If you're an American in your 30s or 40s and not a police officer, then the first thing you probably think of when you hear the term "SWAT" is a black panel truck, something like an armored bread truck. Now if you're not one of those people, you're probably wondering why. The answer is simple: TV.
Back in the '70s the police acronym S.W.A.T. became a household word because of the Aaron Spelling-produced TV show "SWAT." And the most memorable thing about that show (other than it launched the career of the recently departed Robert Urich) was that black panel truck. Tires crunching on the gravel, it would pull up to a hostage scene, the rear door would slide up and out would bolt the team, carrying AR-15s and Remington 700s with scopes and wearing black uniforms and baseball caps. That's about all the gear you ever saw on that show.
The reality of the contemporary police special ops team is very different than the image of LAPD SWAT that was burned into America's collective consciousness by the hit show. Some SWAT teams may still arrive in a customized panel truck, but the similarities end there. When today's tactical officer goes into an operation or an exercise, he or she is loaded for bear. It takes much more than an AR-15 and a black BDU topped with a baseball cap to outfit the modern SWAT officer.
To see what was actually being used in the field by one agency's special units, Police approached the Los Angeles County Police Department and asked them to send officers and gear from two of their tactical units to our offices. The agency agreed. So the following is a look at the gear of the tac ops officers of the L.A. County Police.
Created in 1998 by the combination of the Los Angeles Park Police and the police agencies of the county Departments of Health Services and Internal services, the duty of the 800-sworn County Police is to enforce the law and maintain security in all county-owned facilities, including parks, hospitals, and office buildings. The agency fields two major special ops teams: the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) response unit and the Special Problems Unit. In the event of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack, the WMD unit will maintain security and order at county hospitals. The Special Problems Unit is considerably more conventional. SPU is essentially a SWAT team, and its mission is to respond to barricade, hostage, and other high-risk critical incidents.