Two SWAT teams, one from a large county sheriff’s office, the other from a smaller city police department, joined forces to form a single, force multiplied, fully functioning SWAT team. The two agencies involved were the Pasco County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office and the New Port Richey, Fla. Police Department located within Pasco County.
Pasco County covers an area of about 868 square miles, with a population 464,700. The agency has 453 sworn deputies, including a part-time SWAT team of 30 deputies. New Port Richey, the largest city in Pasco County, covers five square miles, with a population of 17,500. Its police department has 41 police officers, including a part-time SWAT team of 12 officers.
Six Months of Planning
For Florida, the concept of Unified SWAT was completely novel – no one in the state had done this before. Discovering whether combining the two SWAT teams would work took six months of step-by-step dogged purpose. Uniting the two SWAT teams would be a force multiplier. One strengthening factor they had in common was that the majority of the SWAT deputies and police officers from the two agencies had graduated from the same Pinellas County, Fla. Basic SWAT School.
The New Port Richey PD and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office command staffs decided the two SWAT teams would have to train together until they were comfortable with each other, and would think and act as one team. Armament and equipment, mobile command center vehicles, and other issues had to be taken into consideration.
The agencies had different weapons systems and ammunition. After much discussion and with team input, it was decided that Unified SWAT would use Glock Model 35 (40 S&W) handguns, chosen for their reputation for accuracy. This switch would mean new holsters, too. Early on, it was decided to switch to Speer Gold Dot handgun ammo over the handgun ammo the sheriff’s office had been using for many years.
A variety of long guns and subguns were in use by the two agencies including H&K MP5s, H&K416 (PCSO), a few FN P90 rifles, and one or two M16s. A few SWAT team members hadn’t been issued a long gun at all. The different ammunition used by such a variety of long guns was a concern. The issue of common subguns was put on hold.
Much needed to be replaced so team members would have the same equipment. New Port Richey Police Department’s tactical ballistic vests were at the end of their life span. The current ballistic helmets were heavy, bulky, and with a poor suspension system. Ballistic shields needed to be replaced. New helmet communication kits were need, as well as better ballistic helmets, common uniforms, kneepads, elbow pads, hydration packs, gloves, war paint, gas masks, etc. Tactical vest ballistic rifle plates were also included.
Mobile Command Center
There was a need to upgrade the mobile command center system. The sheriff’s SWAT van was not really a mobile command center, but rather a “make-do” that was inadequately uncomfortable with six people moving about in it. There were also command and control issues including where legal personnel, public information officers and hostage negotiators would fit. Command wanted to streamline the system as much as possible.
Command decided to add the Sheriff’s Tactical Action Control Team (TACT), the corrections tactical team to the pooling of resources for Unified SWAT. TACT members are proficient with rifles and subguns, but not sniper rifles. The ten members of TACT are normally concerned with special court security issues, the recovery of escaped prisoners, and jail security concerns. They no longer did cell extractions, but could be called up to regain control of jail housing units if the jail deputies couldn’t.
The role of TACT was to be perimeter control, asset protection, and the escort of future tactical medics and other people into and out of buildings during SWAT operations. TACT was only to be brought into Unified SWAT when the police SWAT and sheriff’s deputy SWAT were comfortable working together.
Two Train as One
The city police officers were sworn in as sheriff’s deputies so they could make arrests in other parts of the county outside their city. The first day’s training included movement drills. With the shooter’s body as a shooting platform, movement included walking heel-to-toe in the direction of travel with no dragging of the feet. The shooter’s shoulders were in front of the knees, elbows in, knees bent, with a good center of gravity.
While shooting while moving, members of the two independent SWAT teams slowly began to work together as one team. They doggedly went through the drills first with demonstration, then dry, and then with live ammunition. The goal of one drill was to address two opposing targets without the shooter leaving cover. A tilted or canted shooter’s body was kept on one side and then the other side of a pole marker that indicated the cover. Maneuvers such as cutting the pie were stressed in this drill.
Weapon transition drills simulated a weapon malfunction as well as going from long gun to handgun. The drills began with the long gun. Movement drills progressed to a simulated room entry, with five SWAT officers stacked on a simulated door. Upon entry, the Number 1 and Number 2 entry team members addressed the deep corners of the room first, with the remainder of the file entering the middle of the room.
The targets were seven 2-inch circles. The instructor called out which numbered circle each individual shooter was to address. The drill’s objectives were learning to work together and trusting the operator next to them in the stack, as well as handling weapons, indexing and muzzle control, finger off trigger, and the shortening stack.
