SWAT officers practising their tactics.

"S.W.A.T. is a life-saving organization, not a life-taking one. That's why the FBI and Secret Service come here to train with us."

One of the more iconic, recognizable, and dramatic images of law enforcement, the Special Weapons And Tactics Team cuts an immediate and dramatic figure in any crime drama, police serial, or other story that immediately tells everyone present that the situation is deadly serious. They are usually called in for hostage scenarios, fortified and armed suspects, high-risk warrant raids, and terrorist threats. SWAT teams are easily recognizable, clad in black/blue clothing, helmets, body armor, and wielding heavy weaponry, special tactical gear, and armored vehicles. They usually wear masks, be they balaclavas or gas masks, both for practical reasons (most balaclavas are fireproof, and gas masks help when dealing with tear gas) and to help keep them anonymous and disposable.

The role of the SWAT team in fiction varies depending on the work in question. If they're on the heroes' side, they can be either elite, well-equipped problem solvers, the rescue party who bursts in to save the day, or inept or ill-fated mooks who die to show how dangerous the villains are. In other works, a SWAT team can serve as a Hero Antagonist if they oppose a protagonist who is falsely accused or otherwise principled but on the wrong side of the law. If the protagonists are criminals, a SWAT team is often the faceless masses that exist to get gunned down, or a major threat to the protagonists. In very cynical works involving a Crapsack World or dystopia, the SWAT team can be State Sec made up of Dirty Cops. Effectiveness and role generally depends on the Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement.

SWAT teams in fiction are often inaccurately portrayed as opening fire immediately on suspects, or otherwise being Trigger Happy, or even deliberately killing suspects who present no immediate threat. In reality, SWAT serves as a life-saving police unit. The ideal objective when a SWAT team is sent in is that everyone—hostage, bystander, operator, and suspect—comes out alive. SWAT officers have very specific procedures they usually have to follow; for example, a SWAT officer is supposed to clearly identify himself to a suspect, and can only open fire if the suspect raises a weapon or otherwise presents a threat to the life or safety of another.

In recent years, the deployment of SWAT teams in real life has been increasingly called into question. Originally intended to respond to situations that, typically, would be unlikely to be encountered even once in any given officer's entire career, the vast majority of SWAT deployments are now to execute arrest and search warrants, often against non-violent offenders. Radley Balko's non-fiction book Rise Of The Warrior Cop covers a lot of the history of SWAT - noting that in the standoff with the Symbionese Liberation Army, the SWAT team asked for a Grenade Launcher and were told in no uncertain terms that they did not have permission to obtain or use one. Fastforward to the present day, and hundreds of surplus grenade launchers, fifty-calibre machine guns, and armoured vehicles have been given to Police forces across America - despite the fact that violent crime has been declining for decades.

May also be referred to as ESU (Emergency Service Unit) in the many shows about New York City Cops.

Examples of this trope:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Not content with just SWAT, Appleseed introduces ESWAT — Extra-Special Weapons and Tactics teams. These guys are definitely on the Badass Army side of the scale; they're almost a military in Olympus.
  • SWAT teams are featured throughout Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; on three occasions, Section Nine deploys to resolve hostage situations Niihama SWAT can't handle; Batou and Saito rescue a Japanese Coast Guard Special Security Team operator; Aramaki holds off a corrupt CO19 team in London with a grenade, an alarm clock, and clever thinking; and there's the Narcotics Suppression Squad, a SWAT Team made of dirty cops and unsavory types, run by the Ministry of Health.
    • And then by Solid State Society, Section Nine has grown large enough that it has its own dedicated SWAT Team.
  • SWAT snipers are deployed by the Dubai Police Force during the Orchestra arc of Jormungand, but aren't terribly effective.
    • Among the HCLI crew, Lutz was a former SWAT sniper before he joined Koko's team.
  • Anti-Skill in A Certain Magical Index is the non-powered portion of city law enforcement, and most frequently shows up as SWAT teams. They're fairly competent, but out of their league against the more powerful Espers and sorcerers.
  • The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department deploys the Special Assault Team in Terror in Resonance to locate the bombs Sphinx planted in Episode 3. The SAT is again deployed in Episode 6 to secure Haneda Airport against a terrorist attack.
  • The Special Assault Team eventually gets deployed in Parasyte against the titular monsters.
  • A few Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais elements (Special Police Operations Battalion) were sent to raid the penthouse in Rio de Janeiro where Alucard and Seras are staying in the third volume of Hellsing, having been told by their Millennium-backed superiors that they are terrorists. Their performance against Alucard is... typical.

