Written by Kathy Marks
SWAT vehicles must deploy rapidly and require that most equipment be ready in place for that deployment. These manufacturers are designing the vehicles for those particular needs….
Matthews Specialty Vehicles
Michelle Shupe at Matthews Specialty Vehicles stated, “A SWAT vehicle is an inconspicuous, reconnaissance, tactical vehicle. They can be utilitarian in nature. However, Matthews Specialty Vehicles has integrated comfort features into our designs to move away from the traditional utilitarian nature of a SWAT vehicle and making it more comfortable for SWAT operators, while not sacrificing any of the functionality.
“In keeping with being inconspicuous, the SWAT vehicles are generally small and most SWAT vehicles are built as either conversions of a Sprinter Van or Step Van Style. These smaller vehicles allow for greater maneuverability and inconspicuousness during operations.”
The SWAT vehicles are generally outfitted to hold 8-12 persons and gear. The vehicles need to be both comfortable and functional because a team could potentially wait inside the vehicle for many hours. Matthews’ vehicles include such features as padded seats, TVs, power supplies, hidden emergency lights, radios, black out curtains, ceiling mounted handrails, and customized lockable storage for gear.
Shupe stated that, “Armoring is available, but is generally heavy and can affect maneuverability of the vehicle. Each department must weigh that decision in regard to cost and benefits.” She added that hidden emergency lights are often included. SWAT vehicles generally do not include bathrooms, kitchens or sleeping accommodations such as are often seen in command centers.
Capt. Yousef Sansour, Guilford County (NC), stated that the purpose of their SWAT vehicle is to deliver their team members to the scene as quickly as possible. It is a deployment vehicle, a mobile assault vehicle to get the officers to the scene.
Their truck is a Freightliner 3500 with a 170-inch wheelbase, 4WD, with a high-gravity suspension. Operators are often standing to quickly deploy and this makes them need more stability in the moving vehicle. Safety is a big concern and they had grab bars installed to help prevent accidents.
Capt. Sansour reports there are some important things to remember when deciding on the specs for a SWAT vehicle. It is important to keep it light and nimble, but also to have rugged capabilities such as 4WD for rough terrain or inclement weather. There needs to be clearance for the doors and enough headroom for officers wearing helmets.
Proper benching is also very important. SWAT officers in full gear may spend an extended time in the vehicle and there needs to be enough room between the bench and wall for them to lean back to sit comfortably and also sufficient space between the benches. That space is then used to hold shotguns or other equipment. The lift-up benches have compartments to fit rams and shotguns. There are also locked compartments.
Sansour stated, “Lighting is key. We can go from full lighting to complete blackout with the flip of a switch. We can exit from all sides of vehicle and it still looks like a delivery van. Rather than outside cameras to observe, we opted for windows all around to allow for seeing outside. Matthews put in see-thru vinyl so the sides look like solid metal but allow operators to see out while no one can see in. Blackout curtains also provide complete darkness.”