Oct 11, 2013 Editorial
It has been just over a week since the announcement by the Ministry of Home Affairs that Cabinet has approved the establishment of a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) unit, with the promise that “with a SWAT Unit, the Guyana Police Force would be better placed to make specialized interventions, thereby, ensuring law and order is maintained, and prospective threats are neutralized”.
The Ministry was careful to point out that the move has received the full support of the leadership of the Guyana Police Force.
With criminal gunmen operating with virtual impunity in many parts of Guyana, there is the belief that if left unchecked, not only will the populace have to live in crippling fear, but the nation’s stability will be tested.
The pressure these calculating gunmen continue to exert on Guyanese society is mind-numbing. In the not too distant past, even police officers were overwhelmed by the exploits of these often unknown assailants. In many cases, they simply could not match their firepower.
History tells us that allowing such a sore to fester would certainly not be the best option. All who lived through the crime wave in this century’s first decade know that procrastination was the order of the day then, and society paid dearly.
The authorities obviously do not want to appear to have dropped the ball again and the SWAT unit is obviously what they believe is the solution. But there have been a variety of interesting opinions expressed about the initiative, most of them cautionary, with memories of the dreaded Target Special Squad being evoked.
A former commissioner of police, for instance, has opined that the SWAT unit is not an absolute necessity, and will unlikely have any effect on the current crime situation. Also articulated was the notion that the unit would utilize much needed finances and manpower, and could become “wayward”, if poorly managed like specialized units in the past. There was, too, the particularly noteworthy suggestion that the existing Tactical Services Unit can do the job.
Given that the input on either side of the argument appears to be compelling, it is imperative that we acquaint ourselves with even the most basic knowledge about the imminent crime-fighting mechanism in order to assess its pros and cons.
Some interesting perspective is provided in an article written by Tim Dees and appearing on the website “Inner Body”. The writer informs us that:
“SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) officers are members of highly trained paramilitary units that tackle situations beyond the capability of conventional police forces. SWAT teams are called in when an incident presents significant risk to law enforcement officers or the public.
These elite professionals use their advanced training in weapons, teamwork and strategy to resolve crises such as: Hostage situations; Counterterrorism operations; Apprehension of armed and barricaded suspects; Suicide intervention; Warrant service under fire; Protection of visiting dignitaries; High-risk search and seizure; Covert and undercover operations; Crowd and riot control and Fugitive tracking in rural environments
While all SWAT officers are expert marksmen with in-depth training in close combat, most play a specialized role within the team. Some serve as negotiators or medics while others are experts in handling assault vehicles or weapons. Each team includes several tactical officers who coordinate and carry out assaults on barricaded positions and apprehend armed suspects.
When not responding to crises, SWAT officers perform more routine duties. Many spend a majority of their time in conventional policing activities such as patrol and traffic enforcement. In some areas, they use their specialized tactical knowledge to conduct crime suppression exercises that ferret out dangerous offenders.
Members are chosen from the ranks of experienced police officers based on their superior fitness, marksmanship and service record. The work of SWAT teams revolves around crisis response. Officers must therefore be prepared to face dangerous and life-threatening situations and to deal with people who are aggressive, dangerous, mentally ill or threatening the safety of bystanders.
SWAT officers are experts in a wide range of weaponry and equipment, some of which include machine guns, sniper rifles, armored vehicles, concussion grenades and night vision systems. Because of the risk inherent in their operations, they wear specialized body armor and protective gear on missions.
New recruits complete 15–30 weeks of academy training covering law, tactics, police procedure, firearms, emergency driving, report writing and leadership. Instruction covers both classroom and practical learning and includes simulations of common field situations.”
The aforementioned, even if not related to our model, requires high levels of professionalism – a characteristic frequently found lacking in our Police Force.
To SWAT, or not to SWAT: that is the question.
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