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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40 Questions


Last Answer on September 10, 2013

Best Rated

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 5 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 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 5 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. 

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 5 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.


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 5 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.  

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 5 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.

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

Asked by Seth over 5 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.  

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 5 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.