The Softer Side of SWAT

Disclaimer: The following is true; the names have not been changed, to embarrass the guilty.

There are few adjective-noun combinations that you want to avoid at all costs, drunken pilots, sleepy surgeons, happy Democrats — well, add one more to that list — softer SWAT Teams.

Southern California is arguably the most dangerous area of the country for law enforcement officers to work. The tens of thousands of police officers operating here understand that every call they get could be their last. That reality was underscored on February 7, when two members of the LAPD Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit attempted a hostage rescue from a gun wielding gang member and were shot and wounded — one remains hospitalized, one was killed. That officer was the first killed in the entire history of the LAPD SWAT team: they are that good. Cops in and around LA understand the risks, but they also understand that if things get hot, the SWAT team will be there to take care of the situation. In Los Angeles, when LAPD SWAT rolls up, bad guys know they have a world of hurt coming down on their heads.

This is why the recent report that the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team was looking to soften up — not their image, but their membership — comes as a shock. The Los Angeles Daily News, reported on March 18 that Police Chief William Bratton (the same Bill Bratton who tamed Manhattan and the 4 boroughs of New York during the 1990s) had received a report from the Los Angeles Police Commission recommending that LAPD SWAT end the ‘insular culture’ (read male-dominated culture) on the SWAT team, and for the department to soften standards to admit females into the unit. The report said that male SWAT members tended to "under-emphasize negotiating skills, patience, empathy and flexibility while over-emphasizing physical prowess and tactical acumen." That’s right: the SWAT Team is too tough for Tinsel town.

Excuse me, but doesn’t LAPD have a whole team dedicated to negotiation, patience and empathy (I mean, in addition to the mayor’s office)? And isn’t the whole point of a SWAT team to be a weapon to use when all else fails?

Let’s keep it simple enough for even an LA pol to understand. When SWAT gets called its because someone has been or is about to be killed. PERIOD. They are the tip of the spear for law enforcement. They need to be intimidating. They don’t need to empathize with the killer or would-be killer barricaded in the 3-year-old’s bedroom.

I can imagine the improved, softer SWAT team now. A Prius rolls up with a well meaning looking psychologist stepping out, with a megaphone, asking if the hostage-taking cretin would like to talk about his childhood. Imagine the scene, as shots ring out, the well meaning SWAT therapist could shout out “excuse me, Mr. Criminal, we understand your rage, could you please um, come out and talk.…. if you want to of course, its up to you, we are here to PROTECT and SERVE you. Did you want a decaf skim latte?” Perhaps if they needed to escalate the situation, she could declare sternly, “Don’t make me come up there mister. If I have to ask again, you’ll not get any TV in the jail day room.” Sure it’s stupid, but is it any dumber than a softened SWAT?

Bill Bratton has apparently been flooded — not by SWAT members angry at the proposed change, but by the wives of SWAT members! These women understand better than Chief Bratton the reality of the mean streets of LA, SWAT is not a social petry dish, or a place to work out affirmative action issues, it’s a place to chase, stop and catch the bad guys –and softening the standards will result in more deaths — of officers and civilians alike. I can’t wait to see what they have in mind for the Navy’s SEAL teams and the Marine Corps.