Created By: AmenhotepII on April 9, 2011 Last Edited By: AmenhotepII on April 20, 2012

SWAT: Swagger, Weapons And Testosterone

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Do We Have This?

Needs a Better Title?

The tendency in any medium for SWAT teams to behave incompetently, rashly, and unprofessionally, usually leading to their own demise, paving the way for our Cowboy Cop or Action Survivor to save the day.

Overlaps with Red Shirt Army, but the SWAT team does not necessarily need to be killed. More often than not, their gung-ho, trigger happy attitude just fouls up the situation further, putting hostages/bombs/innocent bystanders in danger by shooting the wrong guy or being too loud or noticable. Generally, SWAT teams in fiction are given an elitist, almost Jock-like attitude full of unnecessary machismo and arrogance, in contrast to other police officers who are either depicted as hard-boiled detectives, simpleton beat officers, or edgy undercover types.

Basically, in any situation where a SWAT team is employed, expect the situation to swing against the protagonist's favor.

Similar Tropes: The Worlds Expert on Getting Killed, Red shirt Army, Police are Useless, etc.

Notable examples:

  • Die Hard. Multiple times. From standing in a glass doorway, ignoring hostiles just inside the building in the first movie, to casually dismissing potential targets in a dangerous situation in the second movie, it's a bad idea to be in a SWAT team when John Mc Clane is around.
  • Done again in The Professional, where one hitman in a small apartment ruins an entire SWAT team.
  • Batman: Year One. The Gotham City SWAT team is alluded to have committed massacres in the past. In one scene, a Cat Scare promts a full-on barrage from said SWAT team.
  • In The Negotiator, with Samuel L Jackson, a preemptive assault by a SWAT team is botched, and several members are captured.
  • Lamphaded in Naked Gun 2 1/2, where Frank Drebin almost causes a deathless Suicide by Cop by patting a SWAT officer on the shoulder.
  • Averted in Inside Man, where the SWAT commander is relatively calm, and their plan for breaching the bank goes off without a hitch. Too bad this accomplishes nothing in stopping the heist plot.
  • In Sin City, Marv massacres most of the SWAT teams sent after him.
  • In Predator 2, some nameless, faceless SWAT officers accompany our hero, Danny Glover,and his rag tag team into a building full of armed coke fiends. After one of said coke dealers bursts out of a room firing indiscriminately, the SWAT team spends 4 WHOLE SECONDS standing in a tight group doing nothing. They are summarily cut down.
  • Terminator 2 flip flops on this one, first showing a competent team using proper tactics when clearing a room. Later, the same team stands completely still while unloading hundreds of rounds of ammunition into the Terminator (including bullets that very obviously hit his face). Instead of retreating, they hold their ground and are incapacitated violently.
  • The original Dawn of the Dead might have the Most Triumpant Example, featuring..
    • Blodthirsty, gung-ho, racist remarks from Wooley, who's just dying to kill everyone.
    • The nervous new guy takes the first bullet directly in the face from an obviously untrained militia member armed with a revolver. It's really an impossible shot.
    • Wooley happily kicks in doors, blasting innocent bystanders while breaching the apartment complex and laughing merrily while discharging his revolver down a smoke-filled hallway.
  • Watchmen has Rorschach defeat a SWAT team with little more than household appliances. May be justified due to his Crazy-Prepared nature and the element of surprise, but this gives the impression that a SWAT team never prepares for surprises, and that the other officers covering the door have terrible reflexes.
  • The V for Vendetta comic has a (British!) SWAT analogue not only use an elevator (bad idea), but also has them blow away a hostage disguised as the protagonist after cornering him in a recording studio. Keep in mind, they knew the protagonist was wearing a bomb vest and they still shoot him in the chest without any warning.
    • Alan Moore must really hate SWAT.
  • A SWAT analogue is slaughtered in the first episode of the Second Season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This leads the government to turn to Section 9 to clean up the mess.
  • Money Train. A Transit Police SWAT analogue (wearing everything short of "SWAT" on their backs) expends dozens of rounds of ammunition into a teenaged pickpocket running in their direction. When called out about it, they shrug it off as "following orders".
  • Speed also flip flops, showing Keanu Reeves as a competent officer, but also showing two major infractions.
    • Jeff Daniels and his team, despite knowing that they are entering the lair of a mad bomber, send the WHOLE TEAM into the building to be blown up.
    • After successfully getting the wounded bus driver off of the bus, SWAT officers encourage more hostages to flee the scene, despite being expressly told not to. Explosions and deaths ensue.
Community Feedback Replies: 26
  • April 9, 2011
    We've got Police Are Useless.
  • April 9, 2011
    ^ Either that trope needs a revamp/rewrite, or we need this trope. That one explicitly states that it is about Police refusing to act in a desperate situation, and is not about an incompetent police force. Secondly, this trope is about professionals making terrible decisions that affect the plot despite ostensibly being professionals. If anything, it's closer to Red Shirt Army than Police Are Useless. If Police are Useless is changed to reflect the popular conception of the trope, I suggest this be a subtrope.
  • April 9, 2011
  • April 9, 2011
    certainly covers the attitude, but not their inability to positively influence the plot. When was the last time you read/saw a fictional example of a perfectly successful raid by a SWAT team? Fiction really hates this section of the police force, and I can't understand why. Special Forces occasionally win out in fiction and are often shown to be pretty awesome, but any time a SWAT team shows up, the situation is guaranteed to sour.
  • April 9, 2011
    Sounds like Cowboy Cop Up To Eleven. Love the title.
  • April 9, 2011
    This is covered quite admirably by Redshirt Army -- military units usually don't do so hot either against the Big Bad that the hero has to take down.

