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#1
Old 12-15-2014, 02:14 AM
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Why do SWAT teams wear ski masks

When SWAT teams, or their non-US equivalents, are shown in the media they are often wearing ski masks (e.g. here during the current hostage situation in Australia, or here and here from Google image search on "SWAT team")

Why on earth would they do that? I realize actual Military special forces have to key their identity secret, and in unstable parts of the world police have to as well. But surely for a civilian police officer in a Western democracy. Whatever advantage ski masks may have in terms of camouflage and intimidation are vastly outweighed by the practical problems of trying to do your job (a difficult physical one where quick communication is a matter of life and death) in a ski mask. The current hostage crisis in Sidney is happening in the middle of an Australian summer, so wearing a ski mask can't be much fun.
#2
Old 12-15-2014, 02:23 AM
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This cop forum says it's for minor face protection: they're flame-retardant and might help prevent exposure to hot gases and burning things. They also simply look cool, apparently. (I don't disagree!)
#3
Old 12-15-2014, 02:45 AM
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They're made of nomax which is flame retardant. Short barreled SMGs (like H&K MP4s and MP5s) put out a lot of muzzle blast. Flash burns can be an issue. And if you cut it too close with a flash bang also. And there's the psychological intimidation factor also. But I think the latter came about only after the identity hiding (Really useful for the SAS during the N. Ireland troubles) and the flash protection.
#4
Old 12-15-2014, 07:18 AM
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I'm pretty sure that protecting the identity of the SWAT officers does indeed play a roll: There are terrorist groups or traditional criminal organizations who will attempt to harm or intimidate individual officers or their relatives before, during or after an incident.
#5
Old 12-15-2014, 08:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranger Jeff View Post
Short barreled SMGs (like H&K MP4s and MP5s) put out a lot of muzzle blast. Flash burns can be an issue.
I....yeah, not sure about this.
#6
Old 12-15-2014, 08:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Donnerwetter View Post
I'm pretty sure that protecting the identity of the SWAT officers does indeed play a roll: There are terrorist groups or traditional criminal organizations who will attempt to harm or intimidate individual officers or their relatives before, during or after an incident.
I'm not aware that the members of SWAT teams identities are kept particularly secret. Since they're public employees, terrorists could probably just identify them by looking them up. Or just asking them.
#7
Old 12-15-2014, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
I'm not aware that the members of SWAT teams identities are kept particularly secret. Since they're public employees, terrorists could probably just identify them by looking them up. Or just asking them.
Or just looking at the PD website, which usually has a prominent photo of the SWAT team posing on their Bearcat tactical vehicle.
#8
Old 12-15-2014, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Simplicio View Post
I'm not aware that the members of SWAT teams identities are kept particularly secret. Since they're public employees, terrorists could probably just identify them by looking them up. Or just asking them.
I found a German court case which dealt with this issue.

This was about an incident in 2007 when SWAT officers in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, had to accompany a prison inmate who happened to be associated with the “Russian Mafia” to an eye clinic were he received treatment. The officers were plain-clothed (and obviously not wearing ski masks). The intention was to keep the whole thing as low profile as possible and get it over with as fast as possible. By pure chance, a local journalist and a photographer stumbled onto the scene and approached the police officers (i. e. SWAT team members). The officers requested the photographer not to take any pictures to which he complied. Later, the publishing company sued the police. During the lawsuit, the police claimed that the Russian Mafia targeting individual officers once they were identified was indeed a major concern.

Last edited by Donnerwetter; 12-15-2014 at 09:06 AM.
#9
Old 12-15-2014, 09:40 AM
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It's a tactical balaclava, not a "ski mask".

I assume they wear them to protect their face from broken glass and whatnot when smashing down a door.
#10
Old 12-15-2014, 12:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by msmith537 View Post
It's a tactical balaclava, not a "ski mask".
As far as I can tell from various references, "balaclava" and "ski mask" are exactly the same thing. I guess SWAT team members wear a "tactical" ski mask, and not a "practical" ski mask.
#11
Old 12-15-2014, 12:59 PM
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It had been my understanding that a ski mask has an individual hole for each eye, (and one for the mouth), and a balaclava has a single goggle-shaped opening for both eyes, and usually no opening for the mouth (the wearer could either breathe through the fabric, or take advantage of its elasticity and pull the viewing hole open wide enough to reveal the entire face).

This appears to be too restrictive for Google Images, though.
#12
Old 12-15-2014, 01:06 PM
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According to the Book of Knowledge, it's all the same:

Quote:
A balaclava /ˌbæləˈklɑːvə/, also known as a balaclava helmet or ski mask, is a form of cloth headgear designed to expose only part of the face. Depending on style and how it's worn only the eyes, mouth and nose, or just the front of the face are unprotected. Versions with a full face opening may be rolled into a hat to cover the crown of the head or folded down as a collar around the neck.

The name comes from their use at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, referring to a town near Sevastopol in Crimea.[1]
#13
Old 12-15-2014, 06:37 PM
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FWIW I actually thought the term balaclava was a Britishism, hence why I didn't use it in the OP.

The anonymity reasoning doesn't pass the sniff test to me. Uniformed civilian police officers are not meant to anonymous in democracies (I know in the UK they are required to provide their "warrant card" when asked).

My 2 cents is they wear them because the military special forces, which SWAT tactics are based on, wear them, and their police counter parts (who I am sure want to be them very much) just copied them.

