Ready for anything: SWAT teams rely on NJ’s most-skilled local cops
A hostage standoff in your neighborhood, or an active shooter rampaging through a mall — authorities are going to call in the SWAT team.
SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics.
According to William Parenti, the North Plainfield police chief and the president of the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, nine out of 10 New Jersey towns and cities do not have SWAT teams because they can’t afford to buy the equipment that’s needed, nor would they have enough officers to staff a SWAT team.
So officers from local police departments often will make up county SWAT teams.
“You’re pulling the cream of the crop from each local municipality," he said. "If you need a sniper you have the best shots in the whole county. If you need hostage negotiation you have the best skilled negotiators."
“SWAT teams are designed to deal with high risk incidents that exceed the capabilities of the routine patrol officer," said Christopher Leusner, the Middle Township police chief and 10-year SWAT team commander in Cape May County. "In this day in age, situations such as an active shooter or armed barricaded subjects are real risks that require a more specialized response."
SWAT teams may also be called for narcotics search warrants, “where folks that are the suspects many times have histories of being armed with weapons."
"Specialized tactics may be necessary to deal with those situations," Leusner said.
Parenti says SWAT team members get specialized training at least once a month to be ready to respond to a variety of different emergencies.
“The best officers throughout the county are compiled together. They’re paid by the local municipality, they’re local officers but they have a specialty that’s recognized,” he said. “Everybody has a special skill and joining the SWAT team is an enhancement of that."
Leusner, who is also the vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, pointed out “the primary goal of a SWAT team is to diminish the necessity to use force through negotiation, through extraordinary tactics.
"Our officers know that they’re not soldiers; their mission is different. They are police officers and their mission is to defend life and protect the Constitution.”
He added SWAT team selection is done very carefully, “to make sure that the officers are mentally, emotionally and physically capable of performing the mission."
"We’re very fortunate in New Jersey to have excellent SWAT teams that do good work protecting the residents of the state," Leusner said.