Becoming a swat officer is no easy task. You have to go through rigorous training just to get into the program, and then you have to pass the physical tests required by swat officers. It’s not a job for everyone, but if you’re willing to put in the work, it can be an incredibly rewarding career path.
The first step to becoming a swat officer is to complete your basic training. This consists of courses such as self-defense tactics, firearms training, defensive driving, first aid training and more. You’ll also need to complete an obstacle course that simulates situations you might encounter while on duty.
Once you’ve completed all of your basic training requirements, you can move on to SWAT School where you will learn advanced tactical skills such as rappelling from helicopters or using explosives for breaching doors during an emergency situation. After completing this course, you will be ready for fieldwork where your skills will be put to the test in real-life scenarios with other officers from around the country who are equally ready for anything!
How To Become Swat Officer
SWAT officers respond to situations that are beyond the capabilities of regular police departments or law enforcement agencies. These officers are heavily armed, maintain a high level of physical fitness and receive education in emergency response tactics. They are on call in case a situation escalates or an emergency request comes in, but they also perform routine policing duties.
In this article, we discuss what a SWAT officer is and how to become one.
Get personalized salary insights with the Indeed Salary Calculator
What is a SWAT officer?
A SWAT officer, or special weapons and tactics officer, is a paramilitary officer who uses military-level weaponry and strategy against threats. SWAT officers face some of the most high-tension situations in police work. They usually work for bigger departments like a large police force, county sheriff’s department or federal force because of the costs that their weapons and gear incur. Federal agencies like the FBI, border patrol, secret service, coast guard and national parks service all have their own SWAT forces.
Related: 21 Jobs in Law Enforcement
What does a SWAT officer do?
A team of SWAT officers responds to situations that officials deem to be beyond the capabilities of local police. Here are some situations that might involve SWAT forces:
- Hostage or barricade situations
- Crowds or riots
- Undercover operations and counterterrorism efforts
- Remote emergency situations or hazardous material situations
- Suicide intervention
- Warrants for high-risk search and seizure operations
As well as fulfilling general obligations, SWAT officers often perform a special function within the team. These specializations can include:
- Operator of large vehicles
- Tactical expert for barricade situations
How to become a SWAT officer
The route to becoming a SWAT officer involves joining another agency, gaining experience and then joining the SWAT team within that agency. Here are the steps to become a SWAT officer:
1. Meet entry-level position requirements
Before pursuing steps to become a SWAT officer, you’ll want to make sure you meet the basic requirements for most entry-level positions:
- Have earned a high school diploma or GED
- Are at least 18 years of age (higher in some areas)
- Have a driver’s license
- Are a U.S. citizen or in the process to become one
Related: Learn About Being a Police Officer
2. Consider a college degree
As you prepare for entry-level police work, you might choose to get a college degree in criminal justice to improve your job prospects. These programs may be associate or bachelor’s degrees, and they include coursework on law, homeland security, criminal investigation, juvenile justice and corrections. Colleges may offer this major in person or online.
3. Consider military experience
Because police work and military work both involve heavy regulation and the use of weapons, a military background can prepare you to become a police or SWAT officer. This route can be an alternative to a college degree, and it helps you become physically fit enough to meet department SWAT standards. You might consider working with special operations forces like the Navy SEALs, Army Night Stalkers, Army Rangers, Air Force Special Tactics or Marine RECON groups, where you can learn about tactics, negotiation principles and special equipment and weapons operations.
4. Join a local or federal force
The next step is to join a police department or state or federal agency. It’s important to read and understand the responsibilities for the position you’re looking into and decide whether the daily work is interesting and manageable for you. While SWAT officers are on call for high-stakes situations, they spend most of their time doing regular police work.
5. Complete training
Once you join a force, you’ll complete classroom and field training. For the police force, this might include several months of police academy training, which includes classroom learning and technical practice, and then completing a certain amount of field training where you work with another officer. For a federal force like the FBI, training is specific to the department, usually taking place at a national facility. Depending on previous experience, these training programs can take anywhere from three or four months to a few years to complete.
6. Gain experience
Many SWAT teams require two to three years of experience as a regular officer or agent. During this time, work to keep a clean service record and excel at your duties. Because leaders promote officers to SWAT teams from within the force, success as an officer can increase your eligibility for SWAT positions.
7. Meet SWAT requirements and join the team
The requirements and process to join a SWAT team depend on the force and the area. For some departments, the process to join a SWAT team involves an application and selection by higher-ranked officers, while others require that all officers complete a rotation on the SWAT team.
Most SWAT teams have rigorous physical requirements for entry, so potential SWAT officers pass tests for physical strength and agility. Other tests for SWAT candidates include vision and hearing assessments.
A written test evaluates the candidate’s critical reasoning ability, while an interview and extensive background check help determine whether the officer’s record and background are acceptable. Candidates might also have to pass a psychological evaluation and drug test.
8. Undergo SWAT training
SWAT training involves additional academy and field training, and it can include instruction in the following areas:
- Combat techniques for self defense and close combat
- Operation of specialized vehicles like armored trucks and helicopters
- Weapons training with concussion grenades and other explosives
- Marksmanship with sniper rifles, handguns, sub-machine guns
- Navigation with night vision systems, GPS and other orientation systems
- Special situation tactics like counter-sniper techniques, barricade breaching systems, underwater operations and crowd control
- Undercover operations
- Handling hazardous materials
This training often takes place at a regional or national center, and it can involve traveling to specialized gun or weapon facilities. To replicate SWAT calls, the training usually includes simulation exercises in abandoned buildings, special facilities or constructed towns.
Skills for a SWAT officer
A SWAT officer has exceptional skills and characteristics in these areas:
- Teamwork: The SWAT team works together closely to perform tactical responses, so a SWAT officer is comfortable cooperating closely and performing any necessary role.
- Communication: SWAT officers have excellent communication skills so that they can coordinate their responses to confusing and dangerous situations.
- Courage and dedication: SWAT teams can work longer hours and in more strenuous conditions than other officers.
- Physical ability: SWAT teams maintain a higher level of physical fitness than other officers.
- Weapon skills: SWAT candidates need excellent marksmanship, and officers maintain knowledge of how to most effectively use their military-level weaponry.
Read more: 13 Skills for a Police Officer
Salary and job outlook
The national average salary for a police officer is $53,190 per year. A SWAT officer’s salary depends on rank, department and location, and can include overtime and holiday pay. SWAT officers may earn additional hazard pay and can often make more working for federal forces than they can working for local or state departments. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% growth in total police detective and officer positions by 2030, a rate much faster than the national average.
Top job searches near you
Career development tips
Here are some tips for getting a SWAT officer job and succeeding in the role:
Stay physically fit
SWAT officers have to pass yearly physical fitness tests, so maintaining or improving your level of fitness from your initial officer qualification can help you remain on the SWAT team. Most departments also require SWAT teams to spend a certain number of work hours per month on training, which can help officers stay fit.
Maintain weapons, tactics and legal knowledge
SWAT teams use some specific weapons that require regular licensing or qualifications. Reviewing those requirements can help you make sure none of your qualifications lapse. It might also be helpful to seek options for continuing legal education since new laws and regulations can change a police officer’s obligations and duties.
Look for additional education opportunities
As a regular officer or agent, you can pursue opportunities outside the required classes or licenses to make yourself a strong SWAT candidate. You might practice at a firing range to improve your marksmanship or take classes in communication or emergency response beyond what your agency requires.