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How Do I Become a SWAT Officer?

SWAT officers are a part of highly trained teams within police departments that handle difficult criminal situations, such as counter-terrorism efforts, hostage situations, and the pursuit of highly dangerous criminals. These teams are exclusive parts of police departments, and to become a member there are specific requirements.

Education and Other Requirements
A minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent and passing a thorough criminal background check area required to become both a police officer and a SWAT officer. Also, candidates must usually be U.S. citizens and at least 21 years old. Generally, law enforcement agencies require individuals to pass physical examinations that assess hearing and vision, physical strength, and agility. Many law enforcement organizations prefer candidates with a college degree in criminal justice or related area. Many departments require law enforcement personnel to pass physical and mental examinations prior to beginning their career.

Nearly all SWAT officers start their careers as police officers or patrol officers. In these positions they receive the essential training at a police academy or related instruction. They must show their ability to perform law enforcement tasks, and gain significant experience in the field. In general, police officers must have a minimum of three years of experience before applying to become a SWAT officer. In many departments, excellent police officers are placed on promotion lists that determine their level of advancement. To move up on the list, officers must demonstrate above-average job performance and achieve high scores on examinations. Aspiring individuals can attend voluntary training programs in marksmanship, defense tactics, and other areas to gain a competitive edge for the position.

Necessary Skills
Aspiring SWAT officers must have great critical thinking and interpersonal communication abilities. They must also demonstrate excellent physical fitness and marksmanship. SWAT officers must demonstrate empathy, and have emotional stability to deal with unpleasant and dangerous situations. They must be quick on their feet, and have the ability to make good decisions in stressful situations. Many departments require candidates to have a recommendation from a high-rank officer.

Advancing to the SWAT Team
Police officers who demonstrate excellent skills, have a good record, and show they can handle the demands of the position are encouraged to volunteer to join SWAT teams. Higher-ranking law enforcement professionals commonly choose the selected individuals. Potential candidates are often required to pass an examination that assesses if they possess the necessary knowledge and abilities to work on the SWAT team. After accepted, SWAT officers undergo about 15 to 30 weeks of specialized training. The topics include crisis situations, self-defense, weaponry, hostage negotiation, and crowd control. Depending on the needs of the specific SWAT team, some new officers complete training in explosives, armored vehicles, and sniper tactics. Additionally, SWAT team officers must complete regular training to keep their skills up to date and maintain physical stamina.

Licensing and Certification
Some states and law enforcement agencies require SWAT officers to pass certification examinations and annual fitness training. Others require officers to re-qualify to use specialized weapons on a regular basis.

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