Police Shootouts: How Soon We Forget

Every day, police throughout America respond to dangerous situations that often turn into armed, deadly confrontations. When circumstances and time allow, police hold things down until SWAT arrives and takes over. At least that's the plan, but we all know about plans.

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Every day, police throughout America respond to dangerous situations that often turn into armed, deadly confrontations. When circumstances and time allow, police hold things down until SWAT arrives and takes over. At least that's the plan, but we all know about plans.

SWAT was created in response to the 1966 University of Texas Tower sniper, who killed 13, including a police officer, before being killed by a makeshift police/civilian team. Since arriving 41 years ago, SWAT is credited with successfully resolving countless volatile incidents.

High-Profile SWAT Gun Battles

When they happened, many of these incidents were high profile—nationally, locally, or both. However, most of us only remember the highest profile incidents that happened in recent years. Here are some of these incidents:


1997—North Hollywood Bank Shootout; 12 police, 8 civilians WIA

1993—Waco/Branch Davidian Shootout/Hostage Siege; 4 ATF KIA, 6+76 BD's dead

1992—Ruby Ridge Shootout/Siege; 1 U.S. Marshal KIA, 2 others dead

The 1980s also had its share of high-profile incidents:

1986—Miami Shootout/FBI; 2 FBI KIA, 2 suspects dead

1985—Philadelphia/MOVE Shootout/Siege; 11 dead/62 houses burned down

1983—Memphis/Police Hostage Siege; 1 police officer KIA, 7 suspects dead

1980—Norco, CA/Bank Robbery/Shootout; 1 deputy KIA, 2 suspects dead, 8 deputies WIA, 33 vehicles/1 helicopter disabled by gunfire

Likewise, the 1970s and 1960s:

1978—Philadelphia/MOVE Siege (1 year)/Shootout; 1 police KIA, other police/fire WIA

1975—Wounded Knee, S. Dakota Shootout/siege; 2 FBI KIA, 1 suspect dead

1974—SLA/LAPD SWAT Shootout; (6 suspects dead)

1973—New Orleans/Howard Johnson Hotel Sniper; 3 police KIA, others WIA, suspect dead

1969—LAPD SWAT/Black Panther Shootout; 3 SWAT WIA, considered SWAT's first "official" shootout

Local SWAT Gun Battles

These are only a few of the many high-profile police confrontations during the past 41 years. There are numerous other incidents that have occurred over the years, but never grabbed national headlines, and are only remembered locally/regionally. For example:

2003—Cleveland, Ohio Case Western Reserve University active shooter/7 hour search/running gun battles with SWAT; suspect wounded

1974—East Cleveland, OH Shootout/Hostage incident; 5 police/1 hostage WIA, 2 police injured

Glenville Shootout

Perhaps the most forgotten police shootout of all, the Glenville Shootout and Riot, happened 39 years ago Monday, in Cleveland, Ohio. Two Cleveland Police Task Force cars were suddenly fired on without warning by a large number of Black Nationalist militants heavily armed with M-1 carbines and shotguns. The Glenville Shootout had begun. 

As many as 25 heavily armed militants fanned out through densely populated city streets, and shot their next target—an unarmed police tow truck driver. Police radio put out a citywide "all cars" broadcast, and dozens of police cars raced across the city to assist their fellow officers. Darkness had set in, and most responding officers were unfamiliar with the area. And once they left their cars, they were without any communications, since none of them had portable radios.

Worse yet, police only had their 12-gauge shotguns and .38 revolvers, and few carried more than a few extra rounds of ammo. The police were severely outgunned. As more and more police flooded the area, the Glenville Shootout turned into house-to-house, yard-to-yard running gun battles in darkness. By now, empty police cars lined all the surrounding streets, and large crowds of angry onlookers were forming.

As the shootout intensified, police casualties mounted. Three officers were killed, and another dozen were seriously wounded—many shot attempting to rescue downed officers. A civilian helping police was also killed, as were three militants. Calls of "Policemen shot! Get us some help! We need armored vehicles!" punctuated the summer night. Which brought even more officers to the raging gun battle that lasted 90 minutes.

The large, hostile crowds now turned into angry mobs, overturning and burning empty police cars, and rampaging into a full-blown riot, sniping, torching and looting a large portion of Cleveland's East Side.

Too little too late, shortly after the initial shootout stopped, seven commandeered Brinks trucks arrived and deployed to help quell the major rioting. Several hours later, the first National Guard contingent arrived. During the long night of rioting and sniping, four more people were killed, and many others were wounded and arrested.

Years later, a fourth officer died from gunshot wounds from the Glenville Shootout. All four badges are currently on display in the Cleveland Police Department Badge Case (honoring fallen CPD officers).

Never Again

Glenville caused CPD to overhaul its response to high-risk incidents, authorizing 1,200 officers to purchase and carry M-1 carbines, and forming a new Tactical Unit (the predecessor of today's SWAT Unit), featuring a new armored vehicle, called "Mother." For us on the Tactical Unit, she was our mother and protected us; but to the bad guys, she was a "mother…."

Few outside Cleveland remember the devastating July 23, 1968 Glenville Shootout, that scarred a generation of CPD officers. Those of us who were there will never forget that deadly night, and vowed "Never again!"

Since 1968, America has experienced other "Glenvilles," and will likely see more in the future. We don't know where, but the real question is, "Will we be ready?" We can't afford not to be.

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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