The Safariland Group Blog

SWAT Hands

August 6, 2009 at 08:27
In looking at a typical law enforcement officer, it is difficult to distinguish whether that officer is a SWAT officer, or a patrol officer. You can’t go by their physique; even the officer working in the Auto Pound works out. You can’t go with the gait, (or as non-SWAT people call it, the “arrogant strut”); there are quite a few officers that possess more than their fare share of arrogance. You sure can’t determine if an officer is a SWAT officer or not by the holstered hair dryer; more and more officers these days are concerned with how they look. Really, there is only one way to determine if an officer is a “playa” or a “wannabe”….and that is...SWAT Hands.
SWAT Hands are a phenomena that is international in scale. No one is quite sure who came up with SWAT Hands, or how long it has been around. But SWAT officers around the world know another SWAT officer when they see them exhibit “SWAT Hands”. (This also applies to Military SpecOps.)
People familiar with Fighter Pilots know they talk with their hands. They demonstrate their air maneuvers by showing their position and their enemy’s positions by displaying them with their hands. SWAT officers are similar by nature. Think about it, how many times can you, as the SWAT officer, talk about an entry and not use SWAT Hands. Not so easy, is it?
Now I am not saying that SWAT Hands are bad. They serve a valuable service. How else are the guys you are talking with know which way you were making an entry. They know you weren’t the rear guard. They know you weren’t the “pack mule”. They know you weren’t a Sniper (otherwise known as a “Placekicker”) on the perimeter. They know, just from your gestures alone that you were facing the correct way and you made entry.
Face it. How else could you demonstrate how to put “hands on” someone while making an entry. Or coming from a “ready-gun” to “Sights” or to transition from a shoulder fired weapon to a handgun? It is the best gesture out there.
Proper SWAT Hands
There are some different variations so let’s take this opportunity to ensure everyone is on the same page.
HANDS – Hands must be flat, with fingers extended. They can be perpendicular or parallel to the ground.
POSITION – Your Support Hand/Arm (the hand on the stock of the long-gun) must be extended out, further away from the other hand. (For right - handed shooters, this would be your left hand/arm.)
Your Strong Hand/Arm (the one that pulls the trigger) must be retracted in somewhat. Your elbow would be bent but be careful not to have a “chicken wing.” Your body must be square up to the target. (no Weaver Stance. This is SWAT, remember?!!?)
Some variances are considered acceptable. The main one would be the position of the strong hand. The older SWAT guys would tell you that the Strong Hand has to be straight up and down perpendicular to the ground. However over the past few years, with gas mask training, it is acceptable to have a slight “cant” to the Strong Hand.
Proper Attire
In order to ensure you deliver the full impact of your SWAT Hands, it is important to have on the proper attire. Obviously, BDU’s are acceptable but when a SWAT officer is wearing BDU’s, they are either training or in an operation and there is no real reason to exhibit SWAT Hands. So the actual “Uniform” for exhibiting SWAT Hands are:
  • 511 Pants. Preferably Khaki. This helps reinforce the image that you are truly indeed a SWAT officer.
  • Black rescue/rappel belt – Everyone knows that no one in the history of these belts has actually had to use them for a rescue, but hey, they look cool so don’t argue. You have to wear one.
  • Pager and Phone – These must be displayed prominently so that everyone will know that you are ready for the call to the “Big One”.
  • Wrap around sunglasses (Oakleys) Regardless of whether or not you are indoors, it is still a must, so wear them.
  • Knife – must be clipped to the pocket for everyone to see that you are a walking lethal weapon.
  • Footwear – black boots or something along the lines of Timberlands are acceptable. In either case, they must be waterproof. I don’t care if you are in the middle of the Outback, they have to be waterproof. It’s the rule.
However, with all great things, SWAT Hands must be used in moderation. Proper use of “SWAT Hands” includes:
  • Instructing a Class. There is no better time to use them. However, there must be a manageable “SWAT Hands” per hour ratio. If you are teaching an entry class, a Four (4) SWAT Hands per hour (4:1) ratio is acceptable. But if you are teaching a class on less-lethal, a 2:1 ratio is the norm.
  • Telling a war story. This is a great way to elaborate on your story. However, a word of caution: These stories are usually told in a bar so be careful not to knock your adult beverage over or your story will be long forgotten and your “cool” reputation will suffer.

How often can you use SWAT hands?

Rookies (5 years on SWAT or less) can only use them when relating their superhuman skills to non-SWAT officers. NEVER to a seasoned SWAT officer.

Seasoned officers can use SWAT Hands with anyone. Just make sure you use them to the greatest effectiveness.

Retired SWAT officers can use them sparingly. (See comment above about the bar.) Usually limited to once in a given day.

As with many things, overuse will ruin their effectiveness. Overuse will cause that SWAT Officer to be put on Double Secret Probation with the possibility of having his privilege of using them taken away and being classified as a “SWAT Dork”. Use them, but use them wisely.
Improper Uses of SWAT Hands
  • To gesture to your spouse which direction to head in the mall.
  • Using them while telling your neighbor which direction you head while mowing the grass.
  • Weaving your way through a crowded bar.
  • And of course, the granddaddy of them all, you never, ever use them if you have never been in SWAT.

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