SWAT Standards and Performance

Mickey Davis, Jim Weiss, Bob O’Brien, and Mark Prince

P&SN looks at the SWAT standards and performance of three separate law enforcement agencies in the US. How might these compare to your own department or agency?

Although there may not be any current national or state SWAT officer standards in the United States, recommendations and guidelines are put forth by organizations such as the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy and California POST Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, for example. (To download a copy of the NTOA SWAT standards, visit https://tinyurl.com/y6vnnuac.) The NTOA is widely accepted as the definitive authority on all things SWAT, but more and more states now have professional associations and organizations for tactical officers which provide education, training, and policy and procedure guidance.

The two areas which are being reviewed in this article are primarily physical fitness standards (those related to the health of the officer in areas of cardiovascular fitness, strength and flexibility) and performance standards (those related to the actual physical aspects of the job of a SWAT officer, such as shooting, sprinting, climbing, dragging, swimming, etc.).

Cleveland Police Department (currently Cleveland Division of Police)

Cleveland, Ohio, has a city population of 386,000, with a metropolitan regional population of 3,516,000. It is protected by 1,500 sworn officers and has a full-time SWAT unit.

Background and History: In 1950, Cleveland was a larger city than today with a population of 915,000. In the 1960s and 1970s, it experienced serious racial strife along with a spike in violent crime, with homicides topping 200 to 300 a year.

In response, hundreds of new officers were hired, peaking at nearly 2,500. From 1964 to 1978, the Cleveland Police Department (CPD) implemented a succession of seven full-time tactical-type units, with nearly 200 tactical officers during the mid-1970s.

In 1979, a specialized full-time CPD SWAT Unit of 26 personnel was formed. Training was conducted by experienced LAPD SWAT members and the agency implemented a number of LAPD’s procedures, tactics, standards, etc. This included designating one full day per week as required training for all SWAT officers and completing a physical fitness test based on the U.S. Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test.

Standards: Cleveland SWAT has a history of utilizing “mini scenarios” based on real-world SWAT or terrorist incidents. Mini scenarios are referred to as quick hitters, usually lasting no longer than 10 to15 minutes, although they can last longer. The idea is to fit in as many different types of scenarios as possible, rotating personnel from position to position. This provides every officer with several different perspectives, including that of the suspect(s). These are interactive role-playing scenarios utilizing Simunition® training rounds, and are complete with safety monitoring, an exercise officer and debriefings held after each scenario or a series of scenarios.

Some examples of mini scenarios are drug raid/search, officer down drill (inside a structure and/or employing “Mother” (SWAT’s armored rescue vehicle), hostage rescue, and barricade stealth entry and search.

Scenario training is broken down into two levels. Level 1 is basic for new Cleveland SWAT personnel and the other teams with whom they train and work. It tends to be more instructive, starting from scratch as slow, repetitive, methodical training with the intention of repeating it until they get it right. Level 2 is advanced tactical training for veteran SWAT officers. Much more is expected from them and they are cross-trained to be capable of doing every job when needed, with the exception of the role of countersnipers who are assigned individual scoped rifles. However, countersnipers also are cross-trained in every SWAT-related capacity.

Initially, the CPD SWAT Physical Fitness Test (PFT) was performed three times a year, but this soon increased to four times yearly. The test measures general fitness, strength and endurance needed for SWAT operations, and involves the following four events: 1) pull-ups – 20 maximum; 2) sit-ups – 80 maximum in two minutes; 3) push-ups – 50 maximum; and 4) a three mile run – eighteen minutes maximum.

Applicants not passing the PFT are eliminated as candidates. In-service SWAT officers failing the PFT are given a onetime retest, which, if failed, results in a transfer from SWAT.

In recent years, Cleveland SWAT has changed the PFT, combining it with elements of the Cooper Institute PFT (including a timed 1.5 mile run), pull-ups and other events.

Firearms: Cleveland SWAT has established high standards for firearms training courses and qualifications with every type of firearm utilized by SWAT officers. These include handgun, rifle, subgun, shotgun, and scoped rifle (for designated countersnipers). All SWAT candidates must also take and score “expert” on the CPD firearms qualification course with their issued handgun and shotgun.

Additionally, CPD established training qualifications for all equipment and tactics employed by it for every type of SWAT assignment/situation. These range from hostage/barricade/active shooter to high risk warrants and riot control.

Other specific areas of training include chemical agents/launchers, less-lethal munitions/launchers, entry tools, vehicles (including “Mother” ARV), and ballistic shields. Emergency medicine is taught by SWAT’s full-time Cleveland Fire and EMS paramedics, and K-9 training and tactics are taught by the unit’s full-time SWAT K-9 team.

Training for SWAT is year-round, nonstop and challenging, covering virtually all aspects of SWAT and tactical-type assignments. Cleveland SWAT also trains and works with other Ohio SWAT teams and with federal tactical units.

Performance: For SWAT (CPD SWAT included), this term means greatly exceeding established minimum standards for any and all SWAT-related items, and taking great pride in following the former U.S. Army slogan: Be All You Can Be.  Expectations of perfection are understandably high and for very good reason, since SWAT is tasked with handling the highest risk situations faced by law enforcement.

The following quote says it best about the importance of training and setting high performance standards, “When you aren’t practicing, somewhere, someone is and, when you meet him, he will win.”

Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Pasco County, Florida

The Pasco Sheriff’s Office has approximately 760 sworn members in total, with approximately 500 law enforcement and 260 detention officers, 21 of whom are integrated as part of the SWAT element. The SWAT team is the only one in Pasco County and they provide service for all 500,000 citizens spread over 868 square miles.

