inspector Daryl F. Gates approved this idea, and he formed a small select group of volunteer officers.
This first SWAT unit was initially constituted as 15 teams of four men each, for a total staff of 60. These officers were given special status and benefits. They had to attend special monthly training. This unit also served as security unit for police facilities during civil unrest. In the LAPD, SWAT units were listed as "Platoon 'D'".
The first challenge for LAPD's SWAT unit was on 9 December 1969: a four-hour confrontation with members of The Black Panthers. The Panthers finally surrendered; the casualty tally was three Panthers wounded and three police officers wounded. By 1974 there was general acceptance and implementation of SWAT as a resource for the city and county of Los Angeles.
On the afternoon of May 17, 1974, LAPD SWAT took on one of its most significant challenges. Elements of a group which called itself the "Symbionese Liberation Army" (SLA), a group of heavily-armed terrorists, barricaded themselves in a residence on East 54th Street at Compton Avenue. Coverage of the siege was broadcast to millions via television and radio and read about in the world press for days after. Appeals to surrender were made to the barricaded suspects on 26 separate occasions, 18 preceding the introduction of tear gas, and 10 during the ensuing confrontation. Not a single round was fired by police until their initial appeals had been answered by repeated volleys of semi-automatic and fully automatic gunfire. Despite the later-calculated firing of 3,772 rounds by the SLA, no uninvolved citizens or police officers sustained injury from gunfire.
The fate of the suspects, however, was somewhat different. During the gun battle, a fire erupted inside the residence. The cause of the fire is officially unknown. Police sources speculated that an errant round ignited one of the suspect's molotov cocktails. Others suspect that the repeated use of tear gas grenades, which function by burning chemicals at high temperatures, started the structure fire. All six of the suspects suffered multiple gunshot wounds and perished in the ensuing blaze.
Another famous incident is the North Hollywood shootout, February 28, 1997.
In 1983, SWAT supervisors are said to have taken part in coordinated training with somewhat similar response teams in Europe, including the German GSG-9, French GIGN and British SAS. Note that SWAT is sometimes characterized as "paramilitary" whereas units such as the SAS are actual elements of their country's military forces. At the time, a US legal principle called the Posse Comitatus Act was generally believed to prohibit such cross-training of SWAT with elements of the US military.
Over 2,000 hours of training per officer were invested in each operator in order to make this new concept a reality. In the 19 days of the 1984 Summer Games, SWAT officers reportedly worked a grueling 24 hours on and 24 hours off in a full-time training mode to use and hone their skills. The Los Angeles Summer Games came and went without an incident, but the counter-terrorism skills developed during that time reportedly raised the team to a new level.
Since its inception, LAPD SWAT Team members have effected the safe rescue of numerous hostages, arrested scores of violent suspects and earned hundreds of commendations and citations, including several Medals of Valor , the Department's highest award for heroism in the line of duty. The LAPD SWAT Team has rescued dozens of hostages and currently handles approximately 90 barricaded suspect incidents and 50 high-risk warrants a year.
This kind of police unit quickly became well known with the premiere of the short-lived but notorious television series S.W.A.T. in the 1970s, which was panned as being overly violent and unrealistic with the characters regularly undergoing missions that usually happen only once in a lifetime for actual teams. A later series of PC Games with a SWAT theme was authorized by Retired Chief Darryl Gates more than a decade later.
