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Education and Training: Advanced police training in weapons, psychology, physical training, driving, etc. Candidates with military experience preferred.
Average Salary: $61,000
Job Outlook: Good

SWAT (special weapons and tactics) officers are members of elite police units in law enforcement agencies around the country. Although individual departments may have other names for SWAT teams, such as Special Response Team, the general concept is the same: an elite unit trained to deal with high risk situations such as executing high risk search warrants, confronting heavily armed suspects, hostage negotiation, and counter-terrorism.

SWAT teams first emerged during the turbulent 1960s, as a response to an increase in civil disorder, violent crime, and the proliferation of dangerous weapons among criminals. SWAT teams were first employed in California, but the concept of a specialized team to deal with high-risk situations spread to police departments across the country.

Most police departments have some type of SWAT teams, but these officers typically perform routine police duties except during emergencies when they are called to assume their SWAT role.

Education and Training Requirements

SWAT officers are among the most highly trained officers of any police department. Most departments only pick officers with several years of police work under their belts for these elite units. SWAT team members are typically given advanced training in weapons, driving, psychology (particularly negotiation skills), police tactics, and physical training. SWAT officers must pass very difficult tests of marksmanship and other skills before being accepted into a SWAT unit.

Getting the Job

SWAT officers are members of elite police units, and an invitation to join is only given after an officer has proven himself or herself to be of exceptional caliber. To be selected, SWAT officers should be in top physical shape, and have proven themselves to be reliable police officers. Skill in marksmanship and negotiation with suspects and the public are desirable traits. A firm knowledge of the law and police procedure is also recommended, as SWAT officers are often called upon to make split-second decisions that can be very costly in human terms and financially for the municipalities they serve if the wrong call is made. Military experience is also considered a plus for placement on a SWAT team by many police departments.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

The number of all police jobs is expected to grow by 10 percent between 2008 and 2010, and as such, the number of SWAT positions is also likely to grow, considering increased focus by the government into counter-terrorism. Becoming a member of a police department SWAT team is also recommended for police who wish to move into state or federal law enforcement jobs, as it provides a highly refined skill set.

Working Conditions and Environment

Being a member of a SWAT team can be very risky. Officers on SWAT teams are at an elevated risk of being injured by gunfire, explosives, or in hand-to-hand combat with suspects. While in most cities, members of SWAT teams do routine police work and only perform SWAT roles in special circumstances, eventually they will be called to perform the very dangerous tasks involved in SWAT activities. SWAT team members may have to put down riots or spend hours in siege or hostage negotiation stand-offs. SWAT officers run the risk of extensive physical injury, even death, as a result of their work. SWAT officers also run significant legal risk as a result of their work, and have been named as defendants in wrongful death and other legal actions. Police departments cover SWAT and other police officers under liability insurance policies to limit their exposure to law suit damages.

Salary and Benefits

Members of SWAT units are typically paid more than regular police officers. Health insurance and retirement benefits are usually the standard for municipal governments, which tend to offer better benefits than those enjoyed by private sector workers to compensate for the lower salaries

Where to Go for More Information

National Law Enforcement Recruiters Association
PO Box 17132
Arlington, VA 22216

National Sheriff’s Association
1450 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

National Tactical Officers Association
P.O. Box 797
Doylestown, PA 18901
(800) 279-9127

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service