SWAT teams are used when there is an elevated degree of danger to life or property. Team members are trained in the use of lethal and less-lethal weapons. In many organizations, the assignments are considered "collateral duty," that is team members work full-time in various positions in the police department, including patrol, traffic, or as detectives. SWAT team members must pass a rigorous physical fitness test, be proficient with firearms, and have thorough knowledge of department policies and procedures. SWAT teams train constantly, and members often cross-train in all assignments. SWAT teams are typically organized as crisis-intervention teams, with both negotiation and assault capabilities. Teams generally respond to situations that are high-risk and/or require specialized training, expertise, and equipment. Team members may be specially trained as grenadiers, snipers, crisis negotiators, or medics.
Regardless of job duties or location, police officers at all levels must write reports and maintain meticulous records to be used if they testify in court. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, county police were the most likely to perform special weapons and tactics operations, although most municipal police departments, sheriffs' offices, and state agencies did so, also.
Police work can be very dangerous and stressful. In addition to the obvious dangers of confrontations with offenders, officers need to be constantly alert and ready. Many law enforcement officers witness death and suffering resulting from accidents and criminal behavior. A policing career may take a toll on officers' private lives.
Uniformed police officers are usually scheduled to work 40-hour weeks, but paid overtime is common. Shift work is necessary because protection must be provided around the clock. Junior officers frequently work weekends, holidays, and nights. Police officers are required to work at any time their services are needed and may work long hours during investigations. In most jurisdictions, whether on or off duty, officers are expected to be armed and to exercise their arrest authority whenever necessary.
Police and detectives held about 840,000 jobs in 2002, with local governments employing about 81 percent and state police agencies about 11 percent. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, police officers employed by local governments primarily worked in cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants. Some cities have very large police forces, while thousands of small communities employ fewer than 25 officers each. SWAT teams may comprise as few as five officers or as many as 30 depending on the size of the locality.
To become a member of a SWAT team, an officer must first serve as a police officer. A SWAT team officer must also undergo special and continual training. The basic requirements for joining a SWAT team are the same as those for a police officer.
SWAT team members typically draw the salary of a regular police officer. Police officers had median annual earnings of $42,270 in 2002. Median annual earnings were $47,090 in state government and $42,020 in local government.