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

What was the WORST outcome for your team during your time as Commander, and does it still haunt you?

Asked by Seth about 11 years ago

Not being able to save every hostage is the worst.  When it happens, we always second guess ourselves, wondering if we could have altered the outcome in some way by making different choices in split second, life-and-death situations under tremendous stress. In a recent hostage rescue, we saved two small children, but their mother was killed by the suspect before we could rescue her. It was awful.  

How can I help my husband deal with his grief and feelings of hopelessness from a forced retirement from the team?

Asked by katee about 11 years ago


Wow...that is a tough one. I feel for him (and you) more than you can imagine.  I retired from the PD and the team after a full career; it was not forced, but I still miss my job very much, especially the SWAT team and my brothers. I still haven't gotten over not being part of it anymore. One day, I was on-call 24-7, looked to for leadership and decision making, and the next day I was a civilian. It was (and is) very difficult for someone dedicated to this elite profession.

i guess what I'm saying is that I really can't offer any good advice, especially without knowing more about the circumstances  of his retirement.  You can reauch me at Nickgottuso@guardamerican.com if you feel comfortable sharing more personal background info with me. That might help me in assisting him. 

Very sorry for his loss. I feel his pain. 


Have you ever engaged in an operation that you knew was certain to kill innocents, but was still approved as necessary to prevent greater casualties?

Asked by tony v about 11 years ago

Hi Tony,

The job of all cops, SWAT or not, is to save innocent lives at all costs. The safety of innocents is absolutely number one. I can only think of one type of situation like the one you are asking about: Let's say SWAT has cornered a known terrorist group in a van all set up to deploy a chemical or biological weapon via spraying it while driving down a freeway. Let's say a hostage (innocent victim) is being directed at gunpoint to drive the van and it's about to begin its attack. A sniper may be authorized to take out the driver to prevent the van from moving. Even in this extremely unlikely scenario, a sniper would first try to disable the vehicle by shooting the tires and/or engine block. Most high-end sniper teams have .50 BMG rifles for this exact purpose. Needless to say, the chances of something like this happening are extraordinarily remote.

Is there such a thing as a full-body bullet proof suit that will protect even the head and eyes?

Asked by Tonia about 11 years ago


A full body suit (like what bomb squad people wear) weighs a ton and you can't move very fast in it. Dexterity is severely hampered. It's just not practical for a team that must move quickly. There are leg and arm coverings and helmets with bullet-resistant face screens, but again, they are very cumbersome and heavy. 

We try to find a balance between good protection and high mobility, which is not easy. A good alternative is the pointman carrying a bullet resistant shield that everyone can stay behind in a single file team movement.  It can be dropped when and if it is no longer needed and won't slow down the team. 


What tasks that you currently do "manually" are we on the verge of being able to do with robots? For example, we still see cops clearing houses by kicking in doors and storming in. Are we really that far away from just sending in a Roomba instead?

Asked by GuessWhat about 11 years ago

There are some jobs that machines can do very well. UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, are a good example) but there are other things that require human mobility, judgment and compassion that robots don't yet have. Drones will never replace human pilots for certain missions, for example.

We already have plenty of gadgets that we use to reduce the risk to SWAT operators. Throw phones, parabolic microphones, bomb robots, remote-controlled video vehicles, etc., all have their place in certain scenarios and can often provide good intelligence on what's happening inside a crime scene. But current police robotic devices cannot run up stairwells, climb fences or jump over furniture in pursuit of a suspect.

I'm not saying this will never happen, but I don't see it becoming an operational reality anytime soon. I know I'm old-fashioned, but I hope machines never replace humans for such things.


I work for a 50 man department who has the capability of sending a patrolman to swat school for the regional team. Do you have any ideas i can throw at my administrators to let me tryout. They don't seem completely opposed to it.

Asked by Mike almost 11 years ago


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


I'm thinking about becoming a policeman for a large department (LAPD, NYPD, CPD). Should I just do patrol or should I join SWAT?

Asked by AZlift about 11 years ago

Regardless of where you work, you have to start your career as a patrol officer. If, once you've been on patrol for the minimum required number of years (this varies by department, but is usually 2-3), and your department has an opening on SWAT, you can apply. Big cities like the ones you mentioned have full-time teams, so that would be your daily job if you make it. On the other hand, you may love patrol and want to stay with it.