SWAT hopefuls must show mental, physical toughness

Tryouts aim to test performance of officers dealing with stress, fatigue

Published: Tuesday, June 12 2007 12:05 a.m. MDT

Salt Lake County deputy Shane Manwaring, right, participates in SWAT shooting exercise at Parleys Canyon gun range.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

They are called upon to serve the public day or night in some of the most high-risk situations.

They are members of police SWAT teams — a selective assignment that demands teamwork.

On a recent Sunday at Camp Williams, nine deputies from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office took on the challenge of trying to become eligible for the sheriff's SWAT team. Although there are currently no openings, the hope is to achieve a high enough score to be eligible for the waiting list.

The grueling tryouts begin at 9 a.m. By noon, the temperature is already nearing 90. The deputies are put through an obstacle course and made to do other physical tasks to start off the day.

But it's not necessarily the biggest or the strongest or the most physically tough deputy that will make the team. Current members of the SWAT team, many with clipboards in hand and evaluation sheets of each cadet, are looking for who is best suited mentally for the job.

Most deputies are already in decent shape when they try out, said Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Mazuran, head of the SWAT unit. The characteristics the sheriff's office is most interested in are those deputies who can be both a leader and follower, those who work well as a team, those who can multitask and those who can stay focused in stressful situations.

On the evaluation sheets, grades are given in categories such as motivation, communication, decisionmaking and teamwork.

At Camp Williams, SWAT hopefuls are divided into two teams and taken to a facility with segregated open air rooms where different tasks are to be completed in a certain time period. One side of the complex has tasks involving water; the other is a series of dry land obstacles.

In one task, the team is given two plastic barrels and two metal railings and told to get to the other side of the pool without touching the water. The first deputy that attempts to cross immediately falls in the water. One deputy jumps in to help get him out.

"Why is only half your team wet?" calls out one SWAT evaluator taking notes in the background, before adding, "That's a big hint. You afraid of the water?"

Mazuran explains that as part of the team concept, the pain one SWAT member may experience by failing a task should be shared by all.

"When you share a painful experience with someone, you bond with that person," he explained.

On the other side of the facility, the team on dry land has successfully completed its task with a minute to spare. They are rewarded with a quick water break. However, they forget to properly put away their equipment, and one deputy takes off without the others. They group's celebration quickly turns into a penalty.

"Pay attention to detail," one evaluator tells the group. "Stay focused."

"These guys will be hammered by the second or third day if they don't get the team concept down," Mazuran said. "We want to see if they can come together as a group. We'll watch to see who may want to stay in the back and not want to lead."

The leadership course at Camp Williams has its roots in a 1920s program in Germany designed by psychologists. It was later adopted by the British and eventually put to use in America. After their tasks at Camp Williams are done, the SWAT hopefuls will go to the firing range. Their day will not end until 1 a.m. Monday.

What the group doesn't know is that after they are sent home, they will get a wake-up call at 4 a.m. at which time they will be expected to show up for duty with their uniforms and weapons properly cleaned. They will be put through a similar schedule for the next two days.

"You have to stay in a constant state of readiness," Mazuran said.

Mazuran estimated that in 2 1/2 days, those trying out for SWAT are put through 30 to 36 hours of drills. It's by the second and third days that the characteristics the SWAT team is looking for will really come out, he said. The goal is to drive the cadets to the point of mental exhaustion to see what their discipline level is when mentally fatigued.

"Things come out (the deputies) are not aware of," he said.

Emotional characteristics and mental stamina are the important elements of a SWAT team member, while physical fitness is the least important, Mazuran said. Those who have the mental endurance to work though stress and pain will be the ones who make the team.

One current member of the sheriff's SWAT team whom Mazuran said was doing an excellent job tried out eight times before finally making the team.

The tryouts are watched extremely closely.

"These are guys I'm going to have to have full confidence in, "Mazuran said. "We have to have the right people at the right time."

It was several members of Salt Lake City's SWAT team who were first to arrive at Trolley Square during the shooting rampage in February.

"The guys at Trolley were in this position once (trying out for SWAT). You get the right people, it pays off big time," Mazuran said.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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