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 do snipers adjust their aim when they have to shoot through a glass door or window, and isn't it really hard to gauge if the glass is at an angle?

Asked by JerParker over 10 years ago

Great question, Jer.

Snipers try to position themselves at right angles to the windows and doors they are responsible for covering, and this is one of the primary reasons. Of course, that's not always possible. The next consideration is how far inside the glass the suspect is located. If he's close to the glass, the bullet won't deflect far enough at slight angles to make a difference. If he's deeper in the room (several feet from the glass) then the deflection of the bullet can be enough to miss the kill shot.

Two additional measures used are the simultaneous shots taken by two snipers. In this case, two snipers make simultaneous shots at the same point of aim based on a countdown procudure. While the goal is to have the two shots go off at the same time, they are a fraction of a second apart due to human reflexes. The first bullet to hit the glass breaks it, and the second shot has no resistance or deflection as it passes through the shattered glass. It doesn't matter which shot is first or second; they are both aimed at the same spot, so the second one hits the mark.

Lastly, we have special ammunition designed specifically to reduce deflection on glass penetration. The very soft tip bites and drills through glass with minimal deflecting. The sniper carries this ammo in his backpack or vest and will select it if there is much of an angle through glass to deal with.

What does it look like when you're wearing night-vision goggles? Has technology made it almost like seeing in daylight, or is it still just low-quality black and green?

Asked by Bri90 over 10 years ago

When I retired, the night vision we were using was much higher definition than the old, grainy green First Generation NV we used to have. The picture is more of a black-and-white image now, and very clear. There may be even higher definition NV in use by some departments or the military by this time...the rate that technology is advancing is truly amazing.

In a hostage situation, how do you decide whether to try to kill the hostage taker? Is it enough that it's a maniac with a gun making threats, or does the situation have to have gotten critically unstable?

Asked by BarryD over 10 years ago

The goal of police officers is to save lives, not take them, so we do everything humanly possible to avoid hurting anyone. SWAT call-outs are driven by the actions of the suspect; we merely react to those actions. So, if I'm on the rifle in a hostage rescue incident, and I'm responsible for watching the suspect through a window, and he points a gun at a hostage or is holding a suspect with a knife under their throat, he is posing an immediate threat to the life of another, and I will eliminate that threat immediately. Someone should ask me how we can ensure that the suspect won't kill the hostage when we fire. Anyone? 

How much protection do those bomb disposal suits really provide? Are they designed to be able to withstand the full force of a blast from as close as 5 or 10 feet away? (And are the guys in the suit just the bravest SOBs on the planet??)

Asked by RogParsons over 10 years ago

One thing I will never do is pretend to be an "expert" in an area I'm not fully versed in. Explosives is one of those areas. I can tell you from my limited knowledge on the subject is that typical bomb squad suits are basically giant bullet resistant vests made from the same materials, but that cover the entire body, not just the torso. As such, they are good at stopping flying fragments and shrapnel common to small explosive devices. I can also tell you that what kills most people close to an explosion is the concussion of the rapidly expanding shock wave, which can liquify internal organs without leaving a mark on the skin. If the blast is big enough, and the bomb tech is close enough, the suit won't help much. So, yes, they ARE the bravest SOBs on the planet! BTW, I would be delighted to hear from a military EOD specialist or police bomb tech if my information is incorrect. Learning is never-ending.

P.S. One of my favorite T-shirts is the one that says, "I'm a Bomb Tech. If I'm running, try to keep up."

What's the most unconventional situation your team ever got called to handle, and what kind of improvising did you have to do?

Asked by LooseG00se over 10 years ago

One of the reasons that SWAT Teams train so much and in so many different possible scenarios is so that the number of "unconventional" situations are few and far between. Every call-out is unique and presents its own challenges. It could be a high-risk warrant service, an armed, barricaded suspect incident, a hostage rescue, a presidential protection detail...I will have to think about one that strikes me as the most unconventional and get back to you. Sorry!

Do SWAT teams in metropolitan areas use Spotters in addition to snipers/shooters or is that only in the military?

Asked by dan79 over 10 years ago

Yes, we do. SWAT sniper/observer teams deploy together in most cases, just like in the military, and for the same reasons. In police situations, a sniper team may be responsible for covering a particular door or window during a hostage rescue, and having two sets of eyes with different optics watching things is always better than one set. Relaying intelligence to the command post and to the entry team is a huge part of the sniper/observer duties, as well as providing force protection and overwatch to the entry team. At the relatively close ranges encountered by SWAT snipers, the observer is usually using binoculars with a wider field of view than the sniper can see through the rifle scope, and can direct the sniper to a particular window or doorway if the suspect is spotted. 

SWAT activations can last many hours; after a while, the sniper must be relieved in order to rest his eyes and muscles. While "on the scope" a sniper's job requires intense, 100% concentration in case a life-saving hostage rescue shot must be taken. Snipers are observers and observers are snipers, equally qualified in both jobs. A team of two can be self-relieving to extend deployment time for up to 12 hours if need be. 

The training and equipment used by police and military sniper/observers is very similar (sometimes identical.) Of course, police snipers can't call in an airstrike  :-)



On SWAT, do you only get the best of the best of the best officers, or did the occasional hothead or delinquent sometimes sneak through?

Asked by TrophyWife over 10 years ago

Hello Trophy wife!

I discussed the SWAT selection process in an answer I posted yesterday (not sure if you saw it) but to briefly summarize, we really try to make sure that no cops, whether on SWAT or not, are hotheads or deliquents. But since we are just plain old humans, sometimes one sneaks through the hiring cracks. It is extremely rare for anyone to make it onto a SWAT Team unless they are very calm under extreme pressure and have very good records as police officers. In the remote instance that an unsuitable cop made it to the team, he would be very quickly tossed from it. Peer accountablility and devotion to the wellbeing of the whole team is required of any SWAT operator, and a person without these traits wouldn't last a minute.

