By Stephen Owsinski
With the freedoms afforded by democracy and those who push the envelope a bit too far, law enforcement officers have a perpetually full plate. There is no denying the Patrol Division is every law enforcement agency’s backbone, the essential core of the force. Patrol is where every cop cuts his/her teeth, garnering the fundamentals of police work. From adrenaline boosts to boredom, patrol officers encounter the vast array of society’s woes. But, what about those calls for service which exceed the norm, where ramping up police efforts is warranted? That’s where Special Units come in. But why would you want to be on a Special Unit? What are the benefits?
Much like a football team whose special teams are hand-picked and trained to handle particular goals, these elite units are specially trained in certain facets of police operations, offering advanced skills. Let’s take a look at a why some officers decide to join any of a variety of special police units:
Highly-specialized advanced training: Given that police skills are hugely necessary, some police events such as hostage standoffs, SWAT-necessitated operations, or the pervasive fight against terror cells require acutely-trained LEOs to facilitate optimal results. Police academies may address these specific areas of police work via small blocks of instruction. For example, courses which teach the dynamics of hostage negotiation are paramount, and police officials wishing to take up the challenge of crisis intervention-oriented scenarios bode well from joining such a special team, gaining invaluable insights in human psychology.
High-end police equipment perks: The most evident example is perhaps SWAT, the acronym of which denotes its unique purpose with special weapons and tactics. Not only does such a unit receive advanced training in police tactics and strategies, but the upper-tier weaponry and tools associated with getting the job done effectively are not your ordinary police toys. Police budgets relegate most cops to standard issue equipment.
Incentive pay: Some departments offer extra compensation to special unit officers. One example is being an FTO with the Field Training Unit. Many police agencies provide additional income to their FTOs for assuming responsibility of this often-arduous task. Training rookies can be a taxing chore with tons of accountability and potential liability, thus FTOs are rewarded via salary enhancements. Albeit retired, I still grind my teeth when I reminisce some episodes of training the latest crop of police recruits.
Promotional enhancement: Mere membership among a special team (SWAT, Bomb Squad, Aviation, SRO, FTO, etc.) culminates in advanced skills necessary to compete for promotions and managerial ranks. Just as requisite as starting out in the Patrol Division enables the potential to join a special unit, elite team skills enhance chances of promotion such as commanding a group of LEOs or supervising a bomb squad.
Sustain military experience: Just as the Patrol Division is the backbone of police operations, the law enforcement profession remains a paramilitary facet of American government, adopting its command structure, philosophies, and operational viability from military models. With that said, an abundance of police officers join special units to share knowledge and sharpen skills learned while serving in the military. Capitalizing on military experience by practicing special skills and/or instructing other cops in survival tactics underscores the law enforcement agency’s proficiency and bolsters officer safety.
Teaching opportunities: Being a part of any police special unit can benefit members in two education-based ways. Receiving advanced police instruction is itself a wealth of knowledge. Learning special police skills can enable members to be classified as subject matter experts (SMEs) and thus afford extra compensation by teaching at police academies, whether pre- or post-retirement.
Camaraderie: No one can deny the close-knit familial bonds police officers forge when they become law enforcers. However, special units and the unique skills they indoctrinate facilitates cohesion and discussions among like-minded police specialists. Pick a group from any special police unit and you will assuredly overhear banter and debate regarding the finer points of their respective duty mission. The ties that bind us.
Skills acquisition: Since “basic law enforcement training” academies serve only the framework of what is necessary to be an effective LEO, special units offer challenging experiences and qualify members in advanced police skills. Dive out of a police helicopter lately? Me neither. But you can always apply for the Dive Team, get some cross-training done with the folks in the Aviation Unit, and get your feet wet regarding water-borne police work.
Good old-fashioned challenges: Even if no particular influence exists, a personal and/or professional interest in learning about a method of police tactics may entice you and bring entirely-new law enforcement traits. Meeting challenges head-on is the name of the game, and special units provide the play books.
Post-retirement opportunities: Testifying in your particular expertise in matters before the Courts has just rewards. Retired cops who have advanced training in Traffic Fatality Investigations are often hired to analyze reports and/or testify in cases pertinent to crash incidents, and compensated handsomely. Some retirees launch their own security consulting business, using skills gained from being a member of a Dignitary Protection Unit or from tenure as a Robbery Unit detective.