The largest city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has a population of over 1.5 million people in its 142 square miles on the banks of the Delaware River. From the city’s historic “Center” with Independence Hall, to its great “Northeast,” Philadelphia hosts four sports arenas, an international airport and one of the largest in-land ports in the nation.
The city lies about 80 miles from New York City and about 100 miles from Washington, DC, making it a central hub in a very high-volume corridor. It was at the center of Revolutionary America that saw the announcement of the Declaration of Independence as well as the formation of the Constitution. Philadelphia, a city of firsts, was also the first city in the nation to develop a SWAT-type unit.
In 1964, Philadelphia experienced a rash of bank robberies. To answer that threat, the Philadelphia Police Department established a 100-man Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad. The purpose of this squad was to react quickly and decisively to the bank robberies while they were in progress by utilizing specially trained officers who had superior firepower.
Shortly after the successes of the Philadelphia SWAT squad, other departments formed SWAT teams, including the Los Angeles Police Department. Today, Philadelphia SWAT is based in Philadelphia’s East Division and handles high-risk warrants, hostage situations, barricaded subjects, hazardous materials response, high-risk tactical patrols and countersniper duties.
Captain Steven Cross is the commanding officer of the Philadelphia SWAT unit. The captain has over 30 years with the department and has been with the unit for the last eight years. Suffice it to say that he has a lifetime of policing experience.
According to Captain Cross, “Entry onto the SWAT team requires an officer to pass a multi-step process. An officer must have served in the department for five years and earned points with a good service record. The officer must request to be assigned to the unit and get their command nomination. Then they are scheduled for an interview with serving SWAT supervisors. If they get through the interview, they are brought back for a shooting proficiency and physical fitness test. If they pass all that, we bring them in for the SWAT Basic School.”
Tactical work requires certain skill sets and any officer assigned to the unit must be in excellent physical condition to handle the strain of the unit’s work. Philadelphia SWAT’s basic school is a grueling seven-week process where an officer learns everything from basic tactical teamwork to serving high-risk warrants, marksmanship with the weapons inherent to the team and working in large tactical operations with other non-Philadelphia teams. Due to the trains, airport and seaport, the unit also trains for unconventional environments.
Philadelphia SWAT has over 50 officers assigned who cover the city 24/7. At a moment’s notice, they can be mobilized and respond to anywhere in the city and cover a situation. They often work with outside agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service for fugitive apprehension.
Each operator is trained to make entries and be the shooter in dynamic, hostage and non-dynamic situations. They train constantly and perfect tactics for every environment in the city, from Independence Hall to the airport.
Several members are trained as countersnipers to handle long-distance threats and provide cover for the operators on the set. These officers provide a critical tactical operational link and serve as the “overwatch” for the responding team during an officer-down situation. Some officers are also trained to work cameras, robots, and other tools that allow the team to gather important intelligence prior to any operation.
The main weapon of choice for these operators is the Bushmaster Quad Rail Patrolman’s Carbine in 5.56mm NATO. A proven, accurate and effective weapon, the Bushmaster offers the power of a 5.56mm round with the maneuverability of a short carbine, which is a good choice for law enforcement operations due its shorter platform. The 5.56mm round also limits problems regarding over-penetration. This weapon system is versatile enough to address a threat in any environment.
The unit also has the choice of using the Sig Sauer SIG556 Classic firing a 5.56mm round, with a shorter barrel, offering a more compact platform to work with. This weapon gives the unit another 5.56mm weapon choice.
As a backup, each operator carries the Glock 35 in .40 S&W. In Philadelphia, only the SWAT unit carries the G35, which is highly regarded in the law enforcement world. The G35 is the .40-caliber version of the Glock 34.