Homeland Security

Remembering the sacrifice of law enforcement, and how they must strive to always improve

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This week commemorates Police Week, and law enforcement professionals from across the nation will converge in Washington, DC to honor those officers killed and injured on the job. In 2015, according National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 124 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty, an increase from the previous year.

Despite the risks to their own safety, every day, thousands of police officers serve professionally and honorably. Still, there are strains between law enforcement and some communities. One aspect of these tensions stem from the use of special weapons and tactical officers, known as SWAT teams.

{mosads}Throughout the United States, there are about 17,000 different SWAT teams affiliated with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. Common criticisms leveled against SWAT teams are that they are overly militarized, deployed too often and show to little regard for personal property.  While I believe this assessment is off the mark, I do worry that some Americans perceive SWAT in this troubling manner.  

Due to the concerns of the militarization of SWAT, there have been calls by policymakers to eliminate a Department of Defense program that gives police departments surplus equipment. Known as the 1033 program, it provides items such as night vision, ballistic vests and helmets and personal protection equipment including protective clothing. 

Although the US has seen a steady decrease in overall crime over the last decade, law enforcement agencies have also been challenged with increasing threats such as violent gang and extremist group activity, border security issues and active shooter scenarios in schools, businesses and other public venues.  This is why SWAT teams are necessary and access to equipment through the 1033 program is critical. For everyone’s safety, we cannot allow criminals – or anyone intent on doing harm to the public — to be better armed and equipped than law enforcement.

In conjunction with ensuring that SWAT teams have access to the best equipment, it is essential that SWAT teams are trained to properly use that equipment. Effective training increases the likelihood of safe outcomes for officers, the public, assailants and also helps to protect public property. To make this a reality, a state of the art training academy has been developed to empower SWAT leaders with better decision-making skills and effective supervision and leadership skills. The academy will also offer the first-ever national certification for individuals who oversee tactical teams, helping to further professionalize the discipline.

To build trust between SWAT teams and the communities they serve around the nation, my organization, in conjunction with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, recently surveyed 254 law enforcement agencies about their SWAT teams. We learned a great deal of information about how SWAT is used, how often it is deployed and what challenges they face. We are sharing this information freely with the American public, academics, the media and policymakers to ensure all stakeholders better understand these issues.  Hopefully, this new data will lead to even more research and ultimately help positively shape policy and tactical decisions to ensure the most effective use of SWAT

Lastly, I feel obligated to remind my fellow Americans that there are very dangerous people in the world. Regrettably, one day, the only thing standing between an active shooter and you or a loved one may be a SWAT team member. Because this is the case, we all have a solemn responsibility to ensure that our nation’s tactical officers are highly trained and properly equipped. I take this responsibility very seriously and I hope during next year’s Police Week, we can cherish the knowledge that fewer law enforcement officers will have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Mark Lomax is the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), a law enforcement membership organization representing over 40,000 individual members and 1,600 tactical teams.


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