SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, and teams are highly trained paramilitary squads that operate within many urban police departments. SWAT and team personnel carry out dangerous missions such as rescuing hostages, serving arrest warrants under fire, deterring terrorist attacks and subduing criminals who are armed beyond the capacity of regular police officers. Unlike the investigative branch of law enforcement, SWAT teams are focused on tactical solutions to safely resolve critical incidents.
SWAT applicants are subject to a rigorous selection and training process that includes written and oral exams, testing for physical fitness and psychological testing, all to ensure that the candidate is suited both physically and psychologically for the rigors and stress of high-risk operations.
SWAT team members are selected from volunteers within the law enforcement agency in which they are employed, so the same degrees and training that enhance the career of a police officer will also increase one’s chances to become a SWAT team member.
Requirements vary from team to team, but police officers are generally required to serve a minimum tenure within the police department before volunteering for a SWAT team. Earning a degree in criminal justice or a related field can also help advance the career options of a police officer who wants to become a SWAT team member.
Once selected to be a SWAT team member, officers must undergo training in marksmanship, explosives handling, first aid, negotiation and roping techniques (such as rappelling), as well as the use of specialized equipment and weapons. Close-quarters defensive tactics training is emphasized, as this is considered the first option in most SWAT operations.
SWAT teams carry out a variety of high-risk operations, including:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police and detectives (the category under which SWAT team members fall) earned a median annual salary of $55,010 in 2010.* Detectives and criminal investigators were at the higher end, with a median annual salary of $68,820.
Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.