Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, officers are police officers with special higher-level training and expertise for high-risk situations. They are called in when there is an elevated degree of danger to life or property. Most SWAT officers work regular duties as police officers and are then called in for extra SWAT assignments when needed. These individuals constantly cross-train to handle any kind of high-risk situation that may arise. SWAT officers earn the same basic pay salary as a police officer but they work more hours when high-risk situations arise.
To qualify as a SWAT officer, an individual must first become a police officer. The qualifications for becoming a police officer include being a U.S. citizen and attaining the age of 20. Applicants must undergo written and physical examinations and be interviewed by senior staff. Some stations require drug testing or psychological testing before being offered a position. After becoming a police officer, the department provides continuing specialized training to individuals chosen for SWAT.
SWAT officers earn comparable pay to police officers. They tend to earn more money than regular duty police officers due to the extra shifts worked when SWAT situations arise. According to the 2010-2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers earn a median annual wage of $51,410. The middle 50 percent of police officers earn between $38,850 and $64,940 per year. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $30,070 a year. The highest 10 percent earn more than $79,680 a year.
In addition to their base salary, SWAT officers receive other benefits including paid vacation, sick leave and medical and life insurance. Special allowances are also provided for SWAT officers to have their uniforms provided as part of their job. Due to the difficulty of their positions, SWAT officers have the opportunity to retire after 20 years of service at half pay or they can fully retire after 30 years of service.
SWAT teams vary in size from only five members to up to 30 members depending on the size of the police department. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for police officers should equal the average job growth of all occupations at 10 percent. The job openings on SWAT teams are competitive due to the highly skilled nature of the position and the few job openings available at each police department.