These are more than theoretical concerns. The debate comes just weeks after Officer Randy Simmons was killed in a gunfight during an abortive rescue attempt in the San Fernando Valley. Simmons was the only LAPD SWAT officer killed in action in the unit’s history. A second officer, Jim Veenstra, was seriously wounded in the same incident but survived. The SWAT wives wonder, quite understandably, if a female officer, or any officer selected under these new criteria, will be able to pick up and carry a wounded comrade to safety. A SWAT officer might weigh 250 pounds or more when loaded down with weapons and other gear.
But such worries are inconvenient to utopians such as Chief Bratton, who is more concerned with breaking down perceived societal barriers — even barriers grounded in reality — than in breaking down actual doors behind which are waiting armed criminals. It is telling that Bratton and the department brass made these changes in secret, and that even now, after being confronted with the evidence, they refuse to admit their involvement or discuss the changes.
Responding to an e-mail sent by one of the SWAT wives, an LAPD assistant chief, the department’s highest-ranking female officer, wrote that she is “not aware of any actions being taken to lower the standards for getting into SWAT.” One might be inclined to give the woman the benefit of the doubt by assuming she is merely uninformed, but given that she was charged with overseeing the Board of Inquiry — whose report was completed more than a year ago — her denial lacks even a modest claim to credibility.
Indeed, the whole affair casts an unfavorable light on how the LAPD’s upper management operates, one that Bratton and others are now scrambling to deflect. Asked by reporters to comment on the new SWAT criteria, Police Commission member John Mack was characteristically obtuse in reply. “It’s important for us to understand,” he said, “that one can modify standards without lowering standards.” One can, but in this case, didn’t.
When reporters asked Bratton about the controversy, he seemed miffed that the affair had come to light at all. Referring to the officers who dared to question the wisdom in these changes, Bratton said, “They’re all entitled to their opinion.” What they’re not entitled to, he seems to believe, is a right to express those opinions to anyone who might publish them. Robert Parry has learned of what he describes as a “witch hunt” within the LAPD to identify and silence any officer who spoke with him.
Longtime readers of these columns will recall that I advocated Bratton’s hiring back in 2002, and that I applauded the changes he made to the LAPD during his first year in office. The department had suffered greatly under his predecessor, Bernard Parks, and Bratton enjoyed a period of goodwill with the rank and file as he sought to undo some of the damage Parks had inflicted. But since that first year we have seen one disappointment after another as Bratton revealed himself to be little more than another ambitious politician, albeit one more adept at the game than was Parks.
Parks’s downfall was his hubris, which was such that he flatly refused to listen to anyone offering assistance or guidance. Bratton’s hubris is only marginally preferable: He listens, but only to those who agree with him. In conducting his secret campaign to put a woman on the SWAT team, he seeks to burnish his reputation as a champion of “diversity,” thereby aiding him in his quest for a position in the Democratic administration he hopes to see installed in January 2009.
But when he moves on, what will be his legacy? The headlines may soon read, “Bratton appoints first woman to SWAT team,” but if that woman should one day fail in her mission because she was held to a lower standard than her peers, and if that failure results in her own or someone else’s injury or death, what will the headlines say then? And what will William Bratton have to say about it?
— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.