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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, 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.
"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). Many other countries have their own analogues; for example, the United Kingdom has CO19, Germany has GSG9 (which also serve as one of the country's special operations units), France has the GIPN, GIGN and RAID and so on. The only countries that use the SWAT moniker aside from America are Bangladesh (which operates under the control of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police's 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) and 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.
Examples of this trope:
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Terminator 2, 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.
- SWAT, quite naturally.
- Show up as antagonists at the end of The Town, where they manage to kill all but one of the bank robbers.
- In Monsters, Inc., the Child Detection Agency acts as the Monster World equivalent of a SWAT team or a Hazmat team.
- 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 the first two Die Hard films. 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.
- ESU teams appear at times throughout Blue Bloods, responding to a variety of situations (including guarding Frank after he's been shot).
- 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.
- BOPE, the protagonists of The Elite Squad, were originally a conventional hostage rescue SWAT Team. Now they're a Badass Army that fights fire with fire. (At best.)
- 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.
- Twenty Four 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 Curb Stomp Battle in favor of the good guys.
- In The Cape, the local city's SWAT units are actually Private Military Contractors that serve as the Faceless Goons for the Ark Corporation.
- Series/Flashpoint is about a Canadian SWAT team.
- 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.
- 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 SWAT 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 a first-person shooter. 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. So far, 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.