Myself and three teammates attended the NTOA Advanced SWAT course from 23-27 February in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The class was instructed by Steve Mescan of Pittsburgh PD (NTOA Eastern Director) and Dan Murphy of Fort Collins PD (NTOA Western Director). Pennsylvania Capital Police was the host agency. The classroom portions took place at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission building in Harrisburg, with practical application exercises taking place at an abandoned hospital and a couple of older residences.
I attended the NTOA Basic SWAT course in 2013, and this is (obviously) a progression of that. It's hard to go in depth with specifics for this sort of class, mostly for OPSEC reasons, so I'll generalize for anyone contemplating hosting or attending this course. I apologize in advance this is sort of disjointed and rambling, I'm just rattling off what I remember and from my notes.
Some background: the regional tactical team I am on does not use ANY of the tactics the NTOA is teaching as far as conducting threshold assessments, pieing off doors, or using slow and deliberate clearing techniques. Our two speeds are "covert" and "dynamic", and even when covert the "cross/buttonhook" mentality rules the day. Yes I think this is dumb, and yes there is an uprising underway to start doing things a smarter and safer way, but we have large ego's to contend with. We don't come close to operating in a "tactical laboratory" as Steve put it, and sadly there isn't much critical thought taking place with how we do business (yet..).
I mention this to give a frame of reference for how I went into the course. I went into the Basic SWAT class having only USMC, police academy, and limited SWAT experience in the tactical world. When I came back from that class, I told the team commander that it was all but a waste of time, because the NTOA is teaching a different set of tactics and skills that don't really translate well to what we do. Naturally I was told to hush, and carried on.
Enter the Advanced SWAT class. Both Steve and Dan said right from Day 1, this is a thinker's class. The stated goals of the class were to develop thinking SWAT officers who make tactical decisions based on logic and a prescribed set of philosophies (for example, "getting in a gunfight is best done from outside the room"). The course was more about doctrine and how to choose tools and tactics that fit within the doctrine, than it was about teaching new skills.
If anyone is familiar with the Basic SWAT class NTOA puts on, this builds on that and their "high/low" approach for clearing, except in hostage rescue. If you aren't using high/low tactics at your team, you will probably be like me and not get as much out of the course as you would if it was similar to what your team is doing.
What I really enjoyed about this class was the incident debriefs and real experience the instructors brought, challenging us to think through problems. They weren't afraid to point out where their teams have made mistakes, and they explained the "why" of what they teach very well. They pointed out, and I 100% agree with, young officers like myself need to know the Why behind doing something. This helps me to buy in and make good decisions on my own, because I understand the mission and what the purpose of my actions are.
We conducting numerous officer down drills,to include self aid with a TQ, which I thought was excellent. Steve and Dan mythbusted the "pretty" downed officer drill where everybody is in formation and guys step over the casualty and lay down fire while others drag him/her out. Creativity was encouraged for this, including querying the casualty if possible to determine if there was any useful intel he could provide.
The instructors fit in a live fire portion of the class, which I understand isn't usually a part of the course. The Capitol Police graciously provided ammunition, and a couple guys from Baltimore County shared their stash with those of us who didn't bring ammunition. The indoor range facility was really awesome, it's located at a community college and I can't imagine having a better place to shoot. The live fire wasn't ballistic masturbation, we built on the doctrine and drills we'd been learning the previous 3 days while including the live fire to help validate the lessons.
I remember reading a while back on here about Capitol Police going to Tavor rifles. I didn't see any of those with optics, and at least two had multiple malfunctions on the range. I was a few slots down so I couldn't tell exactly what the problem was, but one of their guys said they have issues with accidentally dropping magazines out of those. The malfunctions I saw didn't seem to be magazine-drop related, as the mag was still in when the guy was trying to fix it.
The classroom facility was excellent, clean and new. Everything you need to concentrate on learning and not dealing with substandard facilities.
I also recall a discussion about NTOA pushing "only" slow and deliberate clearing for all situations, this was definitely not true at this class and for crisis entry or hostage rescue evolutions, it felt more like the "dynamic" tactics I'm used to (used to, not necessarily good at). The other thing both Steve and Dan harped on all week was that they are teaching "a" way, not "the" way. It was very clear to me that they were both open to opinions or questions about how to do things better or different. When classmates asked questions, I heard Steve say multiple times "that's a 'good' way, now consider this maybe 'better' way".
As is par for the course, on day 3 I was able to conduct a successful secret linkup challenge and pass with another LF'r from Philadelphia, as usual the world seems small when you come across people from this forum.
OVERALL: If your team uses the tactics NTOA is teaching, or something similar, this is a good class to attend. I'll stop far short of saying it isn't worth it to go if you're like us and stuck in 1995, because the debriefs and information sharing are beneficial regardless of what you actually do. I struggled with the practical exercises somewhat because it is hard to change your instincts and habits from doing it a different way, and slow down to do it the way the course teaches. A good divining rod is to attend the Basic SWAT class and if you feel completely out of place, you probably would be better served with something other than the Advanced SWAT class. The instructors were top notch and if your team has kept up with the times and taken hard looks at how you do things, you'll probably enjoy this class and find something to put into practice.