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L.A. police union calls chief’s SWAT changes dangerous

Times Staff Writer

A day after Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton vowed to make way for female officers to join the department’s elite SWAT unit, the union representing the city’s 9,300 rank-and-file officers took a harsh stance against Bratton, saying his efforts would endanger officers’ safety.

“For reasons that have nothing to do with our competence, professionalism or success, but have everything to do with public relations and political correctness, the department is unilaterally planning to make changes that will threaten the strength and capability of SWAT moving forward,” Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said in a prepared statement.

The league’s angry reaction complicates an already delicate situation for Bratton, who has long harbored concerns about the tactics employed by the storied, insular Special Weapons and Tactics Team to resolve standoffs with armed, barricaded suspects, as well as the physically grueling, strict tests used for admission that no woman has passed since the unit was started in 1971.

On the heels of a chaotic 2005 SWAT operation in Watts, when officers inadvertently killed a 19-month-old girl during a shootout with her deranged father -- the only time SWAT has killed a hostage -- Bratton convened a panel of outside law enforcement experts to conduct a sweeping review of SWAT.

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The panel’s confidential findings, which were presented to the chief in January 2007, include a recommendation to make the unit more accessible to women. The Times obtained a copy of the panel’s report this week.

Police officials, in turn, recently implemented a testing regimen for admission into SWAT school that does away with much of the shooting simulations and arduous obstacle courses used for the last decade, according to several officers briefed on the changes. The criteria have angered SWAT officers, who fear that they do not adequately gauge an applicant’s ability to handle the stress of the job.

Bratton has refused to comment on the changes, citing the report’s confidentiality, but made clear his intention to shatter the “glass ceiling” that has kept women out of SWAT.

“I would like to see women in every part of the Los Angeles Police Department and fully expect that we will see women on the SWAT unit,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Women will, in fact, have the opportunity in this department to serve in any capacity. I am committed to that.”

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Bratton could not be reached for comment regarding Sands’ statement.

Sands said LAPD officials recently approached the union to open formal discussions about changes to the SWAT selection process. If changes already have been made by the department without going through the “meet and confer” process with the union, Sands said, that would be a violation of the labor agreement between the two sides.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

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