Police tactical unit

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GSG 9 established in September 1972 following the 1972 Summer Olympics to combat international terrorism was one of the first police tactical units.[1]

A police tactical unit (PTU) is a specialized police unit formed and trained to handle high incident situations that are beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement units because of the level of violence - or risk of violence - involved.[2][3][4][Note 1] A police tactical unit's taskings may include executing dangerous search warrants and executing arrest warrants for dangerous persons, arresting or neutralizing dangerous or mentally ill armed persons, and intervening in high risk situations such as shootouts, hostage and terrorist incidents.[6][7]


GIGN assault team from the French National Gendarmerie in 2016

Police tactical units are dedicated units composed of personnel carefully selected and trained in tactical skillsets to carry out the responsibilities of the unit and in use of force policies, including lethal force for counter-terrorism.[8] A PTU is equipped with specialized police and military-type equipment.[9] PTU personnel may also be trained in crisis negotiation skills.[10]

A PTU can be part of either:

Other government agencies, depending on the country, may establish specialized units with comparable taskings, training and equipment such as the coast guard, customs or corrections.[13]

In the United States, police tactical units are known by the generic term of Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team;[14][15] the term originated from the Los Angeles Police Department.[14][16] In Australia, the Federal government together with the state and territory governments use the term police tactical group for police tactical units.[3] The European Union uses the term special intervention unit for national counter terrorist police tactical units.[17]


Police tactical units have similarities to military special forces units such as organization, selection, training, equipment, and operational methodologies.[18][19][Note 2]

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".[22] 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.[23][24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Academic literature from North America has used the term Police Paramilitary Unit (PPU) to describe a police tactical unit.[5]
  2. ^ Police units are not gender diverse with women members rare similar to military units.[20][21]
  1. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 39-40.
  2. ^ Alvaro, Sam (2000). Tactical law enforcement in Canada; an exploratory survey of Canadian police agencies (Thesis). Carleton University. p. 1,37,51-52. ISBN 9780612484191. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  3. ^ a b 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.
  4. ^ 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. p. 15,32. ISBN 9789174596991. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  5. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 3.
  6. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 99-103.
  7. ^ NTOA 2018, p. 10.
  8. ^ NTOA (April 2018). "Tactical Response and Operations Standard for Law Enforcement Agencies" (PDF). p. 12,34,38. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  9. ^ NTOA 2018, p. 45.
  10. ^ NTOA 2018, p. 35.
  11. ^ a b Alvaro 2000, p. 40.
  12. ^ Lutterbeck, Derek (2013). The Paradox of Gendarmeries : Between Expansion, Demilitarization and Dissolution (PDF). SSR PAPER 8. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). p. 7. ISBN 9789292222864. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  13. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 44.
  14. ^ a b Rantatalo 2013, p. 15.
  15. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 72.
  16. ^ Alvaro 2000, p. 27-28.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ North Atlantic Treaty Organization (18 December 2020). NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (PDF) (in English and French). Vol. AAP-06 (2020 ed.). Brussels: NATO Standardization Agency. p. 119. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 June 2021.
  19. ^ Alexander, John B (July 2010). "4: Comparison between SOF and Law Enforcement Agencies". Convergence: Special Operations Forces and Civilian Law Enforcement (Report). JSOU report 10-6. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Press. pp. 48–62. Retrieved 29 August 2021.
  20. ^ Dahle, Thorvald O. (March 2015). "Women and SWAT: Making Entry into Police Tactical Teams" (PDF). Law Enforcement Executive Forum. Macomb, Illinois: Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute. 15 (1): 21,25. doi:10.19151/LEEF.2015.1501b. ISSN 1552-9908. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2017.
  21. ^ Turnley, Dr. Jessica Glicken; Stewart, Dr. Dona J.; Rubright, Dr. Rich; Quirin, Dr. Jason (June 2014). Special Operations Forces Mixed-Gender Elite Teams (PDF). Dr. William Knarr (Project Leader). MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Press. pp. 11, 85–86. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  22. ^ Watkin, Kenneth (2016). Fighting at the Legal Boundaries: Controlling the Use of Force in Contemporary Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 437. ISBN 9780190457976.
  23. ^ Newburn, Tim; Neyroud, Peter (2013). Dictionary of Policing. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 187. ISBN 9781843922872.
  24. ^ Rantatalo 2013, p. 23.
  25. ^ Weber, Diane Cecilia (1999). Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments (PDF). Cato Briefing Papers No. 50. Washington: Cato Institute. p. 3. Retrieved 25 May 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Katz, Samuel M. (1995). The Illustrated Guide to the World's Top Counter-Terrorist Forces. Hong Kong: Concord Publication Company. ISBN 9623616023.
  • Metzner, Frank; Friedrich, Joachim (2002). Polizei-Sondereinheiten Europas Geschichte - Aufgaben - Einsätze [Police-Special units of Europe History-Tasks-Operations] (in German). Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 9783613022492.

External links[edit]