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As day gives way to the enveloping darkness of night three ten man squads of police officers in combat boots, black jumpsuits, military helmets and body armor lock and load their Heckler & Koch MP-54 submachine guns and fan out through the neighborhood. Welcome to Fresno's Violent crime Suppression Unit. Deemed local law enforcement's "special forces" and Americas most aggressive swat team. Since 1994 the VCSU has patrolled Fresno's have-not suburbs in full military gear, with automatic assault rifles at the ready. The VCSU is backed by two helicopters with infrared scopes and an Army surplus armored personnel carrier, the unit is also equipped with attack dogs, smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper spray, metal clubs and less than lethal "blunt trauma" projectiles.
In the name of Crisis management, the VCSU is free to utilize aggressive and unorthodox tactics. At times the unit deploys troops on foot to surround "hot spot" corners of sweep neighborhoods. At other times, it rolls in a fleet of new Crown Victorias "like a wolf pack" looking for "contact"(as a VCSU officer put it). Tonight the area of operation is a desolate African-American neighborhood known on the street as the "Dog Pound." Most "contacts" involve swooping down on corners and forcing pedestrians to the ground, searching them running warrant checks, taking photos and entering all the new "intelligence" into a state database from the high tech "mobile computer terminals" in each patrol car. All the suspects are black, all of the cops are white and every encounter is scored to the furious growling and barking of the VCSU's tightly leashed Alsatians. "If you're 21, male, living in one of these neighborhoods and you're not in our computer then there's definitely something wrong," says VCSU officer Paul Boyer as he enters information into his onboard laptop.
Throughout the nation, paramilitary, SWAT or tactical policing-that is, law enforcement that uses the equipment, training, rhetoric and group tactics of war is on the rise. According to a study by sociologist Peter Kraska, the nation has more than 30,000 such heavily armed, militarily trained police units(James). Fist developed in 1966 by a young LAPD commander named Daryl Gates, SWAT teams were conceived of as an urban counterinsurgency bulwark. Gates started with the acronym SWAT and then filled it in with the name "Special Weapons Attack Team." His superiors liked the acronym but found the name a bit too proactive, so it was toned down to the more technical sounding "Special Weapons and Tactics"(Clark)
SWAT teams were created due to growing civil unrest and escalating urban violence. Initially SWAT teams were designed to respond to situation involved hostage takers and barricaded suspects. As the sixties and early seventies rolled on most large metropolitan police departments set up tactical units of their own. Since the mid-eighties there has been a second wave of SWAT growth. Fueled by state and federal drug-war pork, tactical units have now transformed from big city emergency response specialists into standard parts of everyday policing. Even medium- sized towns have swat teams. And instead of only handling emergencies like the occasional barricaded suspect, SWAT teams now conduct routine drug raids and sometimes even patrol high-crime areas in place of regular beat cops(Green).
At most police departments, officers wishing to join a specialized unit must undergo dozens of hours of training. Entire teams participate in-group training and refresher sessions throughout the year. Many departments require their SWAT members to be "cap stunned" at least once a year, as in the case of Bellevue Nebraska's SWAT team. Their SWAT members are sprayed in one eye at close range then expected draw their firearm and keep a bead on a moving suspect for a short period of time (Babutzke). This can prove to be difficult while fighting off the effects of the spray. Big city SWAT teams such as the LAPD train much more extensively. The LAPD is known as the mother of all SWATs. Their training program is rigorous and serves as a model for many other cities and counties. The Los Angeles team also trains other special-operat
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SWAT Team, Los Angeles Police Department, police department,
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Heckler & Koch,
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