The Birth of SWAT

I would like to take this opportunity to bring your attention to three forward thinking individuals. These three officers, due to their actions almost 50 years ago, are responsible for many of the tactics and specialized equipment used by officers throughout the world today. What they accomplished in the late 1960s opened the door for an entirely new way of thinking for police departments. These individuals are Officer John Nelson, a young inspector by the name of Darryl F. Gates and then-deputy police chief Ed Davis (all with the Los Angeles Police Department).

Why are these three individuals important? Officer Nelson originally came up with the concept of a specially equipped and highly trained unit. Inspector Gates spear headed the push to make it happen and Ed Davis had the foresight to approve the program. S.W.A.T. was created by these men.

In the mid to late 1960s there were quite a few high profile shootings that caught the attention of national media. As a response to the occurrences, including the WATTS Riots, it was determined that a new tactic to deal with potentially lethal force was needed.

At this point I'd like to mention that, during my research, several sources noted that the nation first saw a high-risk team operate in Delano, California. This was in response to the farm worker uprisings led by the then-new United Farm Workers, headed by Cesar Chavez. In the 1960s the Delano Police Department formed a department wide team that received training in counter sniper, counter force and crowd control. However, the "team" didn't identify itself as a special weapons or a special tactics unit. While it touched on the concept and operational guidelines, the department didn't actually authorize or form a SWAT team.

The term SWAT was coined by Gates and originally stood for Special Weapons Assault Team. However, Ed Davis insisted that it sounded too militaristic and Gates toned it down to Special Weapons And Tactics; the common name and acronym that is so widely known and used today. Gates really liked the acronym SWAT (what's not to like?). This first SWAT unit initially consisted of fifteen teams of four men each, for a total staff of sixty. The LAPD SWAT units were organized as D Platoon in the Metro division and were called upon to secure police facilities during times of unrest.

The first significant call out for the LAPD SWAT unit came on December 9, 1969 in a four-hour confrontation with the Black Panthers. While serving search warrants for illegal weapons at the Panther's headquarters (located at 41st and Central Streets) the Panthers began a shootout with the 40 SWAT officers. After thousands of rounds were fired (on both sides), only three officers and three Panthers were injured. (that one shoot out can inspire hundreds of articles and conversations about weapons discipline and the need for more accurate fire.)

In 1984 the city of Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics. This would present the greatest potential threat to the city since the WATTS Riots. LAPD SWAT was called upon to hone their skills and develop strategies to counter the increase global terrorism. Do in part to their diligence, the Summer Olympics went off without incident.

SWAT teams today handle a variety of types of duties to include Executive Protection, hostage rescue, barricade resolution, high risk warrant service and a myriad collection of all the other assignments administrators don't know who else to assign. LAPD SWAT currently handles (on average) approximately 100 barricaded suspect incidents and over 120 high-risk warrants a year.



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