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Post-op intel gathering

For SWAT teams, intelligence is gathered either before an operation (planned event) or during a callout (unplanned event). Intelligence equals situational awareness and is only valuable if accurate and usable. Therefore, intelligence becomes one of many tools in the tactical tool box that allows us to accomplish the tactical objective.

As tacticians, we should require our investigators/affiants of search warrants to provide us with target/suspect information and structural information. This information includes the size of the structure, points/ports of entry (POE), counter surveillance, fortifications, the target’s history, and any additional subjects (non-targets, elderly, children, weapons, CAD data, animals, etc). While on a callout, we require the same information from patrol.

We rely on the intelligence that is provided to us by the investigator or patrol supervisor, as well as the intelligence we have or are gathering while we formulate our plan and adapt to the environment and situation. Both scenarios define pre-operational intelligence gathering.

The question is, “What are we as SWAT doing in the arena of post-operational intelligence gathering?” Many teams are doing nothing!

Many teams serve search warrants repeatedly at the same location or complex throughout the year, or have responded to the same residence on more than one occasion for an armed, barricaded or suicidal suspect/subject. SWAT teams have responded to a location to take a person into custody for an arrest warrant, having been there before serving a search warrant.

Wouldn’t it be great to have photos readily accessible? These photos would show the type of locks that may be encountered during the breach; whether the locks may be reinforced/fortified; what type of door the team may be confronted with (wood/steel); or whether there is a CCTV system tipping off the occupants to our approach, thus taking away the element of surprise.

Documenting the Scene

Once the scene has been secured and rendered safe, the post-operational intelligence gathering can begin. A tactical operator should take the photographs because he knows what is tactically required for future use. The first and second photos are the most important and are taken of the address.

The first photo should be of the full address, which is written on the back of the “Site Photographic Record” in large legible letters. The number of the photo (displayed in the digital camera viewer) is documented on the first sheet of the form. This establishes that the following photos are of that specific scene/search warrant/incident location.

The photos are then taken in the order of the form, which starts with the numerical address of the structure, if posted; the approach to the primary point of entry (POE); the primary POE; and the door/lock of the primary POE, with each photo number being recorded on the form so the pictures and form can be matched up at a later time.

More than one photo may be taken for each category. A partial example of how the scene is documented is depicted on the previous page in the Site Photographic Record. The Site Photographic Record becomes part of the Tactical-SWAT operational/after-action report for retrieval at a later date.

Required Equipment

The three required pieces of equipment to conduct post-operational intelligence gathering are a laptop computer with a large/stable hard drive (30 gigabytes, minimum) with a DVD or CD burner, a quality digital camera (3 megapixels, minimum) and additional memory sticks/flash cards (1 gigabyte, minimum).

The number of memory sticks you purchase will depend on your team’s operational tempo. Ideally, you will use one memory stick for each scene. However, you may use one memory stick for more than one scene, provided the first picture at each scene is the address, since this will differentiate each series (location) of pictures. Also, if you purchase a quality digital still camera, it may have a video capability that can be used and easily viewed on a laptop, which provides a dual use for the camera.

Organizing the Pictures

Once you have these pieces in place, you will need to organize the data on a computer so the pictures are easily retrievable. Open the “My Documents” folder, create a “SWAT” folder, and then create a subfolder labeled “Site Photographic Record.” This is where it can get complicated. Your team’s area of responsibility (city, county, state) will determine how you create and organize your subfolders.

For example, my agency is a county agency, so our folders are labeled by each of our patrol districts and cities within our county, i.e., “Central Broward District-05,” “Pompano Beach District-11,” etc. Within the subfolder of “Central Broward-05” is a folder for each search warrant/incident address and its date of occurrence, i.e., “2731 NW 14 St. Ft. Laud. 08-30-08.” Once a folder is created, the photos are imported/downloaded onto the computer using either the software that is provided with the camera or a memory card reader.

A memory card reader is the simplest way to download and transfer the photos. The reader will allow for multiple types of memory cards (SD Card, Memory Stick Pro) to be read by the computer. The memory card is removed from the camera and inserted into the reader. A folder will automatically display in the “My Computer” folder as an additional drive.

Using Windows Explorer, you will move the photos from the memory stick reader or camera into the folder you have created for the target/incident site. Each site has its own folder, which is labeled by address and by date. This will make them readily identifiable when they need to be retrieved.

The photos, as with any intelligence, must be accurate and usable; therefore it is important that the photos be of good quality and that the form is completely filled out. Not every field on the Site Photographic Record will be completed, as each structure is different (type, size, number of bedrooms).

It is important that all personnel on the team are familiar with the basic use of the camera (camera settings, display, lighting, shooting perspective), ensuring that usable photographic intelligence is gathered. The intent of these photos is not to gather evidence, but to gather intelligence for future tactical use. The investigators will take the evidentiary photos of the crime scene.

Data/Picture Retrieval

Once the data has been loaded onto the computer, organized and made retrievable, it must be viewable. This can be done by having a laptop with all the photos available to the entry team at the search warrant briefing, or available at the incident (callout) location. The data could also be stored on an external hard drive or a USB thumb drive (though this provides limited storage). This would eliminate the need for a dedicated computer, provided that a laptop or desktop computer is available on scene to view the photos via the external storage device.

Another option is to pre-print the photos from the designated computer. This is the most effective for pre-planned events, but does not work for callouts if the designated computer is not available on scene. The USB-thumb drives could be issued to and/or shared by command staff/team leaders, but they would need to be frequently updated.

Another option, which depends on your team’s operational tempo, would be to continuously burn the photos to a CD or DVD and distribute them to designated personnel (command staff, team leaders). However, this would make them readily available in the team’s vehicle and their individual response vehicles. This may create a gap in providing the most updated intelligence. Data backup should always be considered. This can be accomplished by burning a CD for each location or backing up on an external hard drive, which you could also use to make the data available to any computer via USB port.

If using an agency network, confirm with your IT personnel that the data will be backed up, negating the need to burn CDs. If you have multiple vehicles in your SWAT fleet, you may also download the information to those vehicle computers. If these vehicles have wireless (air card) access, you would not need to download the data.

In order for this concept to work, one tactical operator/SWAT member should be designated to download the photos and maintain the data, ensuring it is up to date and available when needed. However, at least one backup operator should be involved and know these procedures.

The concept of post-operational intelligence gathering is one more tool in the tactical tool box that will assist your team in carrying out the tactical mission.

Lieutenant Darin D. Dowe is a 21-year veteran of the Broward County, FL Sheriff’s Office, a veteran SWAT operator, former sniper, tactical WMD coordinator, tactical electronics team leader and SWAT quartermaster. Dowe is a SWAT instructor and holds a Bachelor of Public Administration degree and an Associate of Arts degree in political science. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2009

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