Special Police Units (Abbreviation: SPU; Simplified Chinese: 特警队) are SWAT units of the Chinese People’s Armed Police at the provincial and municipal level. There is at least one of such unit in each Chinese province to offer their services when requested by the local police, or other law enforcement agencies such as the customs service and the regular police.
With the rise of global terrorism and increasing incidence of local aircraft hijackings in the 80’s , came a need for a tactical armed response group to respond to both such local and international crises. With approval from the People’s Liberation Army, a select group of elite officers was chosen and organized into the Anti-hijack Special Police Group (反劫机特种警察部队) in July 22nd, 1982, officially code-named Public Security Unit 722 (公安部警字722部队). They were officially inaugurated into the PLA in the capital of Beijing during a ceremony on the 28th.
The command of the the unit was later transferred to the People’s Armed Police in 1983, and renamed China People’s Armed Police Special Police Force (中国人民武装警察部队特种警察大队), and they were to undertake new roles such as counter-terrorism and counter-riot. In accordance with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Public Security regulations, the unit was again renamed China People’s Armed Police Special Police School (中国人民武装警察部队特种警察学校) in 1985. The unit went on a recruitment exercise and, took in its first batch of new cadets that September.
In 2002, with Central Military Commission approval the Special Police course was institutionalized into college studies comprising of various disciplines. It was renamed People’s Armed Police Special Police College, combining both combat and education roles.
Since its inauguration, the People’s Armed Police has set up Special Police Units in 36 states nationwide.
The original Special Police Unit was set up in Beijing, but the increasing incidence of armed criminal activity throughout the whole of China has emphasized a need for such units within the individual states. The various units all answer directly to the Central government and enforce the same laws, however similar to such units in the United States they can only react to incidents within their own state of jurisdiction.
Selection and Training
Members of the SPUs are carefully selected and specially trained. The Special Police College conducts nationwide recruitment once a year.
Students are selected from PAP soldiers and squad leaders with excellent performance. The pre-screening process involves a 3-month mentally and physically demanding assessment and selection, where some recruits will be eliminated.
This is followed by a three-year study in one of the two major fields: Armed Reconnaissance and Special Warfare. Upon successful completion of these courses graduates are assigned to the regional and municipal SPU/SWAT teams as Second Lieutenant officers.
Only a small number of the most excellent graduates would be selected to join the college’s operation unit
Weapons and Equipment
Due to their multiple roles of acting as a tactical armed response to armed criminals, counter-terrorism duties, and riot policing duties, the SPUs employ a wide array of weapons and equipment. Their accessibility to advanced equipment is varied from state to state, however if needed they can call for assistance from the national SWAT team, or from the People’s Liberation Army garrisons.
The unit is armed with a variety of domestically manufactured weapons such as Type 85 sub-machine guns and QSZ-92 pistols, and if the situation calls for it, they also have access to assault rifles such as the QBZ-95 and the Type 81. Contrary to popular belief, is that they are also known to have used Western weapons and equipment to suit their needs.
They may also employ other special equipment, such battering rams for the forced opening of locked doors and specialist vehicles, amongst others.
The standard uniform of the SPUs is the same as that of the People’s Armed Police (olive green), but they also use a variety of camouflage and tactical uniforms.
The standard uniform layout has the arm-patch sewn on the left arm. On the camouflage and tactical uniforms, The words “SPECIAL POLICE GRP” (Special Police Group) is embroidered above the left breast pocket as well.
Certain SPU’s may have the SPU arm-patch sewn on the right arm instead, with the local Police arm-patch sewn on the left arm.
Special Police Units in the People’s Republic of China
Though initially confined to the metropolitan cities, today virtually every city has a paramilitary tactical unit of its own. A variety of abbreviations and acronyms are used for these organizations, which operate at national, municipial, and provincial levels. Although the SPU moniker is used colloquially to refer to all such units in the PRC, some teams have been known to use the SWAT acronym instead. Both names/acronyms are interchangeable when referring to them in the English language as they are actually the same (The phrase “特警“, is used in the PRC to refer to both SWAT and SPU and thus may cause confusion for English speakers who think of them as different units). The confusion is made worse when some units tend to officially adopt their nicknames. Some of the more well-known Special Police Units are:
- Special Armed Police Corps Snow Wolf Commando Unit (SWCU)
- People’s Armed Police Immediate Action Unit (IAU)
- Beijing’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team
- Hong Kong Police Special Duties Unit (SDU)