For most contemporary law enforcement officers, it is almost impossible to fathom that only 40 years ago, there was no SWAT to conduct high-risk searches and raids. Unfortunately, while there may not have been SWAT, there were bad guys, and the police had to search for them.
Four decades ago in the days before SWAT, most searches and raids were conducted by patrol officers or detectives without special training or equipment. These men went into battle almost naked and unarmed when you compare their equipment to that of today’s SWAT officer.
The mind-boggling list of what wasn’t available 40 years ago includes: semi-auto pistols (.38 revolvers were standard), speed loaders, armor (soft body armor, helmets, and shields/blankets), portable radios, cell phones, flex cuffs, security holsters, listening/viewing devices, light mounts, high-intensity flashlights, video cameras, less-lethal weapons, and raid vehicles.
Imagine going into a raid wearing a six-gun on your hip. The average street cop 40 years ago carried a 4-inch six-shot .38 in a holster that was little more than just a “piece of leather.” His spare ammo was six to 12 rounds in the loops on his gun belt. For backup, many of the cops from that era carried five-shot .38s revolvers with two-inch barrels. Pump 12-gauge shotguns were standard for searches and raids. And forget weapon-mounted lights, cops in the ’60s had unreliable aluminum tube flashlights no better than K-mart specials. They were more effective as clubs than lights.
Pre-raid intel was minimal. The briefing took place on the trunk of a patrol car, and it lasted as long as a huddle in a pickup football game. The “quarterback” was usually a veteran street cop who barked out assignments. He also led the raid, “hitting the door.”
And even “hitting” the door was primitive by today’s standards. Door breaching consisted of kicking doors in by foot or the rare use of a sledgehammer. Depending on the kicker and/or door, the result was literally hit or miss. And of course, the kicker was always first through the door, followed by what could best be described as a “thundering herd” of cops who fanned out through the target without regard to assigned areas. Search techniques were mainly left up to the individual officers, with varying degrees of success. On more than one search/raid after the location had been “secured” hidden criminals were found during the evidence search.
Depending on the agency, there could be as few as two or as many as 30 cops involved in a raid. And, yeah, everyone wanted to go inside. The result was often no rear containment, with numerous foot pursuits in which officers with revolvers or shotguns in their hands, fingers on the trigger ran after the suspects. It’s a miracle more cops weren’t shot in “friendly” fire accidents.
The aftermath of a raid was also less than professional by today’s standards. After-action reports were almost non-existent, and debriefings consisted of fleeting comments between cops such as “We were lucky” or “That was a close call.” Then it was off to the next assignment.
Most street “bosses” (supervisors) allowed the troops a great amount of leeway because they were also masters of the “bail out.” These “bosses” investigated all officer-involved incidents, including shootings. And street cops knew the bosses, administration, courts would back them up, and they counted on the bosses to write their “bail outs.”
During burglaries, veteran cops often boosted (smaller) rookie cops through open windows with orders of “go find the door and open it for us, kid.” This meant that the rookie ended up searching much of the location alone, and often found the bad guys hiding inside, while he was hunting for the door. These rookies often became “tunnel rats” (whether they wanted to or not), searching all crawl spaces, attics, basements. This was the way that veterans “tested” the FNGs to see what they were made of. Grading was pass/fail, OJT at its best.
In the days before SWAT searches and raids, equipment and weaponry, tactics and procedures were all primitive by today’s standards. Since the introduction of SWAT only 40 years ago, law enforcement search and raid tactics, training, and technology are far more sophisticated and effective.
Still, despite all of our sophistication. We should tip our hats to the generation of cops before us who somehow, someway got the job done and managed to survive to collect their well-earned pensions.