Special Weapons and Tactics squad

Special Weapons and Operations Squad

The Special Weapons and Operations Squad (SWOS) was a Police Tactical Group similar to Tactical Response Group. The acronym SWOS was used by several different Australian States police departments at various times. SWOS was also sometimes referred to as being the Special Weapons and Operations Section.

The term SWOS is currently no longer in use by any Australian Police department.


In New South Wales, SWOS was a police unit, created in 1945 following an upsurge in the incidence of crime perpetrated by criminals armed with surplus war equipment It was originally known as the Riot Squad and was part of the Criminal Investigation Branch Its purpose was to deal with criminal incidents involving the use of these firearms. Over the following years it became known as the Emergency Squad, with training, equipment purchase and maintenance being conducted by the staff at the Ballistics Unit.

In 1979, a permanent staff of five was established to oversight the training and equipment used by the squad, and the name was changed to the Special Weapons and Operations Squad.

In the Queensland Police the tactical team was known as the Special Weapons and Operations Squad up until 1992, now known as the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT)


The SWOS’s charter was very similar to that of the Tactical Response Group, the difference being SWOS’s counter-terrorist role. The official role of SWOS was to deal with the following :


Apart from its small full-time component the majority of officers were part time operators called upon when needed from their usual assignements. Most of the officers assigned to SWOS were Detectives, whereas almost all officers assigned to TRG duties were from General Duties (patrol) backgrounds. The TRG was created in 1981 and although similar to SWOS, it was originally created to deal with riots, civil disturbance and other tactical situtaions to assist General Duties Police.

As a consequence of regionalisation of the Police Force in November 1987, SWOS was divided into the State Element, concerned with policing matters generally, and the Regional Element, which would deal with matters either affecting only one region or matters which could be effectively dealt with from regional resources. The State Element was stationed in Central Sydney and had an authorised strength of 15 permanent members or 'units', which was soon increased to 27. The Regional Elements were made up of 20 members from each of the four Regional Crime Squads, with another 400 part-time personnel in country areas who were to be trained to a sufficient level to meet the majority of the situations likely to arise. The SWOS personnel attached to the Regional Crimes Squads were responsible to the SWOS Co-ordinator, the person in charge of SWOS operations in a region. SWOS personnel stationed in other pans of a region are responsible to their respective Patrol Commanders.

The TRG units were also divided around the State on a Regional basis with each Region having a small full-time section and larger part time component.

SWOS Dissolution

At approximately 11.30 am on Monday 24 April 1989 Constables McQueen, Donnelly and Judd from the Sydney Anti-theft Unit were patrolling at the comer of Haig and Boomerang Streets when their attention was attracted to a man at the intersection. Constables McQueen and Donnelly alighted from the vehicle and walked up Haig Street and approached the man, seeking to search him. The man attacked the police and produced a gun and fired on them. Constable Donnelly returned the fire and he and Constable McQueen were seriously injured. The offender escaped and Constable McQueen later died in hospital as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. The gunman was identified as Aboriginal man John Porter, a known dangerous criminal who had spent the previous six years in gaol (jail) for crimes of violence, and had a long record prior to that for violence and dishonesty.

As a result of information from an informants into the whereabouts of John Porter SWOS officers obtained warrants to search for the clothing and weapon of Porter in a number of premises on the 27th April 1989. In a later Royal Commission these warrants were described as "invalid" and the raids "unlawful" as the team had mde entry at 5.53AM, 7 minutes before the warrant they had allowed. One of these premises was 193 Sydenham Road, Marrickville; the informant who identified these premises was described by Commissioner Wootten as clearly unreliable. During the dynamic entry raid the unarmed, near naked 29 year old David John Gundy was shot dead by an SWOS officer's shotgun. The police claimed that Gundy reacted angrily when woken from his sleep by Police bursting into his house and struggled with an SWOS officer. He allegedly tried to pull the gun off the officer which then accidentally discharged and fatally wounded Gundy. The Royal Commission considered that the officer was "courageously and compentently" doing what he was trained to do, but that the training and preparation methods were themselves seriously deficient.

The shooting of David Gundy along with the Tactical Response Group accidental shooting of another unarmed man, Darren Brennan, in similar circumstances in Glebe in June 1990 led to enormous criticism from the public and media. The State Government at the time stepped in to appease the media/public and this ultimately led to both the SWOS and TRG being dissolved with a new unit, officers, selection, training and operational procedures being created with the State Protection Group in 1991.

Current status

Both SWOS and the TRG units were dissolved in 1991 with a completely new full-time unit being created by the NSW Police known as the Tactical Operations Unit of the State Protection Group, commonly referred to as simply being the SPG.

See also

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