SWAT training, like other training in police departments, may be getting reduced due to tightening budgets from the current economy. Trainers and team leaders needing to keep their teams sharp will have to learn to do more with less time. The following is a blueprint to more effectively utilize your training hours and develop more leadership within your team.
Start by task training as a group exercise. Particularly due to the number of officers on a SWAT team, there are situations during training where some members are practicing a task while others watch and wait for a turn. Also, if the team is practicing a full scenario such as a barricaded subject, there could be long periods of time where officers are holding perimeter positions or are locked down in a position as negotiators try to talk the subject out. This realism of how long and tiring these situations can be is good for team members but when training time is tight, it may limit opportunities to sharpen other skills.
Trainers should consider more frequent use of task training exercises where members are split up in groups and go through various sections that incorporate different training functions. For example, a 16-man team with a four-hour block of training can be broken up in groups of three or four that then cycle through three task stations, which could run for about 50 minutes. This allows a 10 minute lag for when officers are switching to another station.
At the end of the three hours, officers could then group together for a one-hour team scenario exercise. For the team exercise, officers would just set up for the exercise at a vital point in the scenario. This would be left up to the team leader or trainers. If a team has eight hours, they could double each section's time or add more scenarios.
The following is an example of a task-station training program for a four-hour block of training done at a police station that has a range. Groups would rotate through the three stations for three hours and then get together as a team for the fourth station, which would run an hour. Team medics should be incorporated into all the exercises as they could find themselves in situations where they may be forced to either defend themselves or have to help perform a task not normally under their purview. Being familiar with team equipment and weapons is important.
Task One is surveillance equipment exercises. Officers would practice using their surveillance equipment such as mirrors and pole cameras from tactical positions to identify objects in a room such as numbered papers placed at different points within the room. Task Two is officer down drills. Officers would practice using cruisers or armored vehicles to rescue injured officers. Task Three is range training. Officers would practice different SWAT range courses. Task Four is scenario exercises. The full team would group up and practice different scenarios.
Some other stations could include room dynamics, deploying distraction devices, gas mask exercises, defensive tactics work, or whatever a team leader or trainers consider important to practice. The benefits for this type of training are that a lot of material can be covered in shorter amounts of time.
If a particular tactic is going to be covered, the team leader can send out the information prior to practice via e-mail or written material. Officers could read or study the material and be more prepared for a presentation on the content at the team practice. Then the tactics can be incorporated into a station or as a full team exercise.
Don't forget tabletop exercises develop leadership. The use of tabletop exercises should be considered for a station. This type of training allows officers to think about more than just particular skill sets or individual assignments. Officers are tasked with figuring out how to best approach a situation using team resources and tactical considerations. This type of exercise can also help develop leadership within team members. Besides tabletop exercises, officers should be encouraged to make suggestions on training stations or set up different ones and direct them.
The use of this type of training can help a team better utilize its training time, allow officers to practice using equipment they may not have familiarity with due to other officers usually handling it, as well as develop leadership for team members. It should be considered as part of a SWAT team's training function.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org