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Cover Story

The State of American Law Enforcement - SWAT: Breaking the Mold

Agencies nationwide model their tactical teams on LAPD SWAT. So what does it mean if that unit changes its policies to be more politically correct?

August 01, 2008  |  by - Also by this author

Critics of the LAPD's new SWAT rotation policy also point out that the policy discards hundreds of years of combined SWAT experience in favor of moving new blood onto the teams.

McCarthy believes that the people of Los Angeles may come to regret the rotation policy, and he uses the infamous North Hollywood Bank Robbery and Shootout as a vivid example. According to McCarthy, the SWAT officers that ended the incident would have been off the team under the new policy, as one had 22 years on the team, another 17, and the other 12. "All three of these officers would tell you that they could not have accomplished what they did that day when they had just two or three years in SWAT."

At presstime, the LAPD and the civilian police commission that oversees the department are reviewing the rotation policy. Chief Bratton has indicated that he may establish the 10-year rotation for all LAPD special units.

So Goes the Nation

How much the board's recommendations will affect LAPD SWAT is currently undetermined. The department is implementing some of them, studying others, and has rejected a few. Even more difficult to discern is how much these moves by LAPD will affect SWAT teams nationwide. But one thing is certain, they will have an effect.

Even the report by the LAPD board of inquiry notes the influence that LAPD SWAT has on other law enforcement tactical teams. The board wrote as a defense for why it didn't research the practices of other teams: "Each major SWAT operation in the country is, to one degree or another, an offspring of L.A. SWAT…. The board found that the degree of imitation made comparisons to other SWAT operations largely meaningless, with the single exception of the NYPD."

John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, agrees that what happens on the LAPD SWAT team could have ramifications nationwide. "LAPD has been the Mecca of SWAT," he says. "Whatever they developed, especially in terms of tactics, made its way east."

McCarthy says that other SWAT teams have borrowed ideas from LAPD SWAT that sometimes had members of the unit shaking their heads.

"When originally the SWAT team was formed, we had green uniforms," McCarthy explains. "In an urban environment with ambient light, black stands out like an exclamation point. Green is the right color. But a deputy chief said, 'You are going to wear uniforms that look like LAPD.'  So up popped the devil and we had black uniforms."

As do most urban law enforcement tactical teams. And that shows the influence of LAPD SWAT being featured in the national news and on TV shows back in the early days of police tactical teams.

Today, many teams are still emulating LAPD, black uniforms and all, but McCarthy wants them to pass on lowering their physical standards to diversify their ranks and establishing expiration dates for SWAT officers.

"I'm hoping that the things that are happening at LAPD SWAT that aren't in the best interest of teams everywhere will not be copied," he says. "I'm hoping that they will be smart enough to sift that out."


In January 2008, POLICE Magazine launched a year-long article series focusing on the “state of American law enforcement.” If you’d like to read the other chapters, click on the links below.

Chapter 1: The Thinning Blue Line.  Law enforcement agencies nationwide are competing for a dwindling population of recruits.

Chapter 2: The Blue Mosaic.  Policies meant to diversify law enforcement agencies have changed police demographics and will continue to do so in the future.

Chapter 3: Teaching to the Test.  Does law enforcement training focus too much on qualifying and not enough on skills that can help you win fights?

Chapter 4: A Love-Hate Relationship.  Most people only meet an officer when they are arrested, questioned, or cited. That makes it hard for them to like cops.

Chapter 5: Can the Average Cop Thrive in the Age of Specialization?  The generalist cop is part of a dying breed, which means many of today's officers will need to excel at a specialty.

Chapter 6: Women Warriors.  Female police officers must walk a fine line between fitting in and making their own way in law enforcement.

Chapter 7: Working on the Front Lines.  The patrol officer is the backbone of American policing, but a lot of agencies don’t want to admit it.

Chapter 9: Stopping the Next 9/11.  Improvements in intelligence gathering, training, and equipment give you a good chance of preventing the next attack and saving lives if it happens.

Chapter 10: Rules of Engagement. Today’s law enforcement officer is the best trained and best equipped cop in history, so why do policy makers think you have the judgment and intellect of children?

Chapter 11: Gangster Nation.  Big city street gangs have taken root in small town  America, bringing mayhem to Main Street.

Chapter 12: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't.  When a cop uses - or doesn't use - a less-lethal weapon in contemporary America, there can be hell to pay.

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Terry @ 11/20/2012 1:14 AM

Great, so now we are going to have a bunch of pansys on the SWAT team. Do you NOT want LAPD SWAT team to be the BEST of the BEST? Its true, females will NOT be able to have the upper body strength needed to move a wounded officer. How very sad Bratton caved in to this mess. Leave the SWAT teams to the men who are stronger and better able to defend us. I am a female and belive this job needs STRONG men...not some females who are pissed off because they can't play with the men. And for letting them stay on for 10 years..Those are the ones with the experience. Leave them alone. Let them stay as they want on SWAT. What a hot mess.

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