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Citizens Police Academy-week 9, part 1: SWAT

SWAT! Got your attention? Last week’s CPA class was a visit to the SWAT team, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team, and the K-9 Patrol unit. You know, the class we’d all been waiting for. 😉

We started with SWAT, which stands for Special Weapons and Tactics. In Fairfax County, the SWAT team deals with 12-15 barricades (hostage situations) each year. So what do they do with the rest of their time?

Plan for and serve high-risk warrants. SWAT serves more than 100 high-risk warrants per year, usually for narcotics investigations or anything else where the suspect is likely to be armed. Planning often takes a week or two during which the team surveils the location, learns as much about the layout of the dwelling as possible, and develops a plan.

The team usually moves in at night. If working in an interior corridor (e.g. in an apartment building), they will block the hall exits and stairs, stop the elevators, and tie off the other residents’ doors to keep them from coming into the corridor during the raid. They may even turn off the electricity or air conditioning. Since the fireproof metal doors common to apartment buildings in Virginia don’t respond well to the battering ram, the SWAT team generally breaches the entry with a shotgun or small explosive (a water bag charge).

They kick in the door, throw down a flash-bang, and swarm in to secure the home and arrest the suspect, sometimes setting up a bright light to disorient or redirect the suspect (who will usually avoid the light).

Train SWAT from other areas. Fairfax County’s SWAT team is known as a Tier 1 team (the highest level). They are also the only full-time team in Virginia. As such, they help train other teams around the State and region.

To qualify for a full-time team, the NTOA (National Tactical Officers Association) requires at least 12 members and the ability to deploy as many as 22 members for an incident. Most counties don’t have the budget for that. FCPD has 12 full-time SWAT members and 17 supplemental officers with whom they fill openings on the full-time team.

Ongoing training. The SWAT team is required to spend 25% of its non-operating time in training. They train for all types of situations, including rooftop insertion from a helicopter, shooting from a helicopter, active shooter scenarios (e.g. school, workplace), and domestic barricades. In addition, they spend up to two hours per shift keeping up their physical fitness. (And it shows!)

Dignitary protection. We’re right next to D.C., so when the President or other high-ranking political officials come into Virginia, the SWAT team (as well as the rest of the FCPD) support the Secret Service’s efforts.

The SWAT team has some pretty cool equipment. In Fairfax County, each SWAT member is given a take-home vehicle stocked with a gun safe to store their small arms, a subgun, and a longer gun (similar to an AR-15 or AK-47). In addition to firearms, the cargo space is stuffed with all the gear and equipment they need to respond to an incident.

The SWAT team is an elite unit that requires a high level of physical fitness, an ability to make good decisions quickly under high stress, and excellent shooting skills. Only a small percentage of applicants will make it. And they recently had a woman make it through. If I remember correctly, she's the first one in FCPD.

So, that's SWAT in a nutshell. In my next post, I'll cover EOD and K-9 Patrol.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Fascinating as always. I can’t imagine the sort of mental and emotional … perosnality for lack of a better word… you need to have for this sort of job. It’s incredibly clear to me that I would never be suitable for this sort of dangerous position, and I am thrilled other people actually want to do it instead. It would be a bad day if someone was depending on me to break into their house and kill or capture a number of bad guys.

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