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How Much It Costs Austin Every Time SWAT Teams Roll Out

By the end of July, there had been twelve SWAT operations so far this year in Austin. Naturally, every time a SWAT team is deployed it costs money. But it’s not always the same amount – weekends and after-hours are a bit pricier than, say, a mid-day operation.

But, no matter the time, every time one of Austin'sthree SWAT teams rolls out on a call, it costs thousands of dollars an hour.

Lieutenant Katrina Pruitt leads all three of Austin's SWAT teams. The slender 50-year-old is an experienced SWAT negotiator. The sound at the shooting range in Southeast Austin is deafening. But Pruitt often swings by to supervise her teams while they practice.

Over the last few weeks, Lt. Pruitt has been working on her budget. So far, she's figured out that a small operation costs her about $1,040 an hour.

"The average SWAT call is about three to four hours," says Pruitt.

The exact time of day or night and the day of the week changes the cost. Overtime kicks in if the call is not during regular business hours. If it's after five, that's overtime. If it's a weekend, that's overtime.

Pruitt remembers a SWAT call a few years ago on Christmas Day.

"That lasted twelve hours long. You can't control that. You know? We weren't in control of that. [It] was the bad guys that were armed inside the house and refusing to come out. We couldn't just say, 'Hey, we are on overtime, go ahead and come on out.'"

Operations like that one cost about $2,500 every hour. By today's cost estimates, that twelve hour Christmas day operation would've cost about $52,500.

Pruitt says, every year, she strives to stick to her budget, but public safety trumps it.

"Now," she says, "[My supervisors] may say, 'Hey, can you not spend so much on this equipment? You know?' But, if it's public safety related, they let us go ahead and do what we need to do."

Officers make between 35 and 44 dollars an hour with no overtime. So, without overtime, salaries range between $73,000 and $92,000 every year.

Lieutenant Courtney Renfro, a bomb expert on the SWAT team, says while salaries may sound glamorous,  the job is anything but. Officers train every day. They carry 75 pounds of gear every time they're out on an operation. They're on call 24/7.

"I think Hollywood depicts SWAT as fast-moving and high-explosive like action-packed type of thing. Whereas SWAT is a very technical operation," says Renfro.

The heavily armed units in high-pressure situations need to be very strategic. Even a minor mistake can cost the team not just in lives, but also in legal action against the city. That's one more cost Lt. Pruitt needs to be mindful of.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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