How to Become a SWAT Officer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a SWAT officer. Learn about the job description and educational requirements, as well as read a step-by-step process to start a career with a SWAT team.

Should I Become a SWAT Officer?

The special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team is a highly specialized unit within a law enforcement agency that handles high-risk criminal situations. SWAT officers are responsible for handling riots, hostage negotiations, and other events that go beyond the scope of regular law enforcement. People working in these positions may possess a postsecondary degree and experience as police officers.

Working as a SWAT officer includes a higher-than-average risk of personal injury or death due to the fact that these officers are called into the most volatile and dangerous circumstances. In addition to being highly trained, SWAT team members must think coolly in high-pressure situations and be very comfortable with any kind of working environment, indoors and out. Specialized employees of government agencies are usually well-compensated and enjoy good benefits as well as job security. There is great reward in helping and saving civilians.

Career Requirements

Degree Level At least a high school diploma or its equivalent; many positions require a postsecondary degree
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement or a closely related field
Experience Several years of experience as a law enforcement officer
Key Skills Excellent communication skills, empathy, strong critical thinking and problem-solving abilities
Additional Requirements Physical fitness
Salary (2015) $64,000 per year (median salary)

Sources: Payscale.com; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Degree

A college degree may be strongly preferred or required in some jurisdictions to become a law enforcement officer. In areas where it is not required, a degree can still be beneficial for candidates who wish to advance to the position of SWAT officer. Associate or bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice will offer courses in court systems, criminal law, crime scene investigation and other aspects of the justice system.

Step 2: Secure a Job as a Law Enforcement Officer

SWAT officers generally begin as law enforcement or patrol officers. The minimum standards to become an officer vary by agency, but U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma and a clean criminal background can usually apply. Law enforcement officers must demonstrate their mental and physical competency by completing tests that measure strength, stamina, agility, endurance, vision, hearing and psychological health.

Once hired, law enforcement officers receive classroom instruction, physical training and simulation experience at a police academy. Topics covered at the academy include firearms, driving, arrest tactics, investigation techniques, communications, report writing, cultural sensitivity and legal issues.

Success Tip:

  • Start a fitness regimen before entering the academy. Physical training at the police academy can be strenuous, so candidates are encouraged to begin an intensive fitness program before attending.

Step 3: Advance to the SWAT Team

Promotion to the SWAT team requires an officer to have a good record on the job, be a respected member of the force and show his or her ability to handle the physical and mental demands of the position. Candidates must complete an exam to ensure that they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to handle SWAT duties. Once accepted to the team, officers receive special operation training that prepares them for job-specific situations.

Success Tip:

  • Continue to complete necessary training. SWAT officers must undergo frequent training to keep their skills strong and their bodies in peak condition. Officers are trained in self-defense, firearms, crisis situations and crowd control in training sessions that are held throughout the year.

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