Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) are elite tactical units in American police departments. Similar organizations in other areas are South Australian STAR Force (Special Tasks And Rescue), London's Specialist Firearms Command and Taiwan's Thunder Squad. It is trained to perform high-risk operations that fall outside of the abilities of regular patrol officers, including serving high-risk arrest warrants, barricaded suspects, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, and engaging heavily-armed criminals. SWAT teams are often equipped with specialized firearms including assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, carbines, riot control agents, stun grenades, and high-powered rifles for snipers. They have specialized equipment including heavy body armor, entry tools, armored vehicles, advanced night vision optics, and motion detectors for covertly determining the positions of hostages or hostage takers inside of an enclosed structure.
The first SWAT team was established in the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1960s. Since then, many American police departments, especially in major cities and at the federal and state-levels of government, have established their own elite units under various names; these units, despite their official name, are referred to collectively as SWAT units in colloquial usage.
The SWAT team has appeared in several episodes of Criminal Minds, including the following:
- In L.D.S.K., SWAT agents prepared themselves to storm a Des Plaines hospital as an unsub holds Hotch, Reid, and numerous others hostage. The operation was cancelled when Reid shoots the unsub in the head.
- In Distress, a SWAT sniper shoots an unsub as he ran towards a young boy during a hallucination in Houston.
- In Children of the Dark, a SWAT sniper prepares to shoot an unsub as he holds two people hostage at a Denver donut shop. However, Hotch convinced him via cell phone to come out and he was arrested instead.
- In Minimal Loss, a SWAT unit attempted to raid the headquarters of an underground cult in La Plata County, only to be shot at by several cultists, resulting in two agents being injured, one of them bleeding to death en route to the hospital.
- In Haunted, SWAT agents surrounded the house of a retired serial killer in Louisville as a psychotic unsub holds him and a young boy hostage. However, Hotch walks into the house unarmed, resulting in the boy's release, the unsub's arrest, and the resident's murder by the unsub.
- In Compromising Positions, SWAT agents waited as an undercover Prentiss engages in a conversation with an unsub at an Akron bar. The agents rush into action as shots are fired, but it is revealed that Prentiss shot the unsub when he realized who she really was and attempted to kill her.