Monday, January 24, 2022

Confusion as police rename SARS as SWAT, America’s specialised military unit

While SARS was designed to wear mufti and quietly investigate armed robbery; SWAT responds to active shooter, terrorism and hostage situation.

• October 13, 2020
SWAT team used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: The Verge]

The Force Headquarters on Tuesday announced the creation of a new police unit to replace the infamous special anti-robbery squad that was abolished amidst nationwide uproar on Sunday.

The police said special weapons and tactics (SWAT) would replace SARS, the unit that was dissolved on Sunday following  protests against its corruption, intimidation and deadly use of force. 

Inspector-General Muhammed Adamu “has set up a new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team that will fill the gaps arising from the dissolution of the defunct SARS,” the police said in a statement Tuesday evening

“Prospective members of this new team will also undergo psychological and medical examination to ascertain their fitness and eligibility for the new assignment,” police said.

Emerging confusion

The announcement was summarily greeted with outrage on social media Monday, as Nigerians collectively questioned the intention of the police in renaming a brutal squad without a uniform for a specialised unit in the United States.

An examination of the announcement showed that the police, while rushing to pacify nationwide protests, have muddled the role of SARS and SWAT. 

SARS was created in the early 1990s to respond strictly to armed robbery attacks. SARS officers strictly dressed in mufti to conduct discreet, and oftentimes labyrinth, investigation into an armed robbery incident.

SARS officers were supposed to be unknown to even their colleagues in the conventional police structure, they were called scorpion as a cover name, according to a manual seen by Peoples Gazette.

SARS only investigated armed robbery after the robbers had fled. Conventional and mobile police officers respond to active armed robbery, and SARS operatives only deployed afterwards to collect evidence from the scene and go after the robbers discreetly.

SWAT on the other hand is an American law enforcement body that is often called in to neutralise active shooter incidents, terrorist attacks and rescue hostages.

The unit also wears special military fatigues and carries military-grade weapons to operations.

The unit has responded to many active shooter and hostage situations in the U.S. over the past six decades of its creation, including Columbine shooting in 1999 and Las Vegas hostage attack two months ago.

Cheta Nwanze, a security analyst at SBM Intelligence in Lagos, said Nigeria’s replacement of SARS with SWAT was a dangerous confusion, apart from its apparent plagiarism.

“The premise upon which SARS was created was to tackle armed robbery in Lagos,” Mr. Nwanze said. “SWAT teams were created in the 1960s in the US in response to the civil rights protests and the riots that followed.”

“So perhaps this Nigerian SWAT team is being created in response to the end SARS protests and riots which the authorities are anticipating,” he said.

Police spokesman Frank Mba did not immediately return a request seeking comments about the confusion that followed today’s announcement.

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