SWAT Pioneers Led the Way

As anyone in SWAT knows, such reputations are the result of dedication, professionalism and sound leadership. Specifically, the early leadership of Ron McCarthy (LAPD SWAT senior sergeant) and John Kolman (LASD SWAT commander/lieutenant).

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In my most recent SWAT blog, "Tactical Officers Honor Two SWAT Pioneers," I wrote about two of SWAT's earliest, most influential pioneers — John Kolman and Ron McCarthy. For some, this may have been your introduction to these two living SWAT legends. For others, this merely reaffirmed what many of us have known for many years.

From their inception, LAPD and LASD SWAT have consistently ranked among the most successful, capable, experienced, respected SWAT teams in existence. Such enduring reputations for excellence do not happen by accident.

As anyone in SWAT knows, such reputations are the result of dedication, professionalism and sound leadership. Specifically, the early leadership of Ron McCarthy (LAPD SWAT senior sergeant) and John Kolman (LASD SWAT commander/lieutenant).

Of course, neither would ever take the credit, and instead share credit with their entire teams. They'd probably say they "just happened to be in the right place and time." Amazing how often both just happened to be in those right places and times.

Not coincidentally, both happened to be two of their teams' most knowledgeable, respected leaders. Both were instrumental in setting the tone for their teams consistent professionalism. Both led by example and know-how—the SWAT way.

When I first met both of these fine men, SWAT was still relatively young—less than 20 years old. Yet, already, both LAPD and LASD had established themselves among the top tactical teams anywhere. Two major reasons for this excellence were McCarthy and Kolman.

Individually, each is incredibly knowledgeable about all things tactical. Together, they possess unparalleled tactical knowledge that they're readily willing to share with the rest of SWAT. Both epitomize class, as the following example illustrates.

During a POLICE-TREXPO West conference several years ago, I had lunch with McCarthy. He had also invited two enthusiastic young SWAT officers from Northern California. It became quickly apparent both were frustrated by their department's "attitude" toward SWAT. Ron spent the entire lunch (and beyond) offering his sound, sage advice to these young officers. Advice that only comes from years of experience and knowledge.

I don't know of two more respected SWAT practitioners than Kolman and McCarthy. Respect sometimes comes from unexpected sources.

One night, while winding down after a particularly busy night of SWAT assignments, I was flipping through TV channels. On C-SPAN, a congressional committee was "grilling" witnesses regarding a controversial federal criminal incident. I watched as witness after witness was subjected to some of the most intense, accusatory "grilling" I'd ever seen outside a courtroom.

However, the congressional committee treated the next two witnesses with obvious, genuine respect. These witnesses were Kolman and McCarthy. I watched in utter amazement at the committee's transformation from a hostile to respectful tone. All who watched this remarkable exchange saw what I did—two masters of SWAT were educating Congress about SWAT—and they were listening intently.

The vast contributions of McCarthy and Kolman to SWAT and all of law enforcement would fill many volumes. Because of their influence, I have no doubt countless lives have been saved in SWAT operations during the past 40 years.

Their influence on/in their respective SWAT units and agencies is forever. Their combined influence on SWAT is unparalleled and continues today, more than 40 years later. A few examples are in order.

Kolman wrote the first definitive book on SWAT that is still in publication 28 years later. In 1983, he founded the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA), which today is the world's largest, most influential SWAT/tactical organization in the world. NTOA introduced TEMS (Tactical Emergency Medical Support) from LASD's SWAT medic concept.

McCarthy continues to actively teach all aspects of SWAT and officer survival throughout the nation. After retiring from LAPD, Ron became the Department of Education's prime tactical instructor, then became the top tactical instructor with the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

This is only the tip of their vast accomplishments and contributions to SWAT and all of law enforcement. They also happen to be longtime good friends, whose respect and admiration for each other is clear to anyone who knows them.

Both are the class acts of our profession and always ready to help improve our proud professions of law enforcement and SWAT.

I witnessed this respect and class firsthand at the 2005 California Tactical Officers Association (CATO) conference. The keynote speaker was none other than Daryl Gates, who had retired as LAPD chief. When introduced, Chief Gates received a spontaneous, heartfelt, deserved, long standing ovation from the hundreds of SWAT attendees with myself included.

In the audience next to me were none other than McCarthy and Kolman. After Chief Gates' keynote talk, these three living legends stood together and talked. I was humbled and honored to be a witness to this rare, historic event.

In the Summer 2010 issue of the NTOA newsletter "The Tactical Edge," McCarthy pays respect to Gates with his article, "Hey Chief - we love you, rest in peace [A tribute to Chief Daryl Gates]."

It's a must read for those interested in understanding the true meaning of respect, dignity and honor.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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