SWAT responds upon the request of the Incident Commander (IC) to barricade/hostage episodes, and/or suicide intervention, as well as initiate service of high risk warrants for all Department entities. The Incident Commander shall request SWAT when at a barricaded or hostage incident when the suspect is probably armed; the suspect is believed to have been involved in a criminal act or is a significant threat to the lives and safety of the public and/or police; the suspect is in a position of advantage, affording cover and concealment or is contained in an open area and the presence or approach of police officers could precipitate an adverse reaction by the suspect; and, the suspect refuses to submit to arrest.
The special weapons and tactics concept originated in the late 1960s as a result of several sniping incidents against civilians and police officers around the country. Many of these incidents occurred in Los Angeles during and after the Watts Riot. Upon critical examination of how each incident was managed by police, the leadership of the LAPD realized that an effective response to these dangerous situations was virtually non-existent. Officer John Nelson presented the special weapons and tactics concept to a young inspector by the name of Darryl F. Gates. Inspector Gates concurred and approved the concept of a small group of highly disciplined officers utilizing special weapons and tactics to cope with these unusual and difficult attacks.
Since 1967, the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT has provided a ready response to situations that were beyond the capabilities of normally equipped and trained Department personnel. Since its inception, LAPD SWAT Team members have affected the safe rescue of numerous hostages, arrested scores of violent suspects and earned hundreds of commendations and citations, including several Medals of Valor, the Department’s highest award for heroism in the line of duty.
The first SWAT Unit consisted of 15 four-man teams. Members of each team, who volunteered from the ranks of patrol and other police assignments, had specialized experience and prior military service. Each unit was activated for monthly training or when the need for special weapons personnel actually arose. These units, known as “station defense teams,” provided security for police facilities during civil unrest.
The first challenge to these pioneers in the field of special weapons and tactics came in 1969. On December 9th, search warrants for illegal weapons were served at the Black Panther Headquarters at 41st and Central Streets. The Black Panthers resisted and attempted to shoot it out with 40 members of the SWAT Team. In the ensuing four-hour siege, thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired, resulting in the wounding of three Panthers and three police officers. The Panthers finally surrendered to SWAT officers, whose first mission was now an indelible part of history.
In 1983, the Department sent three SWAT supervisors to Europe to evaluate and develop the techniques employed by military groups such as the German GSG-9, French GIGN, and the legendary British 22nd SAS. A rigorous and difficult training program was implemented with one objective: to develop a true hostage rescue capability within the LAPD SWAT Team.
In 1971, the SWAT personnel were assigned on a full-time basis to Metropolitan Division to respond to continuing action by subversive groups, the rising crime rate and the continuing difficulty of mustering a team response in a timely manner. The next major challenge for SWAT came in 1984. With the Summer Olympic Games coming to Los Angeles and terrorism proliferating around the world, Los Angeles was a probable target. The leaders of the Department and the SWAT Team again recognized a need and began to work diligently to develop a skill that did not yet exist within the LAPD SWAT Team or any other SWAT Team throughout the nation.
Over 2,000 hours of training, per officer, was invested in each operator in order to make this new concept a reality. In the 19 days of the 1984 Summer Games, SWAT officers worked a grueling 24 hours on and 24 hours off in a full-time training mode to polish those skills. The Los Angeles Summer Games came and went without an incident, but the counter-terrorism skills developed during that time raised the team to a new level.
Today, the LAPD SWAT Team is known worldwide as one of the foremost police tactical units in contemporary law enforcement. The need for SWAT expertise and assistance with warrant service is dependent upon: unusual circumstances beyond the capabilities of normal warrant service; heavily fortified location; weapons are present and have been used in the past; gang members are known to be present; use of diversionary tactics is anticipated; and, door and window pulls are anticipated. The LAPD SWAT Team has rescued dozens of hostages and currently handles numerous barricaded suspect incidents and many high-risk warrants a year.