SWAT forces are Special Weapons And Tactics teams, a concept imagined by John Nelson in 1967 and named Special Weapons and Attack Teams by Inspector Darryl Gates. They were renamed to their current appellation in 1969 for a less militaristic feel.
Originally 15 taskforces in the LAPD (deemed necessary in a context of unrest surrounding the Vietnam war), SWAT teams today are present in many police departments and used by federal law-enforcement agencies such as the FBI. Sometimes given different names such as SERT (Special Emergency Response Team) or ERT (Emergency Response Team), they are combat-trained paramilitary task forces who are meant to operate as first-responders to dangerous emergency situations. These groups confront hostage situations, arrests considered “high-risk”, provide security for high-profile events,... Michael Green names two strategies used, “forceful tactics”, involving storming buildings, sharpshooting, (…) as opposed to “peaceful tactics” involving negotiation, persuasion and “waiting out” the targets.
SWAT agents work with stun guns and rubber bullets, semi-automatic handguns, shotguns, submachine guns, standard and high-power rifles, body armor, tear gas,… all military-grade weapons, as Balko critically points out in Rise of the Warrior Cop to address how policing in the United States has become more and more militarized.
Criticism has arisen in recent years surrounding ovceruse of such militarily-trained, forceful first response units in situations which are not deemed dangerous enough for these interventions to be warranted. According to Kraska in Militarization and Policing - Its Relevance to 21st Century Police, the number of SWAT interventions across the nation increased by 1400% in twenty years, going from 3000 interventions a year in the 1980s to 45000 raids per annum in the early 21st century. This increase is not directly correlated to an increase in violent crime, however, but rather to an overuse of SWAT teams in drug raids, which represented 80% of deployments, perfectly illustrating the ways in which law enforcement is progressively militarized.