Attorney General Lockyer Releases SWAT Report
Commission Outlines Recommendations to Improve SWAT Operations
(MODESTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today released the final report of the Attorney General's Commission on Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), which made seven specific recommendations for law enforcement to improve public safety and ensure the success of its missions during often volatile and dangerous situations.
"Innocent bystanders are rarely killed in SWAT team actions, but these deaths destroy families, tear apart communities and hurt law enforcement agencies by eroding the community's confidence," Lockyer said. "The commission's recommendations are the product of extensive surveys, fact gathering and public hearings. I believe they will go a long way in ensuring the safety of the public and of law enforcement officers, who are involved in some of the most dangerous law enforcement duties."
Added Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, chairman of the commission and a 30-year veteran of California law enforcement, "This report represents the efforts of a lot of people who are united in ensuring that future tragedies can be avoided. As someone involved in SWAT most of my career, I think this is a huge step forward for the law enforcement profession."
The broad-based commission was appointed by the Attorney General after an incident in September 2000, in which an 11-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by agents serving a search and arrest warrant on the boy's father. Deployment of these special teams occurs only in the riskiest of situations, including incidents involving barricaded suspects, serving arrest warrants on the most dangerous suspects, during hostage negotiations and rescues and in the protection of VIPs and dignitaries. The National Tactical Officers Association reports that shots are fired in less than 5 percent of SWAT team activities.
The 25-member commission began meeting in April 2001 and took testimony from recognized tactical experts, command staff personnel, plaintiffs and defense attorneys, the National Tactical Officers Association, the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training and SWAT team representatives from small, medium and large agencies throughout the state. They studied best practices, operating procedures, staffing and training.
The commission formed four committees to review tactical operations, training, policy and equipment and risk management. Surveys were conducted of law enforcement agencies across California and public hearings were held in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland and Redding.
The commission made the following recommendations:
* Develop a definition of a SWAT team as a designated unit that is specifically trained and equipped to work as a coordinated team to respond to critical incidents, including, but not limited to, hostage taking, barricaded suspects, snipers, terrorist act and other high-risk incidents;
* Develop set standards that define the levels of a team's capacity, such as Level 1 being capable of providing resources to line-level officers and Level III being an advanced teams who function as SWAT full time;
* Develop mandated training standards that address basic and advanced SWAT training, individual team member's responsibilities and written safety protocols.
* Develop a written set of operational procedures that include standards for determining whether a situation warrants SWAT response, shooting policies and debriefings after every deployment;
* Develop response policies based on the individual agency's capabilities.
* Develop written guidelines for the type and use of SWAT equipment, including clothing that clearly identifies the SWAT member as law enforcement personnel.
* Develop a public education program to ensure that the community understands the primary mission of SWAT teams is the preservation of human life.
Lockyer released the report at an annual meeting with regional law enforcement officers in Modesto. Joining him were Melekian and SWAT Commission vice chair Stanislaus County Sheriff Les Weidman.
A copy of the Attorney General's Commission on Special Weapons and Tactics Final Report may be viewed at http://ag.ca.gov/publications/swat.pdf