SWAT: Doing Gender or Doing Their Job?

Mary Dodge, University of Colorado at Denver

The subculture of policing has received a great deal of attention by scholars, though little research exists on specific "sub-subcultures" in law enforcement agencies. SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team members often view themselves as an elite squad of professionals who work under highly stressful conditions and depend on each other in life and death situations. This paper explores the distinctive subculture and dynamics of SWAT units. The study employs qualitative, in-depth interviews with experienced police officers to explore the nature of SWAT assignments. The findings focus on the structure of professional relationships inside and outside the unit; the impact of assignments on family relationships; and individual, departmental, and community expectations from the perspective of the team members. The paper also explores gendered aspects of the job. SWAT duty, according to the majority of officers, requires more masculine attributes compared to other police work because of the demands associated with the high risk, physically demanding operations. Consequently, women rarely fit the SWAT officer model.

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Updated 05/20/2006