No culture of violence in SWAT, LAPD review finds

The Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT unit rarely resorts to violence and does not glorify violence, a former member claims, according to a newly released internal report.

Police Chief Michel Moore ordered the report, which looked into all incidents over the past decade in which teams from the specially trained train were deployed, amid allegations of misconduct. The review, Moore previously said, was designed to determine “if there are any potential problems or patterns in the way the unit uses force.”

That year, The Times reported that a member of the unit said “happy hunting” to other SWAT officers before a fatal police shooting. And previously, a former SWAT member alleged in a lawsuit that a group of influential officers known as the “SWAT mafia” encouraged violence within the unit.

Presenting the report before the Civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department, Deputy Police Commissioner David Kowalski said the “lucky hunt” comment, while disturbing, was an isolated case.

Commission President William Briggs urged police officers whether their investigations had uncovered the presence of officer “cliques,” similar to the gang-like groups of deputies operating within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“We are here as the regulator of the LAPD; There’s no way we want or seem to have that situation,” Briggs said.

Kowalski said there was nothing to indicate the presence of a SWAT mafia.

“I think we expect more from SWAT officers because of the national and probably worldwide attention LAPD brings to SWAT,” he said. “I am satisfied with the results.”

According to the report, SWAT officers did not use force in 1,245 of the 1,350 incidents they responded to between 2012 and 2022. Members of SWAT, which stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, are typically called into sensitive situations involving hostages, barricaded suspects, and active gunmen. They also frequently issue high-risk search warrants.

The most common type of force used by SWAT officers was “non-categorical,” a term used by the LAPD when the force does not result in a person’s hospitalization or involves head punches or neck restraints, in about 6% of incidents . In the decade, SWAT operatives have been involved in 20 on-duty shootings, four of which were the highest in 2017, the report said.

At the same time, the report showed that the number of SWAT deployments had increased in recent years from 90 in 2019 to 129 in 2021. As of June of that year, there had been 73 sorties, the review said.

Moore told the commission that at least part of the reason for the increase was the recent increase in violent crime.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, he and other department heads argued that the report showed that SWAT members are less likely to use violence today than in decades past, and that the unit is acting with more restraint and precision than in years past.

“Is there room for improvement? Yes, whenever there is violence, whenever there is a loss of life, there is always room for improvement,” Deputy Chief Al Labrada said at the meeting.

Officials attributed changes in policies and other safeguards, such as B. introducing body cameras, assigning a police psychologist to weigh up all crisis negotiation situations, and overhauling the way officers are recruited into the unit. The unit also worked with the Office of Constitutional Policing and Policy to revise their protocols for executing search warrants following the death of Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was arrested at her home in Kentucky by police who broke into it without warning in 2020 , was fatally shot.

Prior to 2008, the report says, the process by which officers were selected for SWAT tended to “underemphasize negotiation skills, patience, empathy and flexibility, while overemphasizing physical prowess and tactical acumen.”

In three cases covered in the report, officers were injured during an operation. The review also found seven incidents in which SWAT members did not use deadly force after being shot at by suspects.

According to the report, five officers were involved in three shootings each. Two of those officers were present at the incident, in which a SWAT member made the remark “Happy Hunting” as he and other members prepared to confront a barricaded suspect.

The officer who made the comment has not yet been named; An internal investigation into the comments is ongoing.

The comment was spotted by a commanding officer reviewing body camera video of the incident.

Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition criticized the report for failing to understand the implications of what it said, the department’s increasing reliance on SWAT for “low-level offences” and other situations that do not require a heavily armed police response have captured. As an example, he said, the unit’s array of robots and drones have been used to monitor protests or traffic jams.

“The whole idea of ​​Mission Creep and how it expands over time was very evident in how SWAT was used,” Khan said. “That’s where the ambiguity comes in: on the one hand, they claim that [use of force] has declined … and just expanded the role of these tactical units into these day-to-day incidents like traffic, protests and rallies and so on,” he said. No culture of violence in SWAT, LAPD review finds

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