  • In Still the Twelfth Man, one of these is dispatched when Max Walker barricades himself inside the commentary box with Richie Benaud hostage.

    Comic Books 
  • In Watchmen, a NYPD ESU team goes after Rorschach midway through the comic and subdues him, though not without him kicking some serious ass in the process.
  • In the Punisher comics, SWAT's effectiveness varies. they're generally portrayed as reasonably competent, but not as skilled, experienced, or especially as ruthless and violent as Frank Castle.
  • In the Marvel Universe, a New York city ESU team named Code: Blue, composed of badass cops equipped with above-average technology occasionally helps the local heroes deal with supervillains.
  • Superman's home city of Metropolis also has a similar team known as the Special Crimes Unit.
  • In Batman: Year One, Gotham City's Police Dept.'s SWAT team is a murderous goon squad gleefully following the orders of the corrupt Commission Loeb. When they tried to corner and kill Batman, they are no match for him.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • SWAT units appear in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In the former, they're little more than a Redshirt Army who can't stop either Batman or the villains, but in the latter they are actually pretty competent and effective, once they realize the Joker has switched the hostages and his minions.
  • SWAT appears again early on in The Dark Knight Rises; in the initial engagement with Daggett's men they hold their own, but a number of them are easily sniped by Barsad, Bane's right hand man. Many of the cops sent to search the sewers are also SWAT.
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, an LAPD SWAT team responds to the break-in at Cyberdyne. They fatally wound Miles Dyson, but are utterly helpless against a cyborg like the T-800, who casually incapacitates most of them without killing them.
  • In The Negotiator, a SWAT unit attacks protagonist Danny Roman when a couple of Dirty Cops try to take him out when he gets too close to the truth behind his friend's murder. The SWAT team is driven back without anyone getting killed, though one of them is captured in the process.
  • In The Siege, the FBI SWAT team leads the raid on a safehouse where co-conspirators in the bombing of an MTA bus are holed up. During both bus hostage situations, the NYPD Emergency Services Unit makes appearances.
  • Both Boston Police Department and FBI SWAT teams appear in the Fenway Park shootout in The Town, with the deaths of criminals Desmond Elden, James Coughlin and Albert Magloan all coming at the hands of SWAT team bullets.
  • In The One, Jet Li's character Gabriel Law is a member of the Los Angeles County SWAT. An alternate-universe SWAT unit is also featured at the beginning of the movie, and a multiversal SWAT equivalent appears throughout the movie.
  • SWAT serve as a Redshirt Army in Die Hard and Die Hard 2. The LAPD SWAT team doesn't even get to fire a shot, whereas the five-man airport SWAT unit, when ambushed by four of Colonel Stuart's henchmen, only is able to kill one of the mercenaries before being entirely wiped out. It takes McClane to take out the remaining three soldiers.
  • In Hard Boiled, HKPD Special Duties Unit operators show Big Damn Heroics in the hospital siege by helping to evacuate the maternity ward.
  • In Dawn of the Dead (1978), a SWAT team, including two of the main characters, raid a Zombie-infested apartment building in the beginning. They sport the usual early-era black bulletproof vests and caps as well as M16 rifles.
  • BOPE, the protagonists of The Elite Squad, were originally a conventional hostage rescue SWAT Team. Now they're a Badass Army that fights fire with fire. (At best.) Or as the director said in an interview "SWAT teams are trained to rescue. BOPE are trained to kill."
  • The Raid follows an Indonesian SWAT Team called Detachment 88 going into an apartment building filled to the rafters with the worst thugs in the city. At the end of the movie, only two D88 cops survive. Out of twenty.
  • S.W.A.T. is centered on a Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team. The movie starts with Street and Gamble getting thrown off one, then about a third of the way in Sgt. Hondo Harrelson comes in and handpicks a new one, including Street.

  • The Rainbow Six novel and games focus on an international version of this composed of special forces troops and police officers recruited from various nations who work as a counter-terror and hostage rescue unit.
    • Other Tom Clancy novels have included appearances by the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. An HRT sniper is a recurring character.
  • In Shadow Ops, a New York City ESU team is assigned to support Shadow Coven when they're called in to take down a rogue Physiomancer loose in the sewers underneath the city. Being Muggles in a setting where said Physiomancer can literally reshape human flesh at will (both others and its own), most of the unit gets horribly massacred in the ensuing encounter.
  • In Daemon, a FBI Hostage Rescue Team attempts to assault Sobol's booby-trapped mansion. Most are driven back, but one of them, Roy "Tripwire" Merritt, manages to get in, becoming a Hero Antagonist and Famed In-Story.

