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Multi-Method Study of Police Special Weapons and Tactics Teams in the United States, 1986-1998 (ICPSR 20351)

Principal Investigator(s):

Summary:

This research study was designed to pursue three specific goals to accomplish its objective of enhancing knowledge about Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and the role they play in contemporary American policing. The first goal was to develop a better picture of the structure and nature of SWAT teams in American law enforcement. The second goal of the research project was to increase the amount of knowledge about how SWAT teams prepare for and execute operations. The project's third goal was to develop information about one specific aspect of SWAT operations: the use of force, especially deadly force, by both officers and suspects. To gather this information, the SWAT Operations Survey (SOS) was conducted. This was a nationwide survey of law enforcement agencies with 50 or more sworn officers. The survey sought information about the agencies' emergency response capabilities and structures. The SOS included two instruments: (1) the Operations Form, completed by a total of 341 agencies, and containing variables about the organization and functioning of SWAT teams, and (2) the Firearms Discharge Report, which includes a total of 273 shootings of interest, as well as items about incidents in which SWAT officers and suspects discharged firearms during SWAT operations.

Access Notes

  • These data are freely available.

Dataset(s)

DS0:  Study-Level Files
DS1:  SWAT Survey: Operations Data - Download All Files (3.8 MB)
DS2:  SWAT Survey: Firearms Discharge Data - Download All Files (2.9 MB)

Study Description

Citation

Klinger, David. MULTI-METHOD STUDY OF POLICE SPECIAL WEAPONS AND TACTICS TEAMS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1986-1998. ICPSR20351-v1. St. Louis, MO: David Klinger, University of Missouri-St. Louis [producer], 2007. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2007-12-10. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR20351.v1

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Funding

This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2000-IJ-CX-0003)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   crisis intervention, law enforcement agencies, organizational structure, police effectiveness, police performance, police response, police training, police use of deadly force, police use of force

Smallest Geographic Unit:   None

Geographic Coverage:   United States

Time Period:  

  • 1986--1998

Date of Collection:  

  • 1998--2000

Unit of Observation:   Agency

Universe:   State, county, municipal, and special district law enforcement agencies in the United States, which employed 50 or more sworn officers in 1996.

Data Types:   survey data

Data Collection Notes:

Data from the Post Critical Incident Report (PCIR) Project, site visits, and observations from training and field deployment at critical incidents are not available as part of this collection.

Methodology

Study Purpose:   This research study was designed to pursue three specific goals to accomplish its objective of enhancing knowledge about Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams and the role they play in contemporary American policing. The first goal was to develop a better picture of the structure and nature of SWAT teams in American law enforcement (e.g., the mix of full- and part-time teams, how crisis negotiations and emergency medical services are structured). The second goal of the research project was to increase the amount of knowledge about how SWAT teams prepare for and execute operations (e.g., what sorts of training they do, how they plan for specific operations, and what they do during actual operations). The project's third goal was to develop information about one specific aspect of SWAT operations: the use of force, especially deadly force, by both officers and suspects.

Study Design:   The SWAT Operations Survey (SOS) was a nationwide survey of law enforcement agencies with 50 or more sworn officers. It sought information about the agencies' emergency response capabilities and structures. The SOS included two instruments: (1) the Operations Form, completed by and containing a total of 341 agencies, and containing variables about the organization and functioning of SWAT teams, and (2) the Firearms Discharge Report, which includes a total of 273 shootings of interest, as well as items about incidents in which SWAT officers and suspects discharged firearms during SWAT operations. The National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) placed calls to the office of the head (usually a chief of police or sheriff) of 2,027 agencies to inquire whether they had a SWAT team. When this call indicated that the agency did not have a team, the respondent was thanked for his or her time, and the negative response was noted in a data file that had been established to track the information obtained during the survey. When this call indicated that the agency did have a SWAT team, the respondent was asked to supply the name and contact information of the commander of the SWAT team so that further correspondence could be sent directly to that individual. The next step of the data collection effort consisted of sending a small information packet to the SWAT commander, which included a letter that briefly introduced the research project, explained the expanded data collection efforts, and sought their participation in the project. The information packet also included a stamped, self-addressed envelop and a reply form for commanders to provide some basic information about their team (e.g., the number of officers currently assigned to it) and to indicate whether they would participate in the study. The reply form also asked commanders to indicate whether they would like to report the information via standard paper instruments or via computer, through data collection software the NTOA had developed. After six weeks had passed, NTOA personnel recontacted the SWAT commanders of those agencies that had not responded to the mailing in order to ensure that they had received the packet and to encourage participation in the research effort. Messages were left for those commanders who were not available when the calls were made, and follow-up mailings were sent to those who reported that they had not received the initial packet. Once agencies replied to the initial contact efforts, indicated whether they would like to participate in the data collection efforts, and indicated their preference for participating via computer or paper and pencil (among those who indicated a desire to participate), NTOA staff sent the appropriate survey media, along with a set of instructions for filling out the relevant (paper or computer) forms and returning them to the NTOA.

