Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Most SWAT teams are only committing 3-4 training cycles per year to hostage rescue. That's absurd...and frightening.
The Most Important Task
I recently took a class with the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) where an empirical statistic was given by the instructor. In his experience traveling throughout the country and working with SWAT teams from agencies of varying sizes from varying jurisdictions, he found that most teams were only dedicating 2-3 training sessions each year toward hostage rescue scenarios. In the absence of any context, I could only interpret the statement to mean that teams were not developing skill sets or building reality-based scenarios around hostage rescue incidents. The low number seemed like an anomaly to me until I made my own non-scientific inquiries to other teams. Remarkably, I found that most other teams rarely trained for the hardest task any team will ever undertake.
Train for what you might have to do...
Granted, the bulk of the work for most teams nationwide seem to come from warrant service and barricaded suspects. We seek safer solutions to critical incidents that would otherwise tax conventional patrol assets. Hostage rescue incidents are, thankfully, few and far between. They are not only replete with threats to life, but with liability for the agency, the team and the individuals. However, HR is the one skill where every team MUST be proficient when the time comes. Our training focus should not be on the tasks we do frequently and do well. Our training should be on the tasks we suck at and need to do well when the time comes. We train for the things we might have to do.
HR training should be comprehensive, but also based on a reinforcement of basic skill sets. Sound tactics are necessary. Tactics absent the ability to shoot accurately are pointless. Thus, teams need to hold high standards in firearms training. Speed is important. But uncontrolled speed can be a detriment. We need to process what we see and maintain control of the space. Information drives our tactics, thus the flow of information must be continuous. Saving the hostages is the mission. But knowing how and when to evacuate hostages could be the difference between success and catastrophe. Training needs to be a reflection of these complexities which are inherent in the single most important, most dangerous mission any team will likely encounter.