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CON: DOES SWAT NEED AN OVERHAUL?

Byline: Robert C.J. Parry

THE Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT unit may be the best in the country, but that hasn't stopped Chief William Bratton from seeking to overhaul it in a way that could prove destructive.

Whether guided by political pressures or plain old political correctness, Bratton put together a panel ostensibly to study the unit. But according to my sources on the unit -- who remain anonymous for fear of retribution -- the Board of Inquiry did no such thing. Instead, it moved forward blindly with plans to gut LAPD SWAT.

Earlier this month, and after more than a year's wait, Bratton released a sanitized executive summary of the Board of Inquiry's report. From cover to cover, the summary (best illuminated by drafts of the full report which I obtained, despite the department's refusal to release them) is chock full of falsehoods that go beyond mere misrepresentation.

According to numerous officers, exactly one member of the board observed exactly one SWAT warrant service. Seven of the board's eight members never even saw SWAT in action, yet still passed judgment on the unit's work and character. And there were more attorneys (three) on the panel than SWAT-experienced cops (one).

It is not surprising, therefor, that the draft reports make blatantly false allegations. For instance, the report repeatedly states that there are "few African-Americans on SWAT." In fact, there are more African-Americans on SWAT (as a percentage) than in the LAPD as a whole.

And where did the board get such an erroneous notion? Bratton himself.

On Page 3 of the draft report, Bratton is quoted, in November 2005, as advising the board of his vision for its work, instructing members to examine why "there are ... few African-Americans" on SWAT.

Shockingly, the chief of police of a city historically torn by racial strife not only made a thinly veiled accusation of racism against his unit, but recklessly did so without any factual substantiation.

Bratton originally convened the Board of Inquiry after the death of 19-month-old Susie Pena during a SWAT gunbattle in July 2005. At the time, he proclaimed the board's purpose was to "understand intimately" what happened on that tragic day. Yet the executive summary states: "The purpose of the BOI was not to reinvestigate that case but rather to take a comprehensive look at all aspects of SWAT operations."

That doesn't sound like an "intimate understanding." It sounds like using the Pena tragedy as an excuse to pursue a pre-existing agenda.

And while the board characterized SWAT as having an "insular, self-referential culture," it presented not a single example of SWAT's refusing outside advice. The truth is, SWAT officers travel the country, picking up best practices from the finest military and civilian tactical units.

But why let the truth get in the way of preconceived notions?

In testimony to the Los Angeles Police Commission, board member Richard Aborn admitted that the board specifically decided not to compare SWAT to other units.

The board report itself shows that SWAT kills fewer than 1 percent of the suspects it confronts. Some 83 percent of SWAT incidents end entirely peacefully.

But despite being unable to find a single unit that performs better, the report recommends sweeping changes. The primary reason? Diversity. While SWAT is among the most racially diverse in the LAPD, no woman has yet to meet its rigorous standards.

Thus, the test for selecting new officers has been greatly altered. Fourteen of the 18 previous standards have been eliminated and not replaced -- including an exercise simulating the Pena case's circumstances. Now, officers tasked with rescuing hostages during gunfights are judged mainly by a subjective oral interview.

There is nothing wrong with any competent officer being on SWAT. Indeed, officers I spoke to -- who have some 100 years of SWAT experience between them -- want a capable woman to join their ranks through an honest, rigorous process. But only if she can rescue them from a gunbattle like the one in Winnetka that recently claimed SWAT Officer Randal Simmons' life

As one officer who survived Winnetka told me: "If they really want to honor Randy Simmons' life, the mayor and the City Council will reject this report before it gets another one of us killed."
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 27, 2008
Words:703
Previous Article:PRO: TIME TO REVISIT SPECIAL ORDER 40?
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PRO: DOES SWAT NEED AN OVERHAUL?

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