"Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams,1 first appeared in American policing in the later half of the 1960s when a series of high-profile incidents -- such as Charles Whitman's murderous sniping from a tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin that claimed over a dozen lives -- showed that a single violent episode could easily outstrip the capacity of 'standard' law enforcement tactics, weapons, and officers to respond effectively. Innovative police officials thus developed SWAT teams to provide their agencies with the means to handle such extra-ordinarily dangerous incidents (see, e.g., Hudson, 1997; Kolman, 1982). In the years since the first teams came on line, SWAT units have grown in number, sophistication, and frequency of operations, so that today the vast majority of the police agencies serving populations over 50,000 have some sort of tactical team, and yearly SWAT deployments nationwide number in the tens of thousands (e.g., Kraska and Kappeler, 1997). Despite the crucial role they currently play in dealing with the high-risk incidents that are commonplace in contemporary policing, we know very little about how SWAT teams around the nation are organized, and even less about what they do and how they do it. The primary reason for this is that very little research on tactical teams and operations has been conducted. A second is that the small body of research literature that has been produced is quite limited in scope. In 1998 the National Institute of Justice funded a study designed to help develop a better picture of the role that SWAT plays in contemporary American law enforcement. This study included four distinct data collection components. The first was a nationwide survey of law enforcement agencies with 50 or more sworn officers (N=2,027) that sought information about their emergency response capabilities and structures (henceforth referred to as the SWAT Operations Survey, or SOS). The second aspect of the study was the collection of standardized after-action reports from SWAT teams that agreed to provide information about select aspects of incidents they handled (henceforth referred to as the Post Critical Incident Report, or PCIR). The third element of the research was a series of site visits to several police departments during which the PI observed their SWAT teams. Finally, both the PI and the second author of this report conducted intensive observation of SWAT teams in areas near where they resided, accompanying these teams during training and field deployment at critical incidents."
National Criminal Justice Reference Service: http://www.ncjrs.gov/