Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Citizens' Police Academy: SWAT!

By Annette Dashofy

The guys from Pittsburgh’s SWAT team tried to convince us that their job isn’t glamorous, but let me tell you, they do get to play with some really cool stuff. Their presentation was so fascinating that while I started out scribbling notes like crazy, pretty soon I got so wrapped up in listening and watching the videos that I forgot to take notes! This is why I never made it as a journalist. But here is a little of what I did jot down.

SWAT teams across the country from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles employ the same techniques. They are specialists with the goals of preserving life, minimizing injury and property damage and reducing public concern over law enforcement operations.

The reason SWAT teams exist is to increase the safety of officers, innocent parties, the general public AND the suspect. They reduce liability by having more highly trained officers working as a coherent, cohesive unit. They utilize standard tactics and work together all the time, so there less chance of someone making independent decisions or taking actions that might put officers at unnecessary risk.

Some specific circumstances in which they might be called into action would be hostage rescue, a barricaded suspect, a sniper, high risk warrant service, or dignitary protection.

SWAT’s mission is not to go out and kill people as some movies and TV shows might have you believe. SWAT’s mission is to SAVE lives. Their motto is “We put ourselves second that others may live.”

In a hostage situation, their priorities are: 1. the hostages, 2. innocent bystanders, 3. SWAT officers and 4. the hostage takers.

In such a situation, there would be an Incident Commander who establishes a Command Post (CP) and manages the overall operation. Everyone answers to him.

There would also be a Hostage Negotiator

And there would be a Tactical Commander who establishes a TOC (Tactical Operations Center). He is subordinate to the Incident Commander, but oversees the operation at the scene.

On the subject of terminology, SWAT trained personnel are called SWAT Operators.

As mentioned previously, they say it’s not glamorous. It’s hard work. They get no extra pay. All SWAT team members in Pittsburgh have other duties. Some may work in narcotics. Some may work in homicide. But they all wear pagers and can be called out at any time. They carry their gear in their vehicles. They take it home with them in case they’re called from there (although they are not permitted to leave it in their personal vehicles. They must take it into the house and store it in their basements.)

And the gear they carry weighs over 75 pounds.

They brought a lot of it to the class. We got to handle an assault rifle and a Glock pistol (both unloaded). We got to feel the weight of a SMALL battering ram. Even the Level 4A Tactical Vest that they wear weighs over 20 pounds.

Some of the really cool stuff they brought to show included an eyeball camera, their newest “toy.” It’s a small black ball, just a bit smaller than a baseball. When tossed down a hall or into a window or door, it will roll, right itself, and begin self-rotating while broadcasting images to a viewing screen. We determined that there were no hostage takers lurking in the hallways at the Hazelwood Presbyterian Church. They also had a pole cam, which is a small camera on the end of what looks like a heavy fishing pole. SWAT operators can peer into windows on the second floor, for example, to see what’s there before risking their life entering a building.

Several classmates thought they would like to have one until we learned they cost $19,000. FYI, Pittsburgh SWAT only has one.

They also showed us a Ghillie suit which is a form of camouflaged jacket that allows a SWAT operator to blend into the surroundings while gathering intelligence. Other methods include going undercover as a UPS guy or a homeless person on the street.

The “toy” they didn’t bring with them was the BEAR or Ballistically Engineered Armored Rescue Vehicle.

Glamorous? Well, the “toys” are cool for sure. But then you have to consider that there’s a growing tendency of bad guys who wish to commit “suicide by cop.” While many suspects will take a stand against regular officers, most will give up when the SWAT team rolls in. But not everyone.

It’s not a job for the meek. Or the weak. But it made for one heck of a presentation to the Citizens’ Police Academy.

Next week: Another Field Trip!


Gina said...

Great summary, Annette!
I asked them what they do about dogs and they said dogs aren't a problem because they tend to hide -- I would too if a few dozen operators dressed like something out of Star Wars simultaneously ripped off my doors, knocked out my windows, tossed in flash grenades, and stormed in carrying big guns -- that rolling eye alone would send me fleeing to the basement!

Martha Reed said...

Annette, what does a Ghillie suit look like? I'm curious how it blends into the background - I keep thinking of the alien in Predator.

And its a little off topic, but I believe that Kevlar and kiwi fruit are proof that aliens have visited our planet.

Thanks for sharing all the great information!

Tory said...

Wow, 75#! I guess we know how they get their exercise.

Annette said...

Martha, the guys make their own Ghillie suits and they vary depending on the surroundings in which they will be used.

The one they had on display started as a vest, but then they added greenish-brown camoflage and jute or unraveled twine. He said you could also use camo fabric cut into strips. Basically, it looked like a bush or a shrub.

Here's a website with a small picture of what looks like the creature from the black lagoon with a gun. That's pretty much it.

Annette said...

Tory, that tactical vest was really heavy...but then again, not much heavier than the backpack I lug around with my laptop in it...

Gina, I agree. But I do think dogs are smarter than people where these things are concerned.

Joyce said...

Sounds like great fun, Annette. And I don't just mean your class. I think I might like dressing up and storming a house...

Joyce said...

I have to tell you what Jerry and Josh came up with regarding ghillie suits:

"One bag of marshmallows, $1.47. One package of hot dogs, $3.59. Wearing our ghillie suits and hiding from "the queen" down at the firepit, priceless."

I get no respect around here.

Annette said...

I dunno, Joyce. I've seen jute burn. A ghillie suit by the campfire could be a recipe for one seriously hot time.

Wilfred the Author said...

Really cool stuff, Annette.

Just curious if you remember what caliber Glock they use. And what model.

nancy said...

I just don't think the SWAT team should have shot the cougar in Chicago yesterday. C'mon, now, guys, you're afraid of a kitty?

Annette said...

Wilfred, I think it was a 9mm. But honestly, after they brought out the Bushmaster M-4, I was so starry-eyed in love that I completely missed the details on the Glock. Except that it was unloaded.

Wilfred the Author said...

Annette, I know what you mean. During last year's Forensics U in St. Louis, sponsored my SinC, I arranged the shooting gallery. 50 ladies, most of them never picked up a gun, got to shoot a .22 and a 9 mm handgun. Afterward, we had a photo op with an Uzi full automatic.

I had the pleasure of shooting that Uzi. That beast put all the handguns to shame.

ramona said...

Don't you think that, if there had been a bad guy in the hallway of the Hazelwood Presbyterian Church, he'd have shot the eyeball camera? That's what I want to do whenever someone unexpectedly tries to take my picture.

Good stuff, Annette. Sounds like you are having a blast at the Academy.

Annette said...

Ramona, I suppose, since the eyeball cam's purpose is to gather intelligence about who's in a room, if he'd shot it, we'd have known for certain a gunman was present and it would have served that purpose anyway. Even if it had given its little electronic life in the line of duty.

ramona said...

Annette, now I'm thinking how upset the SWAT guys would be if someone shot the eyeball cam. 14 grand, down the drain, plus a busted toy. I would not want to be that criminal once they swarmed in, LOL.

Anonymous said...

Great post and very informative! My brother-in-law is a SWAT guy, and LOVES his job. He always mentions the toys. The last time I saw him, he talked about how cool the eyeball cam was.