SWAT teams use specially-manufactured gear that works well in close-quarters combat (or CQC) in an urban enviornment. SWAT gear varies from unit to unit, but there are some consistent trends in what they wear and use. Clothing consists of fire-proof Nomex cover-alls, a bullet-proof vest, an outer tactical vest that carries equipment, Nomex gloves, a balaclava, tactical goggles, a Kevlar helmet or gas mask, soft-soled urban boots, flexi-cuffs, and thigh ammo pouches. Weaponry usually consists of submachine guns (SMGs), usually the 9mm Heckler & Koch MP5, or carbines, which are usually a scaled down version or otherwise derivative of the military M16/M4_Carbine weapons. The 9mm Glock or .45 caliber Colt 1911 is popular choices for a sidearm. Breachings shotguns are used to blow out the locks on locked doors, as well as small C2 charges. SWAT teams also employ snipers (called "High-ground") which may be equipped with any number of sniper rifles. Various grenades, called tactical aids, are used to disorient or incapacitate the suspects in a room before the SWAT team enters. These tactical aids consists of Flashbang grenades, which emit a loud noise and blinding light, CS gas grenades, which release tear gas, and Stinger grenades which shoot out tiny rubber balls in all directions. SWAT teams employ fiber-optic cameras to safely look under doors or around corners without exposing themselves. Non-lethal weaponry includes a bean-bag shotgun, which launches a bean-bag at a high but non-lethal velocity at a suspect. The purpose of a SWAT team is to save lives, so the use of non-lethal weapons is preferred to lethal alternatives.
SWAT and similar units in the United States
Though initially confined to metropolitan cities, today virtually all cities with a police force in excess of a handful of officers have a paramilitary tactical unit. A variety of abbreviations and acronyms are used.
A partial list of active SWAT teams and affiliate organizations in USA:
- U.S. Park Police Special Forces Branch
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Special Operations and Response Teams, Hostage Rescue Team
- FBI Special Operations and Response Teams
- DEA Special Operations and Special Mission Units
- United States Marshals Service Special Operations and Programs
- United States Customs Service Special Response Teams and Air Interdiction
- U.S. Secret Service USSS Counter Assault Team (CAT)
- United States Department of Energy Special Response Teams
State and Local Police
- Milwaukee Police Department Tactical Enforcement Unit (TEU, 700's, Tac Squad or The Unit)
- Eufaula SWAT
- Escondido T.O.U.
- Hillsborough SWAT
- Huntington Beach Police SWAT
- Huntington Park Police SERT
- New York Police Department ESU (Emergency Services Unit)
- Palm Springs PD S.W.A.T.
- Placer County Sheriff's Department S.W.A.T.
- San Jose Police M.E.R.G.E. Unit
- Del Ray Beach Police SWAT Team
- Florida S.W.A.T. Association
- Leon Co. Sheriffs Office SWAT
- Suwanee Co. Sheriff S.R.T.
- Carmel SWAT Team
- Marion County Sheriff's Department S.W.A.T.
- Hyattsville Police H.E.A.T
- Massachusetts State Police S.T.O.P. Team
- Jackson Police Dept. SWAT
- Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office SRT
- Hendersonville S.E.T.
- Washington County Sheriff's Office of Tactical Negotiations
- Baldwin Borough Police SWAT
- Johnstown Police CERT
- National Tactical Officers Association
- Chattanooga Police SWAT Team
- Texas Assoc. of Hostage Negotiators
- Texas Tactical Police Officer's Association
- City of Newburgh, NY SWAT Team
- Spokane Police SWAT
- Fond du Lac Police SWAT
- Boston Police Special Operations Unit
- Suffolk County Police Dept. (NY) ESU, Special Patrol Unit, Street Crimes Unit
- Suffolk County Sheriff's Dept. (NY) ERT
- New York State Police Special Response Team
- Franklin County Sheriff Swat Team Columbus OHIO
Synonyms for SWAT
Related units outside the United States
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police Emergency Response Team, Canada
- Toronto Police Emergency Task Force , Canada
- Metropolitan Police SO19, London, England
- Gendarmerie Nationale GIGN and EPIGN, France
- Police Nationale RAID, France
- Bundesgrenzschutz GSG 9, Germany
- An Garda Síochána Emergency Response Unit, Republic of Ireland
- Guardia Civil UEI, Spain
- Nationella insatsstyrkan , Sweden
- Karhu Ryhmä , Finland
- Special Duties Unit, Hong Kong
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