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SWAT has no culture of violence, LAPD review

LAPDS WAT officers on standoffs suspected of barricades in 2019. (Irrfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT unit rarely used force and, as one of its former members claimed, did not praise violence, a newly released internal report concluded.

Police chief Michel Moore ordered a report investigating all cases over the last decade in which a team of specially trained platoons was deployed in allegations of misconduct. The review Moore said earlier was aimed at determining “whether there are potential problems or patterns in how the unit uses power.”

This year, the Times reported that members of the unit had said “happy hunting” to other SWAT officers before the deadly police shooting. And earlier, former SWAT members alleged in a lawsuit that a group of influential officers known as the “SWAT Mafia” fostered violence between units.

In submitting a report to the Civilian Police Commission, which oversees the department, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary David Kowalski said the “happy hunting” comment was a nasty but isolated case.

Commission Chairman William Briggs pressures police officers to see if their investigation revealed the existence of a “faction” of police officers that resembled a group of agents like gangsters operating within the Los Angeles Security Agency. rice field.

“We are here as the LAPD director. We certainly don’t want or seem to want to have such a situation,” he said.

Kowalski said there was nothing to suggest the existence of the SWAT Mafia.

“I think we have more expectations for SWAT executives, thanks to the national and perhaps global attention that LAPD SWAT brings,” he said. “I am happy with the findings.”

The report found that SWAT officials did not use force in 1,245 of the 1,350 cases handled between 2012 and 2022. Members of SWAT, an abbreviation for special weapons and tactics, usually fall into situations involving hostages, barricade suspects, active archers, and more. We also often provide high-risk search warrants.

The most common type of unit used by SWAT police officers was “non-category” in about 6% of cases. This is the term used by the LAPD when a unit does not lead to hospitalization for a person, or when it does not hit the head or restrain the neck. In 10 years, SWAT personnel were involved in 20 on-duty fires, peaking at 4 in 2017, according to the report.

At the same time, according to the report, the number of SWAT deployments has increased in recent years, increasing from 90 in 2019 to 129 in 2021. A review found that there were 73 deployments by this June.

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

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, he and other division leaders reported that today’s SWAT members use power less often than in the last few decades, and units have greater restraint and accuracy than in the last few years. Claimed to indicate that it is working with.

“Is there room for improvement? Yes, whenever there is power, whenever life is lost, there is room for improvement,” Assistant Chief Al-Labrada said at the meeting.

Authorities approved changes to policies and other safeguards, including the adoption of body cameras, the appointment of police psychologists, a review of all crisis negotiation situations, and a review of how police were hired for troops. The unit will also work with the Constitutional Police Policy Department to carry out an investigation warrant after the death of Breona Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot by police who rushed into her home in Kentucky without warning in 2020. I reviewed the protocol of.

Prior to 2008, according to a report, the process of selecting officers for SWAT “underestimates bargaining skills, patience, empathy, and flexibility, while overestimating physical ability and tactical insight.” There was a tendency.

In three cases considered in the report, police officers were injured during surgery. The review also referred to seven cases in which SWAT members did not use lethal force after being fired by the suspect.

Five police officers were reportedly involved in each of the three shootings. Two of these police officers were present in the case where SWAT members made “Happy Hunting” comments while SWAT members were preparing to confront the barricade suspect.

The officer who made the comment has not yet been nominated. An internal investigation of the remarks is underway.

The comment was discovered by a commander who was reviewing a body camera video from the incident.

Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition reports that increased reliance on SWAT in “low-level crimes” and other situations that do not require the response of heavily armed police did not capture the impact of his remarks. I criticized it. As an example, he said the unit’s robot and drone array has been used to monitor protests and traffic jams.

“The overall idea of ​​mission creep and how it expands over time makes it very clear how SWAT was used,” Khan said. “That’s where Doublespeak comes in, while they insist on it. [use of force] While expanding the role of these tactical units to routine events such as traffic, protests, and rallies, they have declined. “

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.