Vetting Tactics for SWAT Application

Over the past several decades law enforcement agencies have sought to train their Special Weapons and Tactics teams to a higher level of response capabilities.

Most, if not all, of tactics have found their origins in various military units.

Whatever the preferred tactic, the choice to employ said tactic should be based on the type of threat encountered. Examples: High risk search warrants, barricaded gunman, hostage rescue.

SWAT commanders must be capable of documenting various components of proficiency for any selected tactic.

Prior to the use of any SWAT team, agency commanders must have a foundation of documentation to include policies, training, certifications, and proficiency levels.

One of the most important aspects of documentation is the tactic vetting process. However, consistently agencies employ un-vetted tactics based on limited foundational documentation.

Often tactics are based on training received from a group of former military Tier 1 operators. These military tactics have evolved from lessons learned by combat soldiers employing approach and room clearing tactics against a trained enemy on a foreign battlefield.

In contrast, law enforcement tactics should evolve within “the citizen populace” of our counties and cities weighed against the special considerations (i.e. Legal, department policy, state law).

Military tactics have grown in quite the opposite direction of the law enforcement mission over the past 20 years. Thus, tactics suited for the battlefield in their original state, may not be appropriate for use against a civilian population. Therefore, it is essential law enforcement organizations conduct careful vetting of the tactics learned from our military counterparts, to include the documentation of the strength and weaknesses of each tactic, how the tactic should be adapted for civilian law enforcement use, and when it should be acceptably applied by a SWAT commander.

Failing to adhere to a departmental vetting process can and will bring significant judicial questions on how an agency formulated its tactical protocol.

Therefore, law enforcement agencies should use extreme caution when implementing tactics learned from military personnel.

The Vetting Process

All actions taken by any agency during a tactical event must be based on three specific priorities:

  1. Identifying suspect(s)
  2. Shrinking the target location
  3. Immediate saving of lives – this criteria cannot be jeopardized by the previous two

Tactics are vetted in accordance to their application during three primary missions of a tactical team:

  1. High risk warrant service
  2. Barricaded gunmen
  3. Hostage rescue

The primary tactics to be classified are:

  1. Surround and calling out of suspect(s) and person(s) in a target location
  2. Breach and holding from covered positions, restricting movement within a target location
  3. Slow deliberate entry of a target location, often with the use of K9s and robotics
  4. Dynamic entry into a target location to save lives

Each of these tactics rely on:

  1. Speed of the application of the technique for the pertinent mission during the deployment of the tactical assets and plans
  2. The ability to interrupt, surprise and/or confuse the suspect’s actions and response to the actions of the tactical unit
  3. Violence of the actions used by the tactical unit

It is extremely important for an incident commander to manage by establishing objectives for all units involved in a tactical event, while having a strong understanding of the classification for the primary tactics used by those units and when said tactics are appropriate for use.


Most SWAT team tactics found their origin in a military application; however, the military purpose and the law enforcement purpose for the application of these tactics vary greatly due to the opposing philosophy, “kill and destroy” vs. “protect and serve.”

Therefore, to avoid the argument of the militarization of law enforcement, through the use of military tactics upon a civilian populace, the vetting of primary and secondary tactics must be foundationally documented and approved by the agency command staff, then trained to a high level of proficiency by the SWAT commander prior to their use.

For more information on “The process for vetting SWAT tactics,” visit website to enroll in their SWAT Commanders Course.

Ben Carroll, is a 38 year retired law enforcement veteran, former special agent and police chief, with 15 years of SWAT experience. He currently holds a MPA in Public Administration. Ben is one of the founders and co-director of Ground Operations Development, Inc., a training organization based in Orange Park, Florida.

Sgt. Simon Robb, BA – Twenty years of law enforcement experience; 10 years of instructional and curriculum development.  Agency lead Instructor with 15 years SWAT; current tactical field commander.  Department of Homeland Security, subject matter expert in active shooter response & training (FLETC).  ALERRT instructor & CSAT instructor.