by Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
MILTON – A recent class of the Milton citizens police academy detailed what police do in SWAT.
SWAT - "Special Weapons And Tactics" – was conceived in Los Angeles in the 1960's to combat growing violence from riots to drug runners to heavily armed criminals.
"There was a realization that the criminals were often better armed than the cops," said Andrew Phillips, the instructor of the class and a veteran SWAT officer, having served in Marietta and currently in Milton.
More police officers are hurt in their routine beat than SWAT officers. This is because a SWAT officer knows to be ready for a dangerous situation and has the armor and weapons to deal with it; a patrol officer on a routine stop may simply be checking a vehicle for an expired tag and find himself dealing with a car full of drug runners armed to the teeth.
SWAT officers are typical police officers who are trained on heavy weapons or specialized tactics. In Milton, several officers serve as a part of the Alpharetta team. They are often outfitted with special armor and heavy weapons.
There are only 10-12 calls a year for the SWAT in north Fulton, so there is no need for a full-time, standing team. The most common reason they are called out is to execute high-risk warrants where the suspect is known to be dangerous and armed. The next most common is a gunman barricaded in a building, possibly with hostages. They can also be used for counter-terrorism.
In each team every officer has a specific role. These are broken down into four basic groups – establish a perimeter, make entry into a building, snipers and tactical medics.
A small operation – an apartment with a gunman – could take upward of 20 officers. A perimeter needs to be set up to keep the gunman in and civilians out of harm, snipers need to be surrounding the building, and a 6-10 man team needs to be ready to break down the door and secure the area. Much larger operations, such as a large house or a commercial building, could require much, much more. The Milton-Alpharetta team has about 20 members.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Phillips informed the class that SWAT officers have been training the marines and army, since the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are typically more along the lines of clearing a house of armed suspects than a battlefield. And that's what SWAT does best. It's an even trade off, though, since many of the advances in battlefield medicine are born in, well, the battlefield, SWAT medics are often trained in military medicine.
But the there is no battlefield in Milton. Instead, SWAT teams are training more and more for a school shooting or hostage situation, similar to the horrific Beslan shooting in 2004 in Russia.
"We used to train for a Columbine-type shooting," explained Phillips. "Now we train for a Beslan-type with an organized threat." Terrorists overran the Russia school and more than 300 students lost their lives. A school, with a large number of hostages and potential exits, is Phillips nightmare scenario.