Sample:   The sampling frame of 2,027 agencies included all state, county, municipal, and special district law enforcement agencies in the United States, which employed 50 or more sworn officers in 1996. Respondents at 1,183 of the 2,027 agencies telephonically contacted by NTOA staff reported that their department had a SWAT team. Several of the agencies that returned SWAT Operations Surveys indicated that they contributed officers to multi-jurisdictional SWAT teams. Each of these agencies was contacted to obtain a list of the other agencies that participated in their multi-jurisdictional team. The list produced by this effort was checked against the roster of 2,027 agencies that comprised the sampling frame to see if the various additional agencies identified by the phone calls were (1) within the sampling frame, and if so (2) identified as having a SWAT team. This cross-check identified an additional 24 agencies that had not been listed in the original list of 1,183 agencies with SWAT teams. Adding these 24 agencies to the 1,183 agencies already counted as having SWAT teams yielded a revised count of 1,207 agencies within the sampling frame as having SWAT teams. Respondents were instructed to complete a separate Firearms Discharge Report only for each incident in which any SWAT officers fired their weapons. Accordingly, Part 2, SWAT Survey: Firearms Discharge Data, offers information on the 273 shootings of interest (i.e., those that involved shots fired toward people or accidental discharges).

Weight:   None

Mode of Data Collection:   mail questionnaire, Web-based survey

Description of Variables:   Part 1, SWAT Survey: Operations Data, provides the year the agency established its SWAT team, whether the agency has a full- or part-time SWAT team, whether the agency had its own SWAT team or it supplied officers to a multiagency team, the number of officers assigned to the SWAT team, the nature of incident command in situations in which the SWAT team was mobilized, and deadly force decision-making in hostage/barricade situations. Part 1 variables also include crisis negotiations structure, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) when SWAT is deployed, the amount of time SWAT officers train per month, the sources of training received by SWAT officers, the types of situations for which SWAT officers trained, and the annual number of SWAT mobilizations of various sorts (e.g., barricaded suspect incidents, hostage incidents, and warrants) from 1986 through 1998. Other variables in Part 1 pertain to the annual number of incidents in which SWAT officers discharged lethal weapons during SWAT operations, the annual number of SWAT operations in which suspects discharged weapons, but SWAT officers held their fire, the number of suspects who killed themselves each year during SWAT operations, whether and how often the SWAT team had physically rescued hostages, as well as whether and how often suspects killed hostages during SWAT operations. Part 2, SWAT Survey: Firearms Discharge Data, provides the year the incident occurred, the nature of the incident (e.g., barricaded suspect, hostage incident, warrant service), the number of SWAT officers deployed, as well as the number of suspects, the weapons each one possessed, whether each suspect fired any guns they possessed, whether each suspect was taken under fire by SWAT, and the nature of the wounds each suspect fired upon suffered. Part 2 variables also include the number of SWAT officers who fired their weapons, their assignment (e.g., entry, long rifle, containment), the type of weapon they fired (e.g., pistol, assault rifle, submachine gun) and the number of rounds they fired. Other variables in Part 2 pertain to the total number of rounds fired at suspects by SWAT during the incident, the number of rounds fired by SWAT that struck suspects, the number of rounds fired by SWAT that were not directed at humans (e.g., warning shots, accidental discharges, suppressive fire), the nature and number of wounds suffered by SWAT officers, and whether suspects who were shot by SWAT officers may have been committing "suicide-by-cop".

Response Rates:   The SWAT Operations Survey yielded a final response rate of 30 percent (365/1,207). Part 1, SWAT Survey: Operations Data, contains 341 cases and does not include the 24 agencies that were omitted from the original list of 1,183 agencies with SWAT teams. Because information about each of these 24 teams had been reported in the response sent by the agency that submitted a SWAT Operations Survey to the NTOA, the researchers classified these 24 agencies as having responded to the survey.

Presence of Common Scales:   None

Extent of Processing:  ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.

Version(s)

Original ICPSR Release:  

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