SWAT Selection Requirements and Tryouts: Individuals must be either law enforcement certified or detention certified members of the TACT team (detention’s tactical unit), who have successfully completed their probationary year with their respective law enforcement agency. Tryouts are also open to members of other law enforcement organizations within Pasco County at the discretion of the Joint Operations Bureau Commander.

Prior to attending SWAT tryouts, candidates are required to pass the probationary standards of the Physical Readiness Test (PRT) to ensure that they meet the basic physical criteria for probationary membership on the Pasco SWAT team. The PRT is held on a day separate from the tryout.

 SWAT tryouts are held annually as long as vacancies exist within the team. Supplemental tryouts can be held at the discretion of the SWAT Commander in order to fill critical needs which may arise. Tryout standards are two tiered, with a full member level of 90% on all shooting events.

The process consists of the following events:

1) SWAT obstacle course, timed;

2) 48 round handgun course (the former Florida Department of Law Enforcement certification course);

3) ten round stress shooting course – performed from the seven yard line in soft body armor;

4) rappelling;

5) discretionary shooting course, utilizing Simunition® in soft body armor, timed;

6) 200 meter pool swim in BDUs (no boots);

7) 15 minute water tread in BDUs (no boots); and

8) 40 push-ups/45 sit-ups, timed, one minute each.

Candidates passing all of these requirements then sit for an oral board of selected SWAT members. Medical and psychological examinations are conducted by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist chosen by the sheriff at the agency’s expense. The Joint Operations Bureau commander, the Special Operations Division commander and the SWAT commander review the results and forward the documentation to the Human Resources Division for filing.

The Joint Operations Bureau commander may require additional examinations and has final approval of candidates. He may also remove a member from the team at any time.

Completion of a basic SWAT school is a prerequisite for full membership on the team and a member must complete a school program within the probationary year. Basic SWAT school curriculums are composed of many performance requirements, such as ballistic shield tactics; room, stair, hallway, and building clearing; cover and concealment; officer down rescues; vehicle takedowns; less-lethal weaponry; and others.

Clearwater, Florida, Police Department

Clearwater, Florida, has a population of 115,000 with 240 sworn police officers; 24 of these are members of the tactical team along with nine SWAT trained tactical medics and 11 negotiators.

Similar to Pasco County Sheriff’s Office requirements, completion of a basic SWAT school is a prerequisite for full membership on the team and a member must complete a school within the probationary year.

Fitness Standards: The following fitness standards are included in the multitiered SWAT tryout which also measures weapons proficiency, scenario-based problem solving, rappelling, gas exposure, and a formal interview with SWAT command staff.

The team utilizes a SWAT “task oriented” fitness test which includes a half mile run in full tactical gear with tactical footwear and a shoulder-fired weapon (suggested time is six minutes, but most members finish it in around three minutes); a 60 yard run in full tactical gear and gas mask while carrying a single person ram or dumbbell of similar weight (suggested time is 15 seconds); a 30 yard low crawl in full tactical gear with rifle and helmet, elbows and knees touching the ground at all times (suggested time is 60 seconds); climb over a six foot fence unassisted in full gear (pass or fail) with helmet and vest; pull-ups in full tactical gear (minimum of five is required); dips in full tactical gear (minimum of five is required); run four floors or eight flights of stairs in full tactical gear while carrying a ram or dumbbell of similar weight (suggested time is 30 seconds); and move or drag the heaviest team member 20 yards by any safe method with both members in full tactical gear (suggested time is 40 seconds). All tactical members conduct physical recertification and weapon qualifications annually.

The Obstacle Course: This involves the following obstacles: three, four foot walls placed at the 25 yard line; Jacob’s ladder; rope climb; over/unders; attic entry; dirty name; three tire flips; low crawl; slide; cargo net; triple X; tunnel; Pete’s dragon; the horning (formerly known as the eight foot wall); ladder traverse; snake pit; and rope traverse. The SWAT candidate is shown a facial photo of a subject for no more than ten seconds prior to beginning the course. As soon as the applicant clears the final obstacle, he/she then proceeds onto the firing range for weapon acquisition, assembly and the successful discharge of two rounds into the photo target shown at the start of the course which has been mixed into various different facial photos

Stress Shooting Course: This course is conducted after the cold qualification course. It is scored on four criteria:

1) the time required to complete the course;

2) the number of hits on the steel plates;

3) rifle hits; and

4) whether or not the applicant successfully completes the target identification portion of the course.

The course is as follows: The timer begins and the candidate then crawls through a black tube and runs over to a telephone pole to a prepositioned sledgehammer. Carrying the sledgehammer, he/she negotiates over a four foot wall and conducts ten left-handed and ten right-handed strikes to a tractor tire.

Carrying the sledgehammer, the candidate low crawls between two cones and then performs 20 push-ups with his/her feet on the deck. This is followed by a downed officer drag between designated cones, negotiation of several cones set in a serpentine pattern, scaling a four foot wall, and proceeding to the first shooting station. There, the candidate loads and fires five AR-15 rounds from the 25 yard line from the standing position (nonsupported) at a blue B-21 target. After making the weapon safe and grounding it, another four foot wall is negotiated.

The candidate then dons a prepositioned gas mask, assembles his/her handgun, loads it, and fires nine rounds at nine steel plates from a distance of 15 yards. Then, picking up a prepositioned ram, he/she proceeds up a shooting berm, runs along it, and then proceeds back down toward the range to the finish line.

The time is recorded, as are hits/misses on the steel plates and the AR-15 course.

The Bottom Line

While there are no national standards or performance qualifications, it can be seen from these examples that individual agencies have taken up the slack and created their own programs and these programs work.

Mickey Davis is an award winning author and a senior volunteer member of a California fire department.

Jim Weiss is a retired Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department lieutenant.