SWAT Teams as High Reliability Organizations

David Klinger, University of Missouri - St. Louis
Jeff Rojek, St. Louis University

In recent decades police departments across the nation have increasingly turned to specially trained and equipped groups of officers -- commonly called SWAT teams -- to deal with many sorts of high-risk situations, such as barricaded gunmen and hostage incidents. Despite the fact that SWAT teams are now commonplace in American policing, we know little about these units because researchers have devoted little attention to them. This paper seeks to advance the current state of knowledge about SWAT teams by viewing them through the lens afforded by the social scientific literature on the organization of risk and risk management. After reviewing this literature and explaining how SWAT teams can be viewed as exemplars of an organizational form known as "High Reliability Organizations," the paper discusses the implications of this perspective for understanding SWAT work and risk management in law enforcement more generally.

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Updated 05/20/2006