SWAT Team Commander (Retired)

SWAT Team Commander (Retired)

Captain Nick

Menlo Park, CA

Male, 58

I served as a Police Officer, Corporal, Inspector, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain from 1980 to June, 2011 in the SF Bay Area. In 1994, I was assigned to a regional SWAT Team as a Team Leader and Sniper. I became a Team Commander in 1999. When I retired, I was the senior Commander and Sniper Team Commander for the largest regional team in California. I now teach Administration of Justice at Skyline College and I'm the On-Screen Team Lead for www.GuardAmerican.com, a firearms training website.

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47 Questions


Last Answer on September 10, 2013

Best Rated

How did it feel the day you retired? Great? Sad? A relief? Is stepping away from such an intense job emotionally draining?

Asked by liza.dewitt over 10 years ago

I loved my job. It was so much a part of my life, 24 hours a day for over three decades, that leaving it was traumatic for me. Going from being "the man" who everyone calls in the middle of the night for guidance, direction, life-and-death decisions, responding code three to all manner of emergencies, going through doors with my men, adrenaline rushes, saving lives, etc, to the next day being completely out of the loop and sidelined, was very difficult for me. Other cops can't wait to retire and are very happy once they leave police work. In a way, I'm jealous of them. I would have done the job until they carted me off in a box. 

OK! How do you ensure that the hostage taker doesn't kill the hostage when a SWAT sniper tries to take him out? :)
(Is there always a coordinated storming of the location immediately after a shot? That's what I assumed...)

Asked by BarryD over 10 years ago

Thanks Barry! :-)

Here is one of the areas where the training and mission is a bit different between military and police snipers. Military snipers generally fire at much longer ranges than SWAT snipers. Their goal is to kill enemy soldiers or combatants, and a chest hit at many hundreds of yards will do the trick. If they don't die immediately, no big deal.

When a SWAT sniper takes a shot at a hostage-taker (which is a very rare occurrance) the absolute requirement is to save the life of the hostage. If the suspect is holding a gun to the head of the hostage or holding a knife to their throat, a shot to the chest or leg or anywhere else will cause the suspect to flinch, pulling the trigger or jerking the knife. Dead hostage. Not good.

Therefore, SWAT snipers train for the only shot that will ensure that the suspect will NOT reflexively shoot the hostage, and that is a brain shot. It sounds gruesome, but this is the only thing that instantly incapacitates the central nervous system, causing all muscles to relax rather than contract. The trigger finger goes limp, the hostage is saved.

So, SWAT snipers have a much smaller aiming point (and are much closer) than military snipers, generally speaking.

And it is a common tactic for entry teams to "MOVE" on a sniper-initiated assault.

I'm assuming from Your GuardAmerican blog that you're anti-gun control but how about assault weapons? Leading your SWAT team, how often did you face bad guys firing on your men with them? Do you think the dangers to law enforcement are exaggerated?

Asked by Joe Wendt over 10 years ago

You're right, Joe. GuardAmerican strongly supports the Second Amendment. A fact that often surprises people is that the vast majority of cops across the country are also pro gun rights, with the exception of some big city chiefs who are doing rh bidding of the elected officials they work for, and some cops in large East Coast cities.

This is a perfect time to clarify some terminology. An assault weapon is a fully-automatic firearm. Thanks to ignorance (or wilfull disinformation by politicians and the media) we are led to believe that semi-automatic rifles are assault weapons, which they are not.

Next, the people who use any firearm to commit crimes are overwhelmingly people who are not allowed by law to possess that firearm, or any other kind. In other words, if someone is planning on committing mass murder, they are not going to care if the weapon they are using is legal for them to possess, or if they are bringing that weapon into a "gun-free zone" like the Aurora theater massacre or a school.

Statistically, semi-automatic rifles are used in a very small percentage of crimes. SWAT Teams facing a criminal armed with a rifle is even rarer.


Do you get recruited to be on SWAT, or can any officer apply? And approx what percentage of candidates ultimately make it?

Asked by Clarke123 over 10 years ago

Hi Clarke,

SWAT is a specialty assignment, like K9 Handler, Motor Officer, Evidence Tech, etc. Only larger cities have full-time SWAT Teams, like L.A. and New York. All they do is train and respond to incidents. As such, at most departments, being on SWAT is an added, part-time duty on top of the officer's regular assignment, whatever that might be.

SWAT is something you only do if you truly love it and want to do it. If the department you work for has a team, and an opening comes up, officers may submit a letter of interest. In most cases, the next step is a shooting test and physical agility test. If you fail those, you're out until the next opening. If you pass, most agencies will have an inteview conducted by SWAT Team Leaders and Commanders from your department and maybe members of your regional team from other departments.

If you get past all these hurdles, you go off to a basic SWAT school. Some are a week long, good ones are two weeks or more. Once you graduate, you begin regular training with your team. When the Team Leaders think you're ready, you can start responding to activations or "call-outs." Initially, you'll be on perimeter details until you have proven yourself worthy and safe enough to your team mates to be on the entry team. Absolute faith and confidence in your ability and heart by those trusting you with their lives is required. This is an honor not easily achieved, needless to say.

Many would-be SWAT candidates can't pass the shooting/PT/interview process, and not everyone who goes to SWAT School passes the course. I'm sure it varies widely by department, but a 20% success rate seems about right.

When you or your team kills another human being (even if it's a bad guy), does that take an emotional toll?

Asked by Ruth over 10 years ago

Only people without a conscience or a soul can take a human life without any negative emotional component. Peer support, critical incident debriefings, counseling and other services are now available to cops (SWAT or not) who are involved in a killing, whether it's a purely "righteous" shoot or one that is questionable. 

If the dead suspect was a parolee in the act of hurting or killing an innocent victim or another cop, then the shooter usually does better with the emotional impact than a case where the deceased was a large kid who pointed a replica firearm at a cop in the dark...you get the idea.  

Is there a technology under development that, once perfected, will change the face of SWAT ops? For example, the gas that was used in the Russian theater hostage-taking would have been amazing if it knocked everyone unconscious WITHOUT killing them.

Asked by GuessWhat over 10 years ago

I agree completely...good gas that could knock everyone out without killing them would be great. The problem with that approach, however, even if the gas is perfected, is that it is not instantaneous, and as soon as the bad guys figure out they are being gassed, they will likely start to kill as many hostages as they can before they pass out. Russians might be OK with that kind of collateral damage, but we are not. Finding a technological answer to defeating an evil human with a weapon and bad intent against hostages is a very hard nut to crack. Maybe some kind of Taser-like room flash device that renders everyone's central nervous system instantly limp? That could work, theoretically. But even though the Taser has saved countless thousands of lives, once in a while a suspect, with the right combination of other factors present (bad heart, on heavy drugs, etc)  doesn't make it.

My question is what is a typical day for a S.W.A.T officer. Do you work patrol with your normal partner and are called away or are you called from home? What is a typical AM PM day including working family ?

Asked by Brandy B. over 10 years ago


This is my specialty. Please email me at moaoperator@gmail.com and I'll lay out the justifications for your bosses. I may not be able to respond until Wednesday afternoon PDT.