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The Birth of SWAT

It was August 1, 1966, a tragic event occurred in Austin, Texas. A man named Charles Joseph Whitman, a honor student, used a high-powered rifle to randomly kill over a dozen people and wounded over thirty more from the University of Texas Clock Tower Building in Austin. This incident is best known as the Texas Tower Sniper and is credited as being the sparking event for “The Birth of SWAT”. At approximately 11:00 A.M. on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman posed as a maintenance worker and used a dolly to roll a footlocker into the clock tower building on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. The tower stood 308 ft tall in which Whitman could see for some distance. Whitman took an elevator to the twenty-seventh floor, killing a maintenance worker and later took up his position. Whitman had an arsenal of 3 rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, 2 handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a 5-gallon container of water, some sandwiches, and a can of gasoline. The rampage did not start at the tower as most people would believe. Actually, Whitman started his spree at his mothers house, shooting her in the back of the head. He would return to his residence where he stabbed his wife to death while she lay in bed. Back at the tower, Whitman first shot a young black male riding a bicycle and later shot a young girl in the head. Whitman had no mercy on the people below him. He even shot a pregnant woman in the abdomen killing her eight-month old unborn child, and then began shooting people as they hid in doorways or looked out of windows trying to see what was happening. When rescuers attempted to aid the wounded, he would allow them to get so close and then shot the rescuers. While Whitman was still inside the tower shooting at innocent people, the Police were notified of the incident. Upon their arrival, the officers couldn’t get close enough to do anything to neutralize Whitman. They also could not attend to the wounded laying on the ground. The Police did not have any plans for incidents such as this one because situations like this rarely happened and there was no need to have a specialized unit assigned to handle situations as this. Police were able to fly over Whitman in an airplane but they quickly retreated due to gunfire. Some officers finally came up with a plan to end the threat from the tower. The plan consisted of using an underground tunnel that connected the buildings on campus. The officers gained entry to the clock tower building, where they made it up to the twenty-seventh floor. The officers were advised of Whitman’s position via walkie-talkies. As the officers were advancing on Whitman, he suddenly turned and fired his weapon at the officers. One officer didn’t hesitate and returned fire striking Whitman six times with his duty weapon. The other officer shot Whitman twice with a shotgun. This incident sparked a scare in the changing face of policing. Chiefs across the nation realized they had to have plans ready to handle incidents like this one. They also realized they needed teams of police officers equipped and trained to carry out these plans. They needed SWAT, special weapons and tactic teams. The acronym SWAT is thought to have been used first by the Los Angeles Police Department. Shortly after the Texas Tower incident, LAPD formed their SWAT Team. Many agencies across the nation also started SWAT Teams kicking off a new trend in policing.(Snow p. 2-8) Where is SWAT today in the 90’s? With the increasing number of drug dealers arming themselves to protect their stash, SWAT has been used to conduct search warrants for Narcotic unit’s across the nation. Some opponents against SWAT has claimed that the units are being used too much. Much of what SWAT does now is not the traditional hostage-barricaded incidents but that of high risk warrant services. Most of the opposition is coming from the academic arena where they claim these specialty units could wear away the perception of the public as the police being public servants and more like an army. Many of these acclaimed academic professors have never been out on the street in a Police capacity, therefore not allowing them to see what the we as officers see everyday. According to Joseph McNamara(former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City) in an article titled, SWAT: Is It Being Used Too Much by Steve Mackro, states “It’s a very dangerous thing when you’re telling cops they’re soldiers and there’s an enemy out there. I don’t like it all.” Hmmm......last time I checked, I was never told I was a soldier nor was I told there is an enemy out there. I wonder why SWAT uses all these less than lethal weapons to resolve incidents safely as possible with no injury or loss of life? Indeed it couldn’t be to fight the enemy because SWAT would not effectively eliminate them. As we know, majority of Law Enforcement Agencies are going to the community policing viewpoint. Some opponents to SWAT state that the Teams are being used in routine patrol in high-crime neighborhoods, serve warrants, stop vehicles, interrogate gangbangers and, essentially, show a presence. Well isn’t the whole community policing concept pro-active in nature and not re-active? Try and stop the crime before it has a chance to occur making the community’s a better place to live?(Mackro p. 1-2) In conclusion, SWAT is here to stay period!! Just by watching your television set and seeing the increase of violence across the nation should be a dead give away of what the Police is up against. Contrary to what most think of SWAT officers with buzz haircuts, fatigues, mask, and weapons, SWAT is a vital aspect in law enforcement today. If you do not believe me, just think back on some incidents where SWAT was used and ask yourself “What would have happened if those guys aren’t going through the doors risking their lives for a better community?” “Would our communities be worse off or better?” You decide......... Snow,Robert L. SWAT TEAMS: Explosive Face-Offs with America’s Deadliest Criminals. Plenum Press, New York and London,1996. Mackro, Steve. SWAT: Is It Being Used Too Much? Retrieved August, 11, 1998 from the World Wide Web:,