    That said, I also love the title.
  • April 10, 2011
    Was it really a SWAT team that took on Rorschach? I could swear it was regular beat cops.
  • April 10, 2011
    The SWAT team in The Blues Brothers would probably be a parody of this (hut! hut! hut! hut! hut! hut!).
  • April 10, 2011
    Averted in Criminal Minds. Hotch used to be SWAT before he worked for the FBI, and whenever SWAT is called in, it's not only necessary, but impossible to make the capture without them. They know their jobs and allow the BAU to accompany them.
  • April 10, 2011
    Re Alan Moore, as he is an anarchist I would imagine he isn't very keen on police forces generally, not just SWAT teams.
  • April 10, 2011
    • This is Peter Grant's view of the The Territorial Support Group, the The Met's version of SWAT, in Rivers Of London. In his opinion their most useful attribute is that they make handy scapegoats so that the regular coppers can blame any cockups or disasters on them.
  • October 8, 2011
  • October 8, 2011
    In the movie Swordfish, the SWAT team is led around by the nose by the villain. One of the many scenes of their incompetence is when they drag a booby trapped hostage away from the transmitter that is preventing them from exploding.
  • October 8, 2011
    Why is this trope called SWAT: Swagger, Weapons and Testosterone? It doesn't seem to imply what the trope means, that SWAT is incompetent. Unless you are implying "swagger", "weapons" or "testosterone" makes you incompetent. If "Swagger" means looking cool, that's just Rule Of Cool. "Weapons" allow SWAT teams to take down or kill their opponents. "Testosterone" is often considered the male hormone, so if you're implying men are all incompetent, then that's Unfortunate Implications. Also, "testosterone" is in both males and females, and the hormone helps both sexes with things like strength and endurance, which SWAT teams need.

    So, in conclusion, in my opinion, you might want a better title.
  • October 8, 2011
    Also, "testosterone" is in both males and females, and the hormone helps both sexes with things like strength and endurance, which SWAT teams need.

    On this wiki, testosterone is used as a code word for excessively "manly" or "macho". See: Testosterone Poisoning.
  • October 8, 2011
    Why is this trope called SWAT: Swagger, Weapons and Testosterone?

    Because the trope namer was looking for a good acronyms. See: Fun With Acronyms.

    Perhaps use, "SWAT: Stupid, Wrongheaded, and Tsomething"?

    I don't know, the original title was fine with me and others seem to like it.
  • October 8, 2011
  • October 10, 2011
    @ AaronHong: not as much "X, but even more so" as "the world of X". So it may be a valid trope after all.

    Cops Are Cowboys?

    Also, Hollywood Tactics is somewhere there too.

  • October 10, 2011
  • October 11, 2011
    So this is where the SWAT team acts like Cowboy Cops? That page has the following paragraph:

    "In a SWAT Team type situation where the cops are expected to shoot to kill, he does not care about human shields or property damage and will more often than not almost level the place to take down the suspects, with extreme lethal force."
  • October 11, 2011
    • In Rush Hour the guy in charge of a SWAT team completly brushes off a warning from Jackie Chan's character (who's been chasing the villain for years). The entire team subsequantly all pile into a building where they're blown up.
  • October 11, 2011
    ^^The over macho SWAT team which swaggers around high on its own testosterone just looking for something to shoot, smash, explode, or all three, is distinct enough for its own trope.
  • October 12, 2011
    Compare also Sociopathic Soldier.

    The Boys: Can't remember if they're heavily-armed private security or actual SWAT-equivalents, but the team sent in to retrieve the Female is destroyed one by one, going from overconfident bravado and gun worship to panicked and screaming, involuntarily quoting Alien the whole way.
  • October 12, 2011
    In the movie "Held Up", the SWAT infiltrator of the convenience store was thwarted by a skunk placed by the local cops and captured by the robber with an inferior weapon.
  • October 12, 2011
  • April 20, 2012
    I like the concept but a different title that suggests SWAT pros bungling it then being a bad crew.