How Do I Become a SWAT Officer? - Requirements, Ranks & Salary

Read on to find out everything you need to know about becoming a SWAT officer, from the training and educational requirements to the salary and job growth. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team members handle high-risk policing assignments like hostage situations, covert operations and search and rescue. SWAT officers must have experience as police officers first, and departments often prefer candidates with at least a 2-year degree in criminal justice. See the chart below for a quick overview of the career.

Degree Required High school diploma; associate's or bachelor's often preferred
Education Field of Study Criminal justice
Training Required Training provided by employers
Key Skills Courage, physical strength, leadership, communication
Job Growth (2016-2026) 7% (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)*
Median Salary (2017) $61,050 (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do SWAT Officers Do?

SWAT officers handle some of the toughest situations in law enforcement. They go after potentially dangerous fugitives, setting up quietly and strategically so that suspects are on the ground before they know what hit them. They deal with high-stakes hostage situations, search-and-rescue missions, high-risk raids, explosive breaching and covert tactical operations. When necessary, they're called upon for crowd control in situations that could escalate into violence. They may provide security protection for VIP targets, such as politicians.

Do You Need a Degree to Become One?

There's no explicitly required degree to become a SWAT officer. However, it's not a field that just anyone can get into by going to school and applying. Members of the SWAT team are all police officers who have proven themselves worthy of the position. In a sense, you could become a SWAT officer with a high school diploma and experience on the force. However, many departments are now showing a preference for officers who have at least an associate's or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

What Training is Required to Become a SWAT Officer?

Officers who are interested in getting on the SWAT team undergo extensive training. This training is offered by the department for which they work. Training varies from department to department, but officers are often trained to specialize in breaching, helicopter insertion, sniping, special weapons, situation de-escalation, rappelling and much more.

What are the Ranks for SWAT Officers?

Police typically rank as follows: officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, deputy chief, and chief, with officers often being eligible to join the SWAT team.

The incident commander is a high-ranking official who is not usually a member of SWAT, possibly the police chief; they deploy the SWAT team in response to a situation. The team commander (or officer in charge) chooses SWAT team members, manages administrative/organizational issues, and serves as the overall commander on a scene. This individual typically possesses high police rank (such as lieutenant) and significant experience on the SWAT team.

Team leaders are a rank down from commander (often sergeants) and work to create the tactical plans for incident resolution; they may change operations in the heat of the moment. Other operators fall into one of many specializations, such as negotiation, munitions, and sniping/anti-sniping.

How Much Can You Make as a SWAT Officer and What is the Demand?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median annual salary for all police and sheriff's patrol officers, which include SWAT officers, of $61,050 (as of May 2017). The site Payscale.com, which compiles self-reported salary figures, offers more specific data. According to Payscale.com, the median salary for a SWAT team member in 2019 was $71,899.

Hard numbers are difficult to come by in regards to the projected job growth for SWAT team members. However, by looking at the growth for police and sheriff's patrol officers in general, we can get a ballpark sense of where the field is going. For that category, the BLS predicts employment to increase by 7% between 2016 and 2026, which is also the projected average growth for all occupations.

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