Tops in Texas: HPD’s SWAT wins Texas competition in the Hill Country events, travels to Orlando to compete in SWAT Round-up International

Tom Kennedy

A method exists to establish which law enforcement agency has “the best” SWAT team in Texas.

You hold a statewide competition on a countryside not nearly as flat as Houston.

You set up eight grueling hypotheticals under the auspices of the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association. Besides keeping your cool under extreme duress, these exercises entail all the other SWAT basics such as:


  • Running
  • Rapelling
  • Running faster
  • Jumping from a helicopter
  • Running Faster!
  • Shooting pistols at correct targets in Shoot, Don’t Shoot situations.
  • Running fast some more.
  • Shooting rifles and pistols at bad guys, not good guys.
  • Keep running
  • Dragging a simulated “body” to a finish lines.
  • All of the above you do against time. That means run faster and faster!


As HPD’s SWAT captain, Stephen Smith, might say (every day) – if you’re in good shape and think on your feet, as every SWAT officer must do over and over again, you can win this competition.

And that’s exactly what happened this year’s TTPOA’s SWAT Competition at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, west of Austin on the weekend of Sept. 23-25.

The HPD SWAT team won the station championship!

“This is a great accomplishment,” Capt. Smith said. “Everybody here is supporting them and are very, very proud of them. These guys train on their own and bought their own competition rifles and pistols. The Union sponsored them in the TTPOA competition and they just worked hours and hours on their own training.

“Now after finishing second or third in previous years we’re going to a national event when we can show we’re the elite and the best of the best and actually have a trophy to show for it.”

Smith praised the work ethic of the SWAT competitors and couldn’t help but pass along how proud he is of SWAT’s overall conditioning program at its headquarters in an old military reserve with a gym on Highway 290.

The tireless team – which finished first in three of the eight events – was bound for the next round in Orlando, Florida Nov. 13-18 in what is known as SWAT Round-up International.

“It’s hard to say we’re the best one,” team captain Marco Lopez explained, pointing out that SWAT’s main objective is not necessarily being “the best SWAT team” in Texas or the nation but being ready to be the best one protecting Houston. “We were the best one sent from all these cities, based on a competition.

“They get you stressed out, your heart rate up as far as it will go and force you to make crucial decisions in those stressful conditions.”

In Orlando, the six members of the HPD team will compete with 59 other teams, including the state champions from about every state in the Union.

By meeting the challenge of the stressful standards of the Burnet ranch competition, HPD’s SWAT team won three of the eight events, thus earning the John Riojas trophy as the top SWAT competition team in the state of Texas.

“The competition is based on what every SWAT team in the country trains for,” Lopez pointed told the Badge & Gun. “We’re talking hostage rescue, officer down, an officer medical event, a technical event, repelling. This year they had a helicopter event where we had to fly and work from a helicopter.”

Arguably, the HPD SWAT team runs often enough to stay in better shape than the Houston Texans. In the Burnet area where the competition was held, they faced a crucial obstacles that doesn’t come with the Houston territory: the hills of the Texas Hill Country.

Lopez said the team well remembers that up-and-down terrain at the 49-square-mile ranch, saying, “Our legs felt those hills.”

Let there be no doubt that this team is a part of HPD’s SWAT that constantly stays in shape for the real events that could unfold any day in Houston.

Under Capt. Smith are Lt. Richard Besselman and three sergeants, Thomas Calabro, Christopher Phillips and Dennis Garrett. It goes without saying that HPD’s entire contingent of about 35 officers backed their competitive colleagues 100 percent. So was (is) the Houston Police Officers Union, which sponsored the SWAT competition team in both Burnet and at Swat Round-up International.

The competition has been held since the late-1990s. HPD SWAT finished in third place last year in events that the San Antonio SWAT team has dominated since the early 2000s. This year marked the first time HPD SWAT finished in first place.

It was a close race. Final standings show HPD won by two points over second-place Round Rock PD and three points ahead of Irving PD. Rounding out the Top 10 in finish order were Grand Prairie, Lubbock, McKinney and Austin. San Antonio and Bexar County SO finished eighth and ninth, respectively, and Beaumont PD in the tenth place.

HPD SWAT won first place in three events – sniper-initiated hostage rescue, tower repel and obstacle course.

Lopez outlined each event in the competition, thusly:

  • BEARCAT RESCUE. The team must make its way to an armored vehicle by successfully engaging a number of shoot targets. Once it takes over the vehicle, the team uses it to breach the door of a residence where suspects are holding hostages. Time stops when the team rescues the good guys. Any shot that misses a suspect and hits a citizen “counts against us.” THIRD PLACE.
  • BUS ASSAULT. A bus is filled with Shoot Don’t Shoot targets consisting of hostages and suspects. SWAT is provided gas masks, pistols and 12 rounds. Team members must move over obstacles and lift a 300-pound tire in order to get to the bus and engage the suspects. This is a tag team event in which each of five officers goes through the timed drill. If you miss a target, you are penalized.
  • SNIPER-INITIATED HOSTAGE RESCUE. A sniper and four soldiers go through four stages of engagement of targets, beginning when the sniper gets his target in the crosshairs; it’s a moving target 150 yards away. The rescue of the hostage starts by the team members running a mile through some dangerous trails, encountering numerous bad guys. At the final stage a team member picks up a 100-pound bag (a simulated body) to carry the final 150 yards to the finish line – running against time, of course. “If we have to launch a rescue,” Lopez said, “This is what we train for”. FIRST PLACE (Sniper SPO Dillard did a outstanding job shooting a stationary target then having to transition to a moving target only had seconds to find and engage”
  • AIR ASSAULT. A helicopter picks up the team from a landing zone and flies to the target location. The team is given very little information (common in SWAT situations). Team members run 100 yards and encounter stations with shoot targets. There are numerous targets and countless yards to run and make decisions in between. HPD SWAT works regularly with Fox, using ropes and repelling but never in a real operation or a simulation as difficult as this one, which materialized in less than 12 minutes.
  • TOWER RAPPEL. The team must use pistols to engage multiple targets right from the starting line in order to reach an eight-story building. The team must run up the stairs to the top and take turns rapelling down. Then it must run the trails again, encountering 40 shoot targets until reaching a house with hostages and hostage-takers. They must shoot the bad guys and same the good ones before running 50 yards to the finish. “You gotta be in shape a little bit,” Lopez said through a laugh. FIRST PLACE.

      * SNIPER RUN. A sniper has rifle and an observer his carbine. This two-man team must run through four stations, the first one, for instance, a 50-yard run up some terraine, engaging targets 100 to 300 yards out. The observer must locate his own targets and engage them. They must run 30 to 40 yards between each of the four stages of engagement before running to the finish line. SIXTH PLACE. (The sniper was Senior Police Officer Jeffrey Dillard).

       * SHOOT, MOVE AND COMMUNICATE. Using their radios, the team of one sniper and four assaulters must locate the correct suspect out in the field by sorting through information and experiences that include confrontations and quick decisions. The team had to go through this exercise and complete it by identifying three different suspects and taking them out before running to the finish line. FOURTH PLACE.

Before the last event, the Obstacle course, Houston PD was in fourth place, oh so close to the three leaders, Irving, Lubbock and Grand Prairie. To win, the team had to run hard over and through 18 obstacles against time and these worthy competitors.

What happened?

  • OBSTACLE COURSE. In this the final event, the team members had clear-cut information about the obstacles between them and the finish line. All five team member were running at the same time.” HPD SWAT ran the course in seven minutes and 10 seconds. FIRST PLACE.

Call it the fourth quarter or third overtime or call it the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but the best team won!