Tactical Response and Operations Standard

In line with NTOA’s mission, the association first offered the NTOA SWAT Standard in 2008. The document established a basic set of standards for the organization’s member agencies and serves as an efficient, core set of concepts and principles that improve standardization within the profession of tactical law enforcement services.

In 2011 and 2015, the standard was reviewed, expanded and updated to represent the most contemporary best practices being used. In recent years, tactical law enforcement operations have come under significant scrutiny, and the need for increased standardization and professionalism is more evident than ever before.

In 2015, the NTOA Board of Directors authorized another review and update of the NTOA SWAT Standard. A Standard Review Committee was assembled that was comprised of 11 members, each having significant and diverse backgrounds in law enforcement tactical operations, to include five state tactical officer association representatives, a retired police chief, a deputy police chief, two representatives from the FBI and two representatives from the NTOA. An open comment period was established for NTOA members to offer their input and suggestions. Subsequently, the Standard Review Committee evaluated each of those comments and made changes where necessary. Committee members also agreed that two significant topics were missing from the document: a team typing matrix and a glossary.

Over the last several years, many NTOA members have shared stories about how they had successfully proposed increases to their team’s capabilities by referencing the NTOA standard, but were disappointed that the document did not contain suggested team types. The Standard Review Committee was careful to link these types to previously existing mission capabilities and general assumptions of the most common types of deployments that teams encounter. Including a glossary was also vitally important to ensure that a common language is utilized in training documents, courtroom testimony and between teams during multi-jurisdictional operations.

Because the 2015 version went far beyond merely SWAT teams, the document was renamed the NTOA Tactical Response and Operations Standard. It is important to remember that any agency that chooses to use this standard as a benchmark for performance and operations does so voluntarily.

2018 Tactical Response and Operations Standard – An Evolution

In July 2017, the NTOA once again began the arduous task of updating the Tactical Response and Operations Standard (TROS). Given the impact that this document has on our profession, it was critical to consider input from our members. The NTOA contacted all state association presidents, as well as several federal partners, and invited them to serve on the review committee. The final committee consisted of 20 participants, each bringing valuable input from the associations and organizations they represented. The member comment period was then opened for one month. All comments offered by members were carefully assessed and considered.

The overall goal of the review committee was to ensure that the voluntary consensus standard continues to provide guidance to law enforcement special operations leaders and evolves to meet the ever-changing tactics, technology and practices of those in our profession. While there always are minor grammatical and formatting changes made throughout the document, there also were several major additions or changes that occurred during this process, which are outlined below.

The review committee recognized that one of the deficiencies of previous versions was that there was no reference to either team or individual operator equipment. Review committee members agreed that this is one of the most frequently asked questions among team commanders. Those decision-makers should be provided a minimum list of equipment items that are necessary to ensure individual operator safety and a team’s ability to carry out its intended mission. It’s important to recognize that the standard merely states that individuals or teams should be equipped with these items. It does not delineate ownership or number, with the intent that certain items can be shared through an MOU.

Training Hours
As in past revision processes, training hours continue to be an issue of concern for many in charge of tactical teams. Again, this subject took up a majority of the review committee’s debate. Recognizing that the number training hours an agency invests in its team can be directly correlated to its likelihood of success, the committee was compelled to not lower the training hour standard. That being said, the committee did expand the definition to include an annual total for teams that are unable to meet the monthly goal. Collateral duty teams are recommended to train for 16 hours a month, or 192 hours a year. The full-time recommendation remains 40 hours a month, or a total of 480 hours annually. The training must be regular and reoccurring and based on critical skills training specific to the SWAT mission capability defined by the agency.

Crisis Negotiation Teams
An entirely new section was created within the TROS to provide more guidance and direction on the use of Crisis Negotiation Teams (CNT). The CNT function continues to grow in importance and complexity. Contemporary tactical teams across the country now rely as heavily on their negotiators as they do on their tactical operators in safely resolving critical incidents with violent individuals. This new section provides guidance on minimum training levels, equipment and suggested policy necessary to fully integrate CNT functions into a tactical response program.

Tactical Emergency Medical Support
Although the NTOA has previously issued a position statement on the use of tactical emergency medical support (TEMS), language has been added to Section 3.0 of the TROS that provides more detailed guidance on recommended training levels and roles of TEMS members within a tactical team.

Safety Priorities
For years now, the NTOA has utilized the phrase “Priority of Life” (POL) to describe the factors that influence our decision-making process in a critical incident where lives are in the balance. The POL utilized a structure of “ranking” individuals in numerical order and priority: 1) hostage, 2) innocent civilians, 3) law enforcement, and 4) suspect.

The term POL and the ranking was never intended to place a different value on human life, although many have interpreted it that way. No person’s life is intrinsically more valuable than another and as a profession, we hold all life in the highest regard. The NTOA Standards Review Committee spent many hours attempting to address this issue by providing a better term and explanation of the concept. The concept is now more appropriately termed Safety Priorities, in lieu of Priority of Life.

Any prioritization of our efforts should be based primarily on the person’s ability to remove themselves from a dangerous situation. For example, hostages have little or no ability to remove themselves from the dire situation they may be in. Conversely, suspects have the most ability to remove themselves or affect the outcome of the situation through surrender. So, a hostage still has the highest priority, based not on any valuation of their life, but rather on the fact that they are in the most peril with the least amount of control. When contemplating an action, remember to evaluate who would benefit or suffer most. These should be guiding factors.

Those that use the TROS as a guidepost for policy development and training references should be reminded again that this is a voluntary consensus standard. It is based on input from members like you and continues to evolve as the profession does.

The NTOA does not mandate compliance with this standard or attach such compliance as a prerequisite for any benefit granted under membership. This and future versions of this standard are living documents. It will require us as an organization to seek out those best practices and ensure that they are accurately reflected in the standard.

Please download and read the NTOA Tactical Response and Operations Standard document. If you have questions or concerns, contact any member of your Board of Directors, and we will ensure that your issues are addressed during the next review and revision process.

Dedication: The Standard is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Mark J. Renninger of the Lakewood, Washington Police Department (End of watch: November 29, 2009). Sgt. Renninger was a strong advocate for improving standards for SWAT teams and his voice will be missed.

Download the NTOA Tactical Response and Operations Standard document.

Download the companion document “Guide to Writing Standard Operating Procedures for Operations Involving the Combined Resources of Bomb Squads and SWAT Teams(Located in the members-only portal that is accessed using an NTOA member ID and password. Once logged in, look under Member Benefits/Resource Documents/Standards/Bomb SWAT SOP Final.

NTOA Tactical Response and Operations Standard Copyright: All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without prior written permission of the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), with the following exception: NTOA staff and training instructors are hereby given permission by NTOA to reproduce any or all of the contents of this manual for internal use within the organization or for training classes. No other individuals, private businesses and corporations, public and private agencies and colleges, professional associations, and law enforcement agencies, may print or download this publication for non-commercial use without permission from the NTOA. Questions about this copyright information or about obtaining permission to use NTOA-developed publications may be addressed to the Executive Director at 1-800-279-9127.