High Risk Critical Task / Special Operations

Law enforcement experience has demonstrated that there are certain high-risk service demands which require specialized units equipped and trained to successfully handle these demands. Specialized tactical units, also referred to as SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics teams), ERT (Emergency Response Teams), and SRT (Specialized Response Teams) are such units. The mission of these highly trained and specially equipped units is to bring under control incidents involving highly volatile situations including persons with weapons, barricaded and/or hostage incidents, suicidal person calls*, and high-risk warrant service operations. These types of units are the most heavily armed within any law enforcement agency and demand deliberative decision-making and oversight. The specialized equipment and training of these units provide for greater safety of the subjects being confronted, employees directly involved, and the community. The agency will use these specialized units only in situations warranting the need for enhanced weaponry and training.

This type of specialized unit is designed to operate as a team. When deployed, the team should be at full complement. Individual members, however, may be used in other law enforcement field incidents to support or enhance operations by virtue of their specialized training and equipment. In any case where the use of an individual member is considered, the tactical unit commander shall be notified for assessment and approval.

Scenario: Deputies have been conducting an undercover narcotics operation that has targeted a number of individuals who have been selling methamphetamine from a single-family home. A search warrant along with arrest warrants for the suspects have been signed and the deputies request the tactical unit do the entry.

Question: Before the tactical unit commander agrees to execute the warrant and prior to the execution, what type of information must they obtain and what planning must take place?


  • Use of a Risk Assessment Matrix. Before the actual deployment of the specialized tactical unit, the agency shall evaluate the necessity for this deployment by using a risk assessment tool. This tool is a guide to evaluate the need to deploy the most heavily armed unit within the agency to ensure that it meets the risk potential of the incident. Are there weapons on the premises? How many people are in the home, do they have warrants, are they violent? Is the property fortified? Are there children in the home? Are there dogs present? Are there counter-surveillance measures being taken by the suspect?

Written Operational Plan. Before deployment of the specialized tactical unit, an operational planning session shall be conducted. Additional information on tactical operations planning can be found in the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) Tactical Response and Operations Standard for Law Enforcement Agencies.

*  Suicidal person or “non-criminal barricade” calls present unique risks, liabilities, and operational considerations for law enforcement, including specialized tactical units. For more information on this topic, consider listening to the podcast, Police Disengagement on Barricaded Subject Calls, available on the Police1 website.