They are experts trained to respond to high-intensity situations with precision, strapped with assault weapons and protected by heavy-duty tactical gear and armored vehicles.
But there's one thing that members of the Boston Police Special Weapons and Tactics team weren't prepared for this month: the sudden disappearance of their unofficial mascot, a stray cat they befriended almost two years ago.
"You pull into the driveway and hope she will come running across the parking lot," said Officer Evon Burroughs. "She had become part of the family. But it's sad, she's not there. It's like going to work and not seeing a well-liked coworker."
The unit adopted the black, orange, and white female cat not long after she appeared at the department's Special Operations Unit headquarters on Warren Avenue in Roxbury. The base houses officers from SWAT, the motorcycle unit, and the hazardous materials response team.
The cat was quickly dubbed "SWAT Cat," for obvious reasons, and captured the hearts of even the toughest officers. Some even saw her as a good luck charm.
"She was always cracking us up," said Burroughs. "If you had time off in the summer days and went outside, she would come down and sit next to you."
With the help of Suesan Williams, who does tailoring work for many of the department's officers, the cat was spayed and microchipped at the Animal Rescue League of Boston clinic. The clinic provides health care for homeless animals, including feral cats.
Deemed in good health, SWAT Cat became a furry fixture for those on duty each day, rolling on her side with a purr to welcome the occasional head scratch or ear rub.
The officers fed and cared for SWAT Cat, and provided her with a heated shelter placed outside their building to sleep in. When she wasn't inside her den, she was often found lounging, fittingly, atop a Bearcat — a hulking armored vehicle. Sometimes she would even make a bed of officers' motorcycle seats, curling up on the leather.
SWAT Cat offered the officers a reprieve from their intense work. The dusty paw prints she left on the warm hoods of the vehicles parked outside the police base were a familiar sight.
Some officers would send photos and videos of the cat to Williams to keep her updated on its activities.
"Just videos about how she is, that she brought a mouse home, that she scooted a raccoon out of her area," she said. "She was a working cat."
But two weeks ago, just as suddenly as the cat had appeared, she vanished.
SWAT members may be good at finding criminals, but they're turning to the public to help bring home their whiskered friend.
A flier with a picture showing SWAT Cat lurking beneath a vehicle, one paw raised off the pavement, was hung on a corkboard inside the Special Operations Unit base this month.
Williams posted a callout on Facebook asking the community to keep an eye out for the cat. By Monday, Williams's plea on the social media website had been shared more than 400 times.
With the search and rescue mission underway, Burroughs said he fears the worst: that SWAT Cat, known to fight with other felines that got too close to her base, could be dead.
Still, the department's holding out hope that she was scooped up by a stranger, or found a safe spot some place else in Boston. Maybe someone will find the cat, get the microchip read, and return her, Burroughs said.
"That would be awesome," he added. "She was like the unit's pet. She was just nice to have around."
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.