Four SWAT Teams in Trouble

The knee-jerk reactions of authorities in adopting Draconian practices for their SWAT units are endangering the units, the officers, and the community.

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Those who follow the world of SWAT are watching the controversy currently unfolding in LAPD SWAT. I'm referring to the recent "modification" of long-standing LAPD SWAT entrance standards, instituted by LAPD Chief Bratton. The modifications are based on the January 2007 recommendations by a panel of experts convened after a tragic fatal shooting of an infant during the July 10, 2005 hostage shootout with the infant's father.

The modifications of LAPD SWAT's long-standing stringent standards are viewed by many as lowering the standards, with dire predictions for the future of both SWAT and LAPD. Another incident under intense scrutiny is the controversial May 2007 Cinco de Mayo crowd handling by LAPD Metropolitan B Platoon, which resulted in demotions and the temporary suspension of the B Platoon.

This situation is unfolding right in front of our eyes, and bears close scrutiny by the entire SWAT world. That's because LAPD SWAT has long been considered a leader when it comes to SWAT standards and tactics that have been adopted across the entire nation.

Coincidentally, the timing for modifying LAPD's SWAT entry standards couldn't come at a worse time—right on the heels of the recent tragic shooting death of LAPD SWAT officer Randy Simmons and the critical wounding of his partner Jimmy Veestra in February 2008.

Stay tuned—because "what happens in L.A., doesn't necessarily stay in L.A."

Take the "near miss" by Chicago PD SWAT. CPD SWAT, a full-time unit, was one of a number of specialized units that made up the CPD Special Operations Section (SOS). In October 2007, the CPD SOS was disbanded—after seven CPD SOS Drug/Gang officers were charged with felony robberies, kidnappings, and in one case a murder-for-hire plot of a fellow police officer.

No CPD SWAT officers were charged with any misconduct. However, 16 officers were transferred out of CPD SWAT—with no reason given for their removal. The disbanded SOS was replaced by the new Special Functions Group—which includes SWAT.

As with LAPD, CPD's timing for transferring 16 officers out of SWAT comes at a curious time. That's because only 10 months prior to their transfers, CPD SWAT was hailed as "lifesaving heroes" for shooting and killing a rampaging downtown skyscraper gunman who had killed three people. In spite of SWAT's heroic actions, and not being involved in any criminal activity, 16 officers were summarily transferred out of SWAT.

"What occurred in SOS, didn't necessarily stay there—just ask CPD SWAT."

Lest anyone think things like this only happen in the "big city," the examples of two other SWAT teams from much smaller departments should set the record straight.

The first team is Hoboken (N.J.) PD SWAT. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, HPD SWAT participated in two humanitarian missions to Louisiana. In September 2005, HPD SWAT delivered much needed relief supplies. In February 2006, HPD SWAT participated in the security of New Orleans Mardi Gras.

All went well until after their return to New Jersey when they found themselves amid widespread publicity and controversy over HPD SWAT posing (with weapons) with Hooters waitresses in Alabama. The controversy launched a series of intense investigations, resulting in nine SWAT officers being charged with various department, and possible state, charges/violations. Both the HPD SWAT Lieutenant and Chief of Police also posed for some of the photos, resulting in the SWAT Lieutenant's suspension, and the Chief of Police's retirement.

The entire Hoboken PD SWAT team was summarily disbanded in November 2007, amid ongoing state and local investigations.

"What happened in Louisiana, definitely didn't stay in Louisiana."

The final team is the Eureka (Calif.) SWAT team. On April 14, 2006, EPD SWAT was called out for a female barricaded with a flare gun. On scene were the EPD SWAT Lieutenant and Chief of Police, who set up a CP in another portion of the building the female was barricaded in.

Approximately two hours into the incident, the female put the flare gun down, and the Chief and SWAT Lieutenant gave the "Go" for a crisis entry. Upon entry, the female confronted SWAT with the flare gun, and SWAT fired in self-defense, killing the female.

What happened next is unprecedented in the annals of SWAT. Amid swirling controversy over the shooting, in 2007 the District Attorney filed felony manslaughter criminal charges against both EPD Chief of Police and EPD SWAT Lieutenant because they "issued orders" for SWAT to make the entry that ended in the fatal confrontation.

EPD hired a new Chief to replace the indicted previous Chief. The SWAT Lieutenant remains a member of EPD. The DA offered "transactional immunity" to the SWAT entry "shooters" in exchange for their testimony against the Chief and Lieutenant.

In 2007 the Eureka PD SWAT team was disbanded.

"What occurred in Eureka, appears to have stayed in Eureka."

These four horror stories involve very different SWAT teams/agencies and circumstances. And anyone who dares to think "it can't happen here" is sadly mistaken. Just ask LAPD, CPD, HPD, and EPD SWAT—and they'll set you straight.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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