At the start of the training, the New Port Richey police officers stayed together as one group while completing the drills, as did the deputies of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. As the drills progressed, the elements going through the drills became a mix of SWAT officers and SWAT deputies. They were learning to trust and respect each other; unification transition was at work.
Part of the SWAT commander’s vision was to develop a Unified SWAT tactical medic program and to have four tactical medics on the Unified SWAT team. Under the tactical medic concept, police SWAT team medics are also fire paramedics able to provide more advanced treatment.
In addition to the basic requirements for fire fighting, becoming a SWAT medic also requires completing the county’s five-day rescue-technician training course, as well as completing basic SWAT School – the same SWAT school that police SWAT operators attend. This school involves two weeks of police tactics, stress, athletics, control tactics, marksmanship, and conquering phobias.
This particular tactical medic concept was based on the Clearwater Fire Department’s program in which tactical medics are part of the city’s police SWAT team. The goal of Unified SWAT was to mirror the Clearwater tactical medic program.
The first of the three-day training began with an obstacle course. Rope Climb, over and under the cross members of Jacob’s Ladder, 12-foot Wall, the Cargo Net, Rope Traverse, and other obstacles were conquered. Instructors were there to give suggestions as to how to do things better and to offer encouragement.
Later at the ranges, weapons training was three points, round robin. One group began addressing handgun and long gun malfunctions. Another station trained at movement drills and shooting positions. A third station involved basic ballistic shield training.
During the day, Clearwater tactical medics taught officer down drills, with carries and various drags. Room entries included slicing the pie and covering the grids. Malfunction drills included keeping a hand on the long gun while dropping it on its sling as the handgun was coming up and out.
Other team drills involved when not to laser, finger and muzzle control, close quarter combat, multiple threats, room and building clearing, dump and change combat reloading and then tactical reloading while stowing the magazine without dropping it. The drills went on well in the night as low light drills. The more often drills were repeated, the more proficiency was gained, and the less stress they caused.
On the second day, training included vehicle takedowns, room clearing, building clearing, and repetitive Simunition®-based scenarios with stacking and double stacking behind ballistic shields. The evening was spent out in the woods completing a hostage rescue scenario.
The third and final day combined the previous training and took place at the MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) at Camp Blanding. Both slow methodical and dynamic building clearing were repeated, clearing places where bad guys could hide and moving on. The training then advanced to role players and Simunition. In some scenarios, a downed person (a 200-pound dummy) was taken through a window using a webbing technique.
In completing the scenarios, teams had to figure out how many members would be used to clear various rooms, how they would change to hall boss tactics, how they would go from dynamic to slow methodical whenever a change of gears was required, and master clearing as a fluid process, stepping over a downed officer to move quickly.
The final scenario was where it all came together. The team had to solve a situation with an officer down at a house. They had ballistic shields, a van, and made use of a sniper. The critique afterward indicated their approach with shields was nice and quiet. The sniper had shots but didn’t make them because he couldn’t tell if the target was a bad guy. The team did well on the entry and in conducting the rescue.
After the Training
Unified SWAT was now accepted as meeting the standards set by command and divided into two teams, Black and Gold, for increased flexibility. They had new Blackhawk helmets and helmet communication kits, new tactical body armor, video equipment, a recon robot, three new ProTech Intruder IIIA ballistic shields, and an IR rifle scope. All Unified SWAT members were in sheriff’s office SWAT uniforms.
Their previously used Humvee had been overhauled, and a new Lenco BearCat armored rescue vehicle costing $249,500 as well as a second, used SWAT van were available to them. Team members and TACT also received BearCat driver familiarization on a driving pad with serpentine and evasive maneuvering. They trained in repetitive scenarios responding from both within the Bearcat and as outriders on it, then tactically stacking up and moving onto room clearing scenarios with role players.
Beginning with 42 members, the Unified SWAT team now had 55 operators supported by 10 TACT deputies, who were given the option of attending Basic SWAT School. Unified SWAT also had five volunteer trauma surgeons beginning their tactical doctors’ program.
In Unified SWAT’s six-month metamorphous, three SWAT mindsets merged into one. In their first call-out, the two primary concerns – uniformity of equipment and the ability of teams to pool resources for training and call-outs – were put to rest.
Jim Weiss is a retired lieutenant from the Brook Park, Ohio, Police Department and a frequent contributor to LAW and ORDER. Mickey Davis is a California-based writer and author.