Police tactical unit

A police tactical unit (PTU) is a specialized police unit formed and trained to handle situations that are beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement forces because of the level of violence - or risk of violence - involved. Their missions include serving of search warrants for dangerous persons, arresting or neutralizing dangerous or deranged armed persons and intervening in high risk situations such as shootouts, hostage taking and terrorist incidents.[1][2][3][Note 1]


Police tactical units are permanent units composed of personnel carefully selected who are regularly trained in the legal, tactical and psychological aspects of their missions. They are equipped with specialized police and military-type hardware.

They are usually part of either :

but, depending on the country, other administrations - such as the coast guard, customs or penitentiary services for example - sometimes setup specialized units with comparable missions, training and equipment.

In the United States, police tactical units are often known as Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams; the term originally referred to the Los Angeles Police Department's PTU but is now commonly used in the U.S. as a catchall genericized trademark to refer to any such unit.[2] In Australia, police tactical units are formally known as a police tactical group.[1] The European Union uses the term Special Intervention Unit to define national counter terrorist police tactical units.[4] Depending on the country, a PTU's missions can include surveillance and observation of suspected criminals and terrorists.


Police tactical units have similarities to military special forces/special operations forces units such as organization, selection, training, equipment, and operational methodologies.[5][6][7]

For "certain counter terrorism operations, such as hostage rescue, there is a significant convergence of roles, tactics and force when employed in either an armed conflict or policing role".[8] Aside from counter-terrorism, the roles of police and military units differ in that the role of military units can result in the use of the maximum permissible force against enemy combatants while the role of police units is to use only minimal force sufficient to subdue suspected criminals, including negotiation.[9][10]

See also


  1. Academic literature from North America has used the term Police Paramilitary Unit (PPU) to describe a police tactical unit.[2]
  1. Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (2017). Active Armed Offender Guidelines for Crowded Places (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. p. 3. ISBN 9781925593976. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  2. Alvaro, Sam. Tactical law enforcement in Canada; an exploratory survey of Canadian police agencies (PDF) (Thesis). Carleton University. ISBN 9780612484191. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  3. Rantatalo, Oscar (2013). Sensemaking and organising in the policing of high risk situations: focusing the Swedish Police National Counter-Terrorist Unit (PDF) (Thesis). Umeå: Department of Education, Umeå University. ISBN 9789174596991. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  4. "On the improvement of cooperation between the special intervention units of the Member States of the European Union in crisis situations". Council Decision No. 2008/617/JHA of 23 June 2008. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  5. "Tactical Response and Operations Standard for Law Enforcement Agencies" (PDF). National Tactical Officers Association. September 2015. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  6. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (17 November 2015). "NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions" (PDF) (in English and French). AAP-06 (Edition 2016). Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency. Retrieved 26 May 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. Alexander, John B (July 2010). "4: Comparison between SOF and Law Enforcement Agencies". Convergence: Special Operations Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement (PDF) (Report). JSOU report 10-6. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Press. pp. 48–62. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  8. Watkin, Kenneth (2016). Fighting at the legal boundaries: controlling the use of force in contemporary conflict. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190457976.
  9. Newburn, TimPeter; Neyroud, Peter (2013). Dictionary of Policing. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 187. ISBN 9781843922872.
  10. Diane Cecilia Weber (1999). Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments (PDF). Washington: Cato Institute. p. 3. Retrieved 25 May 2017.

Further reading

  • Katz, Samuel M. (1995). The Illustrated Guide to the World's Top Counter-Terrorist Forces. Hong Kong: Concord Publication Company. ISBN 9623616023.
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