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. 


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

Asked by Seth over 10 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 over 10 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 over 10 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.

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 over 10 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.


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

Asked by Tonia over 10 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. 


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 over 10 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. 

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 about 10 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.


Did you have a hostage negotiator on your team, and what kind of negotiation tactics worked best? On TV, I see a lot of generic "do the right thing and turn yourself in" stuff but I assume it's way more advanced in practice.

Asked by TeFAL over 10 years ago


Currently I make stop motion animation films. My next will contain SWAT NYPD.

My question lies with this;
What exactly do SWAT officers communicate with? I may need a ton of sentences using phrases and key words. Such as these;https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-slang-terms-used-among-police-officers

Asked by Ryan over 5 years ago


Do the SWAT use the Kriss Vector?

Asked by Stephen over 5 years ago


Do. You guys use. Signs And what gear did you use And thx for your service.

Asked by Rowan geist almost 3 years ago


Can you please tell me the difference between SWAT and FBI's SWAT team? I've been doing a little research on it but I can't find a good answer, most answers talk about FBI's HRT

Asked by Pou over 10 years ago


Is it possible to reach 400,000 dollars a year as a swat medic ? Id really like to be part of the sheriff department and make my way into swat as a medic but if I cannot reach 200k eventually id like to go to Medical school. thank you for your time.

Asked by Jonathon M almost 3 years ago


In a scenario where a man is armed in a house and has threatened to shoot his children and any Officer that comes near him, he exits the house in your sights. You can not see any weapons, but your team leader say take the shot. What do you do?

Asked by JK over 9 years ago


Can an EOD suit protect against firearms? Low to high caliber, such as maybe a small pistol to a large rifle. Thanks.

Asked by Calvin C. over 9 years ago


My friends and I are having an argument. Say there was a school shooting and you were sent in to take down the gunman. If you spot someone in the school with a gun would you shoot first? Or give the gunman a chance to put the gun down

Asked by Bryant over 5 years ago


Do you think there should be some types of guns or ammo that are only available to law enforcement, or does the 2nd Amendment trump all in your mind?

Asked by IMO over 10 years ago


Im almost done with high school and i am not looking at future jobs/ careers. I've been interested in being a firefighter but i also was interested in SWAT. I've done a bit of research but i've seen the same answer time and time again "It's too much

Asked by Ivan over 5 years ago


I want to join the swat team for Chicago IL and so does my cousin. We wanted to join it all our lives and per say that we are put together as partners or something, is that a possibility or not, thanks.

Asked by That Guy almost 10 years ago


Hey man what do you think of Rick form Think Like A Cop YouTube? Officer 401? Doughnut operator? And many more?

Asked by Jay about 4 years ago


How bad is it for the person who provided the Intel on a raid that turns up nothing? For instance, I would assume that a bit a lot of research man hours time and money goes into a swat raid like an officer maybe a detective and undercover detective provide you with Intel that something illegal is going on in a house maybe they’re selling drugs maybe they’re human trafficking maybe they’re cannibals I don’t know, but provide the Intel y’all then prepare for the rate I’m sure you do it some background on the person or people involved on the property itself potential dangers, escape routes areas you need to cover maybe you have a few meetings ahead of time maybe you have a few walk-throughs hell I don’t know what y’all do but I’m sure it involves a lot of man time in money it was that all equals money right so my question is you you performed the raid and you come up with nothing not one smidgen iota of a criminal activity the people are perfectly clean. The cop has absolute bunk, Intel what happens to the cop the provided the Intel does he get fired? Does he get demoted? Does it come out of his paycheck? I mean nothing at all I’m just curious.

Asked by Fletchjr 12 days ago


how long does it take to retire from the S.W.A.T team?

Asked by Brandon over 9 years ago


i have a question i want to become a police officer but when i was around 16 when i first got my license i backed into somone and i got out to check for damage and there was none so i drove off does this affect my chances of becoming a police office

Asked by tj over 5 years ago


First, THANK YOU for this glimpse into SWAT team life! Fascinating:) If you're wearing a bullet-proof vest and get hit by a round, will the force of the bullet still knock you over? (And have you ever been shot yourself?)

Asked by ValerieShulz over 10 years ago


Are the bomb disposal suits bullet proof?

Asked by John Pykett over 8 years ago


I'm writing a novel (fiction) so im wondering how would a swat member take a child from a tax evading family. (that would be their payment, so to speak) Probably not a usual question, but hehe

Asked by Paula Hochban over 4 years ago


I assume SWAT attracts officers with exceptionally high intensity. Does that make insubordination more of a problem or are they also highly-disciplined and quick to follow orders?

Asked by HammerPants over 10 years ago


Are LAPD SWAT officers trained in bomb diffusing, or does that fall to a bomb squad?

Asked by StoryNotes over 10 years ago


when did you have the most adrenaline and why?

Asked by Diego over 9 years ago


Hi, can you get a ticket if your state does not require two plates but you drive into one that does require two plates? Thanks!!!

Asked by Tim over 2 years ago


If a SWAT team is full time is it like the fire department? Do they just come in and wait until they are called?

Asked by Tim over 2 years ago


How did you get into SWAT? Did you have to start by being a police officer first

Asked by Dillon sturgeon about 7 years ago


I just finished reading the Carlos Hathcock biography, wow. Is he still considered the greatest sniper who ever lived? How about present-day: is there someone who's generally acknowledged as the best sniper currently working?

Asked by Dynamo over 10 years ago