     Live Action TV 
  • Both SWAT teams and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams appear in The Sarah Connor Chronicles frequently, when police and the FBI close in on either the Connors or the machines hunting them. It almost always ends badly for them. Their usage here falls under Wrong Genre Savvy in that Ellison knew he was against a serious threat and called out the HRT, assuming they could deal with any reasonable enemy. Unfortunately he was dealing with a Terminator and SWAT teams don't bring anti-tank weapons.
  • 24 features numerous variations of SWAT teams and federal response units, and CTU has their tactical teams. They generally serve as a Redshirt Army, as the phrase "we're setting up a perimeter" is synonymous with "the badguys are already escaping." When the tactical teams do manage to contain the badguys, however, the resulting gunfight is usually a Curbstomp Battle in favor of the good guys.
  • In The Cape, the local city's SWAT units are actually Private Military Contractors that serve as the Faceless Goons for the Ark Corporation.
  • Flashpoint is about the Strategic Response Unit, which is an Emergency Response Team-type unit based in a City with No Name (filmed in Toronto, Canada). Much like the original S.W.A.T., nearly every episode has them responding to a major incident that in real life would be a rare event.
  • SWAT teams have appeared from time to time on Burn Notice, usually forcing Team Westen the additional challenge of avoiding shootouts they can't win.
  • FBI Hostage Rescue Teams also show from time to time on Criminal Minds; in one episode they deploy to protect the FBI building from an UnSub who's a retired Navy SEAL. He gets into the building before they're even deployed.
    • Plenty of non-HRT SWAT teams show up in the series as well. Of particular note is one episode where a SWAT team launches a raid on a heavily armed cult compound while two members of the team and a social worker are inside, which after a gun battle leads to the team members getting captured and the social worker killed.
  • The TV series S.W.A.T., which the above-mentioned film was based on. Generally what happens is a crisis goes down that requires SWAT attention, the SWAT team gears up and piles into its infamous "War Wagon", and the criminals give up the second they see SWAT on the scene.
  • Civilian SWAT teams appears a few times on JAG.
    • In the second season episode "The Guardian", Bud is trapped inside a church with a crazy homeless veteran who is a murder suspect and an MPD SWAT team is sent to the church and captures the suspect, but only after Harm has done his usual share of heroics.
    • In "The Martin Baker Fan Club", an MPD SWAT team enter Harm's appartment after one of the crazy fugitive veterans grabbed a side arm from a police officer. The suspect is arrested but another veteran is shot at.
    • The opening of "The Colonel's Wife" is of a San Diego SWAT team, while on a drug bust, discovers the origin of a drug shipment.
    • In "Persian Gulf", an MPD SWAT team enters after Mac killed the terrorist Fadik Sahd.
  • Blue Heelers has the Victoria Police equivalent Special Operations Group used several times throughout the series. One season five episode had them wearing the Boonie hats and looking more like soldiers dressed as police or police with body armor and special weapons, much like the Heelers and other police are when they conduct high-risk operations. After the station bombing they are played straight; black outfits, helmets and body armor, storming, raiding and searching a bombing suspect, complete with weapons at low ready as they sweep and clear for any suspects or signs of explosives.
  • SOG also appear as the black suited super soldiers they are in Underbelly. They work with detectives to entrap and barricade Jason Moran before using sledgehammers to break him out of his car, Steven Owen uses them to arrest Carl Williams after he made death threats (Owen claimed he was armed and extremely dangerous, so they roughed him up) as well as planting listening and monitoring devices.
  • Law & Order features the NYPD Emergency Service Unit. They wear heavy vests and riot helmets and tend to carry Ithaca 37s and M16s. The Season 4 episode "Kids" even shows a female ESU officer being first through the door in a raid.
  • FBI SWAT officers appear in The Blacklist, but are usually given the Worf Effect; the SWAT team escorting Liz, Ressler and the General's daughter in the pilot is slaughtered and the VIP captured, while in "Anslo Garrick," the SWAT officers guarding the black site are easily killed by Garrick's mercenaries.
  • In Person of Interest, the US Marshals have a SWAT Team among the Marshals guarding Alonzo Quinn. They prove to be ineffective against John Reese, who (while bleeding to death from barely treated gunshots) nonlethally curbstomps them to get to Quinn.
  • S.W.A.T. is centered on one of these.
  • ESU teams appear at times throughout Blue Bloods, responding to a variety of situations (including guarding Frank after he's been shot).
  • Hill Street Blues is one of the few Police Procedural series to have the commander of the precinct's SWAT teamnote  as a regular character, in the form of gung-ho Noble Bigot with a Badge Lt. Howard Hunter. A few of his team also achieve Recurring Extra status.
  • Nineteen Two has the Groupe tactique/Tactical Group for the Service de Police Métropolitain whenever the force needs them to go against armed criminals. Needless to say, they get into trouble when some of their elements get taken out by a bomb attack, pointing to the possibility of a rogue cop helping out organized crime in Montreal.
  • The Japanese drama S: The Last Policeman (which is based off of a manga) features a fictional police squad called NPS (National Police Safety Rescue) which is stated to have the ideal combination of the mobility of the SAT and the investigative skills of the SIT (Special Investigative Team). The movie sequel S: The Last Policeman - Recovery of our Future also has SAT, SIT, and SST units in it as well.

