Become a SWAT Agent: Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn how to become a SWAT agent. Research the job duties and the education requirements associated with this job and find out how to start a career as a SWAT agent.

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Do I Want to Be a SWAT Agent?

Experienced law enforcement officers who want to work on tactical response units may seek assignment to special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams. These teams are found in large local police departments and at federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

Members of a SWAT team are law enforcement agents who work full-time positions. Because of the nature of the job, evening, night, and weekend hours may be required. She or he must also be physically fit and able to handle stressful, life-threatening situations. SWAT agents must be comfortable working with a wide range of weapons and carry a firearm. The position carries a higher-than-average risk for injury or death. There is great reward, however, in helping and saving civilians from harm.

Job Requirements

An individual who wants to become a SWAT agent or officer will generally need to have a background in law enforcement or military police, a high school diploma and extensive training in weapons, defensive measures, emergency response, first aid, and other areas. The following are some core requirements to become a SWAT officer.

Common Requirements
Degree Level High school diploma*; graduation from police academy*, some college coursework may be required**
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement or a related field*
Licensure and/or Certification State driver's license**
Experience At least three years of law enforcement or military experience**
Key Skills Physically fit*, strong stamina and strength*, good judgment*, ability to multi-task* and strong perceptiveness*
Computer Skills Basic computer skills*
Technical Skills Firearms training*, self-defense**
Additional Requirements U.S. citizens*, at least age 21*, no felony, domestic violence or assault convictions**, pass medical, drug and written tests*, oral and psychological exam*, hiring board review*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com job postings in October 2012.

Step 1: Obtain an Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), a person needs only a high school education to become a law enforcement officer, although many agencies require some college education or a college degree. Some community colleges offer tactical law enforcement classes and programs. These programs cover areas such as self-defense, firearms training, tactical operations, search and seizure and tactical report writing. A few colleges also offer police academy training programs, while some private industry associations offer SWAT training programs.

Step 2: Become a Law Enforcement Officer

Only experienced officers may seek assignment to special units, which includes SWAT teams. Hiring requirements vary by agency. Generally, applicants must be U.S. citizens, at least 21 years old and meet physical and medical qualifications, according to the BLS. Previous military experience is beneficial. There are also written and oral examinations, psychological testing and drug tests. Individuals need to review the requirements of their prospective employers for more information.

Step 3: Complete Training Academy

According to police officer job postings from CareerBuilder.com in October 2012, recruits must complete a training academy. Large police departments operate their own academy programs. Recruits from smaller agencies usually attend regional- or state-run academies. The BLS noted that these training programs are mentally and physically demanding. Training topics range from civil rights and constitutional law to emergency response, self-defense, traffic control and first aid.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Duties of a law enforcement officer vary by the type of agency and occupational specialty. Individuals starting out as rookie police officers at the local level generally are assigned to patrol duties in geographic districts and are partnered with experienced officers. During patrols, these officers look any signs of criminal activity, respond to emergency calls, enforce traffic laws and investigate complaints by citizens, according to the BLS.

After a certain number of years of experience, officers may request to work on specific types of crime units. These special units may focus on narcotics, motorcycle, canine corps, community policing, mounted or horseback patrol and SWAT teams. Experienced FBI special agents may seek a similar SWAT specialty via the agency's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT).

Step 5: Seek Continuing Education

SWAT officers interested in advancement to leadership positions or who want to work as federal law enforcement officers may want to consider earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology or a related field. Federal law enforcement officers, including those at the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, need a bachelor's degree for employment, according to the BLS.

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