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 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 must 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.
Examples of this trope:
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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.
Antiskill 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.
In Still the Twelfth Man, one of these is dispatched when Max Walker barricades himself inside the commentary box with Richie Benaud hostage.
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.
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 felled 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 the Terminator, who casually incapacitates most of them without killing them.
In The Negotiator, a SWAT unit attacks the protagonist 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.
The FBI's SWAT team appears in The Siege during a raid on a terrorist hideout. The NYPD's ESU snipers are seen during the second bus bombing.
Show up as antagonists at the end of The Town, where they manage to kill all but one of the bank robbers.
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, 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.
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 one of these. 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.
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.
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.
Flashpoint is about the Strategic Response Unit, which is an Emergency Response Team-type unit.
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.
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.
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 nonlethally curbstomps them to get to Quinn.
ESU teams appear at times throughout Blue Bloods, responding to a variety of situations (including guarding Frank after he's been shot).
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-personshooters. 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).
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.
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).
"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 Hostage Rescue Team).
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.
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 ones with firearms under a Firearms Unit designation.