Become a SWAT Agent: Education Requirements and Career Information

Sep 16, 2019

Learn how to become a SWAT agent. Research SWAT programs, job duties, and the requirements for SWAT agent roles in order to see if this career could be right for you.

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Should I Become a SWAT Agent?

Education Level High school diploma; graduation from police academy and some college coursework may be required
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement, or related field
Licensure/Certification Academy training; first aid certification
Experience At least three years of law enforcement or military experience
Key Skills Physical stamina, and strength; good judgment; ability to multi-task and strong perceptiveness; basic computer skills; firearms training and self-defense skills, first aid; U.S. citizen, at least age 21, no felony, domestic violence, or assault convictions; pass medical and drug screening, written tests, oral and psychological exam, and hiring board review; valid driver's license
Average Salary (2018) $65,400 (for police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings in September 2019

Experienced law enforcement and police officers who want to work on tactical response units may seek assignment to special weapons and tactics teams, better known as SWAT teams. These teams are found in large local police departments and at federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

SWAT team members are called SWAT agents which are law enforcement agents highly trained to handle dangerous situations, such as bomb threats and hostage situations. Because of the nature of the job, evening, night, and weekend hours may be required. The agent also must be physically fit and able to handle stressful, life-threatening situations. SWAT agents must be comfortable working with a wide range of weapons. The position carries a higher-than-average risk for injury or death. There is great reward, however, in helping and saving civilians from harm, in addition to the earnings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for police and sheriff's patrol officers in general was $65,400 as of May 2018.

Now let's take a look at the steps you can take to start a career as a SWAT agent.

How to Become a SWAT Agent

Step 1: Meet SWAT College Education Requirements

Fulfilling education requirements is the first step in this career path. Most law enforcement agencies require some postsecondary education or a college degree. Some community colleges offer tactical law enforcement programs which cover areas such as self-defense, firearms training, tactical operations, search and seizure, and tactical report writing. A few colleges also offer police academy training programs, while select private industry associations offer SWAT training programs.

Step 2: Join Law Enforcement

The next step to becoming a SWAT agent is to gain law enforcement experience. Only experienced officers may seek assignment to special units, including SWAT teams. Hiring requirements vary by agency. Generally, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years old, and meet physical and medical qualifications. Previous military experience is beneficial. There are also written and oral examinations, psychological testing, and drug tests. Individuals need to review the requirements of their prospective employers for more information.

Step 3: Complete Training Requirements for SWAT

Once accepted for employment, recruits must complete a rigorous academy program. Large police departments generally operate their own academy programs, while smaller agencies usually send trainees to regional- or state-run academies. These training programs are mentally and physically demanding. Training topics range from civil rights and constitutional law to emergency response, self-defense, traffic control, and first aid.

Step 4: Gain Experience

The next step after completing law enforcement academy training is to gain experience. Duties of a law enforcement officer vary by the type of agency and occupational specialty. Individuals starting out as rookie police officers at the local level are generally assigned to patrol duties in geographic districts and are partnered with experienced officers. During patrols, these officers look for any signs of criminal activity, respond to emergency calls, enforce traffic laws, and investigate complaints by citizens.

After a certain number of years of experience, officers may request to work on specific types of crime units. These special units may focus on narcotics, motorcycle, canine corps, community policing, mounted or horseback patrol, and SWAT. Experienced FBI special agents may seek a similar SWAT specialty via the agency's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT).

Step 5: Seek Continuing Education

SWAT officers interested in advancement to leadership positions or who want to work as federal law enforcement officers may want to consider earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field. A bachelor's degree in one of these fields is required for employment as a federal law enforcement officer, including a position with the FBI and U.S. Secret Service.

SWAT agents generally have some postsecondary tactical law enforcement training and experience in law enforcement, which generally entails completion of academy training.

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