     Video Games 
  • SWAT serves as an enemy throughout the Grand Theft Auto games, generally as an antagonist in different missions, and as one of the grades of police response called in as more crimes are committed. By 4, the SWAT team is replaced by a Homeland Security expy known as NOOSE.
  • The S.W.A.T. installments of the Police Quest games obviously involve this, eventually progressing from a point-and-click adventure game to a top-down tactical simulator to tactical squad-based first-person shooters. The SWAT games heavily emphasize the use of proper police procedure: cuff every enemy, collect evidence, report all injured or dead people, always announce your presence and demand surrender before firing, and especially emphasis on trying to take down suspects alive. The latest game in the series is SWAT 4, made by Irrational Games (the team behind BioShock and System Shock 2).
  • A Detroit SWAT unit appears early on in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, containing the hostage situation at the Sarif factory. They eventually go in after Adam Jensen enters the facility and recovers the top secret prototype he's after. Jensen himself is also ex-SWAT.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, the NCR's Veteran Rangers utilize gear custom-made from Pre-War SWAT and Riot Police gear. Joshua Graham also wears a Salt Lake City P.D SWAT tactical vest as part of his custom armor, which the player gets a variant of after completing the Honest Hearts DLC.
  • The Mass Effect games have a sci-fi equivalent in the form of Citadel Security's Special Response division. Aside from the usual SWAT-style duties, they also serve as the front-line defense of the Citadel if it is attacked. According to the second game, they suffered heavy losses while fighting off the geth incursion in the first game, and in the third, they take a hefty beating when a major Cerberus force attacks the Citadel in an attempt to assassinate the Council.
  • In Mafia II, Empire Bay has a SWAT unit that appears in several missions during the DLC's. This is a unique anachronism as the game is set during The Fifties and the first SWAT teams didn't become operational until about 1964 or 1968.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist has the SWAT team as your main enemies since you're a heavily armed robber. The SWAT team come in varying appearances, gear, and tactics. There's also special SWAT units designed to disable you quickly.
  • SWAT in Batman: Arkham Origins is, for all intents and purposes, just another gang of thugs, usually seen shaking people off for protection money or violently disputing over turf with other gangs, and their chief is the single dirtiest cop in all GCPD (and that's saying something). They decide to completely ignore their police duties for the night in order to try to earn the bounty on Batman for themselves.
  • Raccoon City's SWAT team appear in the intro cutscene in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis to showcase how powerful and dangerous the zombies have become by having the entire team slaughtered by them. The SWAT officers use submachine guns and shotguns while the regular police officers use pistols, but even the extra firepower were no match against the zombie horde.