Last edited by griffin1977; 12-15-2014 at 06:37 PM.
#14
Old 12-15-2014, 07:45 PM
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Okay, let's call it a "Tactical Balaclava". It's got one opening. One can either wear protective goggles (low-light or no) or one can pull the opening down and wear a "gas mask" with it.
#15
Old 12-15-2014, 07:45 PM
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There's a long history of law enforcement people wearing masks.... See this short 2 minute film.....

Note: Rude language.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Elw9HZfqt2g
#16
Old 12-15-2014, 09:25 PM
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Same reason they might cover their badge number. Protect their Identity.

http://vimeo.com/31568216
http://sfist.com/2011/11/04/oakland_...sted_for_c.php
http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/201...de-badges.html
#17
Old 12-16-2014, 07:27 AM
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I assumed it was for "intimidation" factor - if a villian sees a masked SWAT team bearing down on them they're more likely to give in.
#18
Old 12-16-2014, 08:00 AM
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I remember the whole para-military thing from the first season of Breaking Bad - it's usually portrayed at night when you can't appreciate the climate.

Showing the whole apparatus in bright morning sunlight - a bunch of slightly excited, overweight provincial police dressed in para-military kit busting into a suburban bungalow - was quite interesting.

Can't recall if Ride of the Valkyries was actually playing or whether it was just in my head.
#19
Old 12-16-2014, 03:46 PM
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Might it not also have to do with blacking out the face (for white guys) so it doesn't stand out in the dark and make a target? Also for cover/concealment during a stealthy approach.

It looks badass as well.

Regards,
Shodan
#20
Old 12-16-2014, 03:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
FWIW I actually thought the term balaclava was a Britishism, hence why I didn't use it in the OP.

The anonymity reasoning doesn't pass the sniff test to me. Uniformed civilian police officers are not meant to anonymous in democracies (I know in the UK they are required to provide their "warrant card" when asked).
Since except for very large urban departments SWAT teams are an additional duty and not their main job, the teams often have members that also act as undercover officers in their day to day duties. That is certainly not true for all but it is the case for some. That is not a guess. Many of the other answers are also correct.
#21
Old 12-16-2014, 05:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by griffin1977 View Post
Uniformed civilian police officers are not meant to anonymous in democracies (I know in the UK they are required to provide their "warrant card" when asked).
Which is why its completely unheard of for cops, particularly when dealing with protesting hippies who deserve to get the crap beat out of them, to remove or cover their badge numbers.

Now I think that very few or no SWAT team members are consciously thinking "If I put on a balaclava, nobody can see who I am, which will let me commit all kinds of Evil Depredations without being caught". Very few people think of themselves as someone who sets out to do evil, after all.
But I do think that a lot of cops -- like a lot of people in general -- really want to be all cool and Hollywood bad-ass with cool complex gear and stuff. And, I don't think it's something people deliberately choose or think about, but being unrecognizable feels cool and bad-ass. I mean, being unrecognizable and able to do whatever you want without fear is bad-ass, right?

So cops find some reason or excuse to cover their faces and play movie bad-ass. Whether having their face covered makes them tend to act more like a bully/bad-ass, I guess is something people can consider for themselves.

But I don't think it's any accident that SWAT teams overwhelmingly model themselves on stormtroopers, rather than, say football teams or astronauts or other groups that have clear visible indentification
#22
Old 12-17-2014, 09:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reply View Post
They also simply look cool, apparently.
Works for me.
#23
Old 12-17-2014, 01:52 PM
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If your face is visible, you're more likely to worry about what people will think of your behavior.

I heard a discussion on the radio recently about violent protests being less effective than non-violent ones. The scene they painted is this. Suppose you are a police officer, on riot duty, watching a protest. If it's a violent protest and you see your cousin in the crowd, but your cousin is throwing rocks or carrying a weapon, and you feel threatened, then over your radio you hear the police captain give the order to fire into the crowd, you're probably going to comply. BUT if the crowd is non-violent and you see not only your cousin but also your grandmother in the crowd and you don't feel threatened at all, and then over your radio you hear the police captain give the order to fire into the crowd, you're probably NOT going to comply. You couldn't live with yourself if you shot your own cousin when he's unarmed and your grandmother saw you do it.

The police captain knows this. So he tells you to put on a mask before you go into the street. That way, if you have to shoot your cousin, your grandmother won't know that it was you who did it.
#24
Old 12-17-2014, 03:02 PM
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Ever catch a hot shell casing in the face? Ouchie.
#25
Old 12-17-2014, 04:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by standingwave View Post
Except in your video, covering your badge is against policy. Wearing a balaclava is part of their tactical gear and seems to be worn under specific circumstances.


Plus it also allows for such Hollywood tropes as throwing on a SWAT guy's mask and sneaking away in the confusion or pulling off your balaclava and revealing yourself to be Commissioner Gordon, alive and well after all!
#26
Old 12-17-2014, 07:48 PM
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I've always wondered why some of them wear camo clothing. What's the point in that?
#27
Old 12-17-2014, 07:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reply View Post
They also simply look cool, apparently.
And... this is the correct answer.

I know quiet a few LEOs, and have frequented LEO message boards. Unfortunately many have a "military" mindset. They think they're at war, and behave (and buy stuff) accordingly.
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