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PhillyPolice Unit Profile: Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT)


The Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit is an interesting and dynamic group. They regularly perform some of the most dangerous operations police-work has to offer. Their mission can be summed up by this prevalent SWAT axiom, “When the public needs help they call the police. When the police need help they call SWAT.”

The present-day SWAT unit was born from the Philadelphia Police Stakeout unit. Stakeout was formed in 1963 by Commissioner Bell to quash a rash of bank holdups. These officers received special weapons training and worked in civilian attire, right alongside the bank employees. In 1966 two SWAT officers, Policeman Carman Iacuzio and Policeman Robert Sharer, foiled a bank robbery at the Provident National Bank at 3rd and Packer. This not only created a lull in bank robberies, it also caused the expansion of the unit’s coverage to drug stores and other businesses with high rates of holdups.


Over the years, Stakeout has adjusted its mission to fit the times, always keeping an eye to special weapons training and tactics. One such tactic was the “Insurance Man Team.” In the 1960’s insurance salesmen would go door to door and were seen by criminals as easy targets. The officers would dress as insurance salesman and walk through a high-crime area in an attempt to get robbed. Policeman Robert Hurst, an actual insurance agent before becoming a cop, was the most successful of the Stakeout Decoys. No one has been robbed and injured more times than Officer Hurst.

Throughout the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s Stakeout continued to evolve in to a traditional SWAT team until 1998 when Commissioner Timoney officially changed their name to SWAT. Today, it takes over 6 weeks for new SWAT officers to become certified SWAT operators and that is just the beginning. Team members receive regular training to stay up to date with the latest tactics. SWAT officers train with Ordinance Disposal (Bomb Squad) in explosive entries and suicide bombing threats, the Philadelphia Fire Department in tactical rappelling, and the Aviation Unit in high altitude sniper intervention and helicopter deployment. In addition, SWAT has a cadre of trainers that teach room entries and hostage rescue operations to officers from other jurisdictions. They have also taken the lead in training our own officers in responding to and neutralizing threats posed by school shootings and various other active shooter incidents.

SWAT is a dynamic and interesting unit with a long history of service and professionalism. From insurance man teams to repelling operations to explosive room entries, they are a well-trained group of dedicated officers who have been serving our city for many years and will continue to do so for many years to come.