All SWAT members should know the birth of SWAT began Aug. 1, 1966, in Austin, Texas, when Charles Whitman climbed the tower at the University of Texas. Whitman then went on a 96-minute shooting spree from the top of the tower, killing 15 people and wounding 31 before two Austin police officers were able to climb the tower and stop him.
Since then, police departments across the country have constructed SWAT units, and these teams have successfully stopped many felons and saved many lives. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels, however, because the future may bring many new challenges to American law enforcement and its SWAT teams. These challenges will likely include criminals armed with superior firearms and body armor, larger and better-organized street gangs, suicide bombers and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
To meet current challenges, the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) recommends a minimum of two days of training per month. However, once you draft a training calendar, you quickly realize two days each month isn t enough to complete all the basic skills required for day-to-day SWAT operations, much less something extraordinary such as a WMD incident.
The best officers and teams are the best trained. This article will provide tips for training coordinators and instructors to help them get their units running at a high level.
The 6 R s of Training
SWAT trainers have an unbelievable responsibility to develop and provide basic and in-service training that s ongoing and realistic. Firearms, tactics and physical fitness training are all important and should be treated equally.
You can develop training programs with help from various resources (e.g., the NTOA), personal knowledge and experience. Our industry standards must be followed and used as a guideline during course development.
If you follow the six R s of training listed below, they ll assist you in providing a successful training program.
- Recent: The objectives provided must be recent in the SWAT community. Instructing SWAT members on using a revolver for entry wouldn t be recent, for instance, but using a 40mm launcher would apply.
- Relevant: The training must be relevant to the job. Instructing SWAT on how to conduct an unknown risk vehicle stop wouldn t be relevant, but how to safelyy conduct a vehicle assault would.
- Repetition: Students must perform a task over and over again to understand and feel confident in their ability. On the street, they may not have any time to react, so their skills must be instinctive.
- Realism: Make it real. Provide water survival drills while wearing issued SWAT gear, for example, or provide continuous exposure to chemical agents with and without a protective mask to instill a level of confidence and reduce the possibility of panic during a mission if something goes wrong.
- Review: Provide immediate feedback on performance, the good, bad and ugly.
- Responsibility: This very well could be the most important of all six. The members must realize the training they receive is only valuable if they believe and continue to practice. It s their responsibility to train.
Training Coordinators & Instructors
Every team should have a training coordinator (TC) who provides a plan of action for the upcoming year. This blueprint for success will provide guidance for the entire year for scheduling officers, range and other resources to facilitate the training. This coordinator carries a great deal of responsibility, so they must have the authority to carry out the assignment. This position shouldn t go to someone due to their rank or position, but their ability, skill and knowledge.
The SWAT TC must evaluate the current program on several issues:
- Instructor qualifications;
- Current training and future needs; and
- Lesson plans that are recent, realistic and relevant.
Choosing the right instructor is far more important than the quality of the lesson plan. Instructors don t have to be an expert on the topic, but they must have the ability to pass information on in a positive learning environment. The SWAT trainer must believe in what they are teaching and practice what they demonstrate.
An experienced trainer realizes they too will learn while instructing, and must be prepared for student input. The student may have a better way of conducting a specific task. Remember: There s no best or only way to conduct a certain method or tactic.
The If it s not broken, why fix it? line of thinking doesn t apply to law enforcement training. And, instructors and students must be willing to learn new information without any fear of change.
Lesson Plan Development
Trainers and the TC can follow a few simple rules while developing lesson plans with successful objectives. First, identify the goal or scope of the lesson plan, and then list all objectives. Then decide how you will test the objectives. One way is to have the student demonstrate the task. Or, you could test their knowledge with a written test. Even better, use a combination of both.
The training goal must be realistic and the objectives achievable. Students and the trainers can accomplish this task with what I refer to as EDIP:
- Explain to the students what they must accomplish and allow questions and feedback. (Note: Unless feedback is safety related, limit it or risk losing focus.)
- Demonstrate the task with a white board, PowerPoint presentation or practical application.
- Direct the students to imitate what you ve explained and demonstrated with practical application.
- Direct the students to practice the objective the correct way with multiple repetitions until the student and trainer are confident in their performance.
Issue each lesson plan with a specific number to make documentation and tracking much easier for all involved. Example: The first letter could identify the topic, such as F for firearms, with the lesson number following the letter. So, one-hand shooting might be assigned F01.
Once you ve established a recording system, keep a SWAT lesson-plan library. This valuable reference material will include all documented lesson plans with a cover sheet identifying all approved lesson plans and numbers.
At the end of each training session, you must document what occurred. If you don t, the training never happened. A few important items to document for your training after-action report include:
- The attendance roster;
- The date, day and time (Don t forget about low-light and darkness training.);
- The weather (Deployments occur in all types of weather.);
- The lesson plan numbers; and
- The instructors.
Upon completion of each training session, trainers must evaluate the objectives they provided to the team and make a fair, honest decision. If changes prove necessary, make them!
In addition to the lesson-plan library, develop a resource book that includes various articles that identify different instruction methods. Divide those methods into categories, such as administration, breaching, explosives entry, legal, firearms, etc. This book could prove valuable when you re preparing other training plans or need to justify to your administration why you must improve your current level of training or standard operating procedure.
There s no doubt these two books will provide a valuable source of information and, if required, justify any actions. A good plan today is much better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
In-service SWAT training may be the most important function a tactical team performs. Training is the foundation for a successful team. A study conducted by the NTOA proved SWAT saves lives, and to run a successful mission, the members must be prepared.
To err is not an option.
Jim Polan is a 26-year law enforcement veteran and currently serves as the SWAT captain for the Broward Sheriff s Office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Polan is an adjunct instructor for the University of North Florida, Institute of Public Safety and Miami-Dade Community College.