How SWAT Teams Work

Criticism of SWAT Teams

Although most people agree that units of specially trained and armed officers are needed for high-risk situations, there is growing concern that SWAT teams are misused and overaggressive. SWAT teams are called out to serve warrants on non-violent offenders, or conduct raids based on information from criminal informants, leading them to raid the wrong house. They burst into people's homes unannounced, terrifying the residents, who often react in self-defense. There are several cases in which a SWAT raid has resulted in needless terror, property damage and death:

  • In a South Carolina high school drug raid, armed SWAT officers forced students as young as 14 to kneel or lie down at gunpoint while drug dogs searched bags and lockers. No drugs were found [Source: CNN].
  • In Maryland, a SWAT team entered a home in the middle of the night to serve a warrant on a teenager who had a small amount of marijuana. The teen's mother thought that criminals were entering the home and was holding a gun when SWAT officers entered. They shot her to death [Source: The Examiner].
  • A 75-year-old retired minister died of a heart attack when a Boston SWAT team raided the wrong apartment, chased and handcuffed him [Source: New York Times].
  • An optometrist was shot and killed by a SWAT officer when the team was called out to arrest him for betting on football games [Source: Washington Post].

The tactics used by SWAT teams invariably lead to charges of excessive use of force or wrongful death lawsuits. While many of these suits are settled for undisclosed amounts, they can range from tens of thousands of dollars to multi-million dollar settlements. The South Carolina high school SWAT, for example, cost the police department, town and school district $1.6 million.

For lots more information SWAT teams and related topics, check out the links in the next section.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Aveni, Tom. "Law Enforcement: Goose Creek Agrees to Pay Up, Change Ways in Settlement of Notorious High School Drug Raid Case." The Police Policy Studies Council, July 14, 2006.
  • "Boston to Give Victim's Widow $1 Million in Wrongful Death Suit." New York Times, April 25, 1996. es=F30C1EF7345D0C768EDDAD0894DE494D81
  • Broadwater, Luke. "Study: Slain Dundalk mother part of troubling SWAT team trend." Baltimore Examiner, August 18, 2006. Study__Slain_Dundalk_mother_part_of_troubling_ SWAT_team_trend.html
  • Halberstadt, Hans. "Swat Team: Police Special Weapons and Tactics." Motorbooks International, May 1994. ISBN 0879388773.
  • Hogg, Ian V. "Counter-Terrorism Equipment". Greenhill Books, March 1997. 185367267X.
  • Jackman, Tom. "SWAT Tactics at Issue After Fairfax Shooting." Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2006. 2006/01/26/AR2006012602136.html
  • Marchington, James. "Counter-Terrorism Weapons and Equipment." Brassey's UK, December 2003. 1857533860
  • "Modern Marvels: SWAT." The History Channel.
  • "Police, school district defend drug raid." CNN, November 10, 2003.
  • Scoville, Dean. "How to ... start a SWAT team." PoliceMagazine/articles/77177/
  • "Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States. Boston: Civilian Review." Human Rights Watch.
  • Snow, Robert L. "Swat Teams: Explosive Face-Offs With America's Deadliest Criminals". Perseus Books Group, January 2000. ISBN 0738202622.
  • "S.W.A.T. Team Use In U.S. Law Enforcement Dramatically Increases." News Briefs. National Drug Strategy Network.
  • "SWAT U.S.A." Court TV.