    Real Life 
  • "SWAT" is the term used to refer to special response units belong to local county governments in the United States, with federal law enforcement branches having their own equivalents (for example, the FBI field office SWAT teams and the Quantico-based FBI Hostage Rescue Team). The SWAT name has also been used in the following countries:
    • Bangladesh. Under the control of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, but under the Detective Branch.
    • China. Major cities like Beijing and Shanghai have their own SWAT teams under the control of the Public Security Bureau.
    • The Philippines. Each city has a SWAT team under the control of the Philippine National Police.
    • South Korea (Similar to the Philippines).
    • The city of Dubai in the UAE has a SWAT unit created in 1991 under the Dubai Police Force's General Department of Organisation, Protective Security and Emergency.
    • In India, the city of Delhi has a SWAT unit of its own in 2009 (Officially in action by 2010) to counter potential terrorist attacks in the city after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 with the first of its officer trained by the National Security Guards and Israeli security contractors. The state of Punjab also has a SWAT unit, whose existence was officially announced to the public in 2009 with its first officers also trained by Israeli security contractors. In 2010, Aligarh has established a SWAT team within its own police force.
  • Many U.S. cities don't use the term "SWAT". The NYPD and the Port Authority have SWAT teams, just not under that name. There, SWAT team functions are one of many jobs undertaken by these forces' Emergency Service Units, which handle any situation that requires advanced equipment and expertise, such as car accidents, building collapses and hostage situations. Common titles in other jurisdictions include Emergency Response Team, Special Response Team, or Tactical Response Team.
  • Germany has the GSG-9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9 - Border Protection Group 9) a highly successful anti-terror group which was formed after the 1972 Olympic Games Massacre, which saw common riot police and beat cops advancing on the terrorists in stahlhelms and colourful tracksuits (in a botched attampt at 'disguise') with military-grade rifles they had never used before. In recent year, the SEKs and MEKs fulfill the SWAT role while the GSG-9 functions similarly to the Hostage Rescue Team when federal police resources are used.
  • The closest analogue to a SWAT team in Russia and the Former Soviet Union are the OMON and OMSN spetsnaz (formerly known as SOBR) which are under the authority of the MVD. Like many special purpose police units, they were formed after the Munich Olympics tragedy. There is at least one OMON unit in every oblast of Russia, as well in major cities. Like SWAT, they are rapid response paramilitary police units specializing in high-risk criminal arrests, counter-terrorism and cordoning. Unlike most SWAT teams however, OMON and OMSN can be called upon by the Russian authorities to serve in a war zone (OMON and SOBR/OMSN units saw service in both Chechen Wars and South Ossetian OMON took part in the 2008 war with Georgia). Outside of Russia, they have been largely disbanded in the post-Soviet era, but some nations (such as Belarus) still have OMON units.
  • British Coppers have these as well, easily recognisable because they're the only uniformed police who openly carry firearms (Officers of the Civil Nuclear Constabularynote  or Protection Commandnote  may also carry weapons, but you're pretty unlikely to see one in your day-to-day life). The Metropolitan Police's Specialist Crime and Operations Specialist Firearms Command, SCO19 (Previously known as S019 or C019) is probably the most famous, thanks to Britain Is Only London. Of about 130,000 police officers in the United Kingdom, only about 6,600 are Authorised Firearms Officers, and Specialist Firearms Officers who train on SWAT-type tactics are even rarer - London only has about 70.
    • As described above, Australian coppers also have emergency police units from the Federal Police's Specialist Response Group to the Critical Incident Response Team, sort of the halfway point between beat police and proper SWAT. The most famous would arguably be the Sons of God, Victoria's Special Operations Group that is more or less a police Expy of the SAS or the FBI HRT.
  • Spain has the GEO (Grupo Especial de Operaciones - Special Operations Group) which is part of the national police. It was openly inspired in the German GSG-9 and the British SAS.
  • Japan does not have any units formally called "SWAT," but their closest equivalents would be the Special Assault Team under the National Police Agency. They operate as a mixture of regional/city-based SWAT teams and the FBI's HRT as they're deployed in Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Fukuouka and Okinawa on a case-by-case basis if the local special police unit need assistance or the NPA deems it necessary for their intervention. Most of the time in the said places, they act as the city/prefectural SWAT unit.
    • Other cities/prefectures have their own special police units to act in the place of the SAT in a local situation. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police has the Special Investigation Team. The Osaka Prefectural Police has the Martial Arts Attack Team. Chiba Prefectural Police has the Assault Response Team. Saitama Prefectural Police has the Special Tactical Section. The Kanagawa Prefectural Police has the Special Investigation Section and the Aomori Prefectural Police has the Technical Special Team with the Hiroshima Prefectural Police has the Hostage Rescue Team.
      • For the Akita/Iwate/Ibaraki/Miyagi/Fukushima/Tochigi/Shizuoka/Aichi/Mie/Fukuoka/Nagasaki Prefectural Police, their local SWAT-style units are also called the SIT, named after the TMPD's own unit.
    • The Japan Coast Guard has the Special Security Team, its own anti-crime/terrorist unit that operate in Japanese territorial waters.
  • The Reserve Unit of the Shanghai Municipal Police (established in 1925 by the legendary fighting instructor William Fairbairn) is often considered the Ur-Example of the modern SWAT team. The Unit was literally kept in reserve at the SMP training depot and was used to quell riots and serve as an extra layer of security for important items or people in addition to fulfilling "typical" current SWAT duties. To aid with the Unit's training, Fairbairn also developed the Mystery House – the first "kill house"-style shooting range, designed to resemble a Chinese apartment building and complete with pop-up shoot/no-shoot targets and audio distractions.