SWAT. Special Weapons And Tactics. Who wouldn't want to be on the SWAT team? Automatic firearms, cool gear and plenty of exercise. I never really thought I'd get on the team, but I did.
I took the test twice, passing both times. I was passed over for more veteran officers the first go 'round, and made it through on the second. The SWAT test involved pull-ups with 25 pounds in a backpack, a 40-yard sprint with a shotgun in hand, and a 1/2 mile run that includes pushups, weaving through cones, a dummy drag and trying not to throw up. We were also required to shoot at a bullseye target from 25 yards away and earn a minimum score.
Three months ago, Officer Brannon Haro and I became Lodi's newest SWAT officers. We began to attend monthly training sessions, but before we could deploy on an actual SWAT operation, we first had to complete a two-week training course put on by the FBI in Sacramento.
On the first day, we arrived at an all-weather running track at McClellan Air Force Base in the middle of a rainstorm. We were again administered the tests we had taken previously to get on the LPD team.
I began meeting officers from various other agencies. There were FBI agents from Las Vegas, San Diego and Sacramento. Police officers were from as far off as Centralia, Washington. There were others from towns closer to us — Yuba City, Chico, Alameda, Fairfield, Butte County, Vacaville, Turlock, Elk Grove, CHP from Sacramento.
We all passed the test and were instructed to return the next day. I would have been nervous if I wasn't such a tough guy.
We returned the next day, decked out in brand new SWAT shirts, SWAT hats, BDU pants, and a car full of equipment. Guns, ammo, ballistic armor, helmets, ropes; you name it, we were ready for battle.
My zeal began to fade after the first few hours of lecture. The History of SWAT. Mission Planning and the Assault Process. SWAT Legal Issues. Tactical Site Survey. Tactical Bus Assault (putting "tactical" in the title makes it SWAT- worthy).
Over the course of the next two weeks, some instructors were able to differentiate the classes from the usual civilian courses. For instance, in one of our classes we did 20 pushups every 15 minutes. No sleeping through that one. In Critical Incident Negotiations, we learned things like active listening and rapport-building. The instructor told us these skills could also be useful at home talking with our spouses. I'm pretty sure I'm not fooling mine.
During my first lunch, I realized these officers were my kind of guys. As I got out my lunch box, I looked around and saw all these healthy dudes getting out their carrot sticks, fruit and yogurt. I quietly slid my chocolate chip granola bar to the bottom of my box and munched on the apple that I hadn't really planned on eating.
Not all the learning was in the classroom. We practiced shooting, climbing and crawling in all our gear. As the course progressed, the stress began to mount again as we moved into close quarters combat. In this, we practiced tactics for safely entering rooms, searching buildings, negotiating hostile targets, encountering hostages, animals and whatever else that may crop up.
We ended the week with rappelling. That was something from my bucket list that I had never done before. Some of the guys were not too thrilled with zipping down a rope from four stories above the ground (don't worry, Haro, I won't tell anyone).
The machismo ran thick and no one could back out. The instructors challenged the manhood of several, which had the nervous ones quickly out the window. I also could have sworn I heard the request, "tell your wife I love her." I might have heard that wrong, but I don't think so.
Haro and I passed the class, and have returned to our regular duties. We have received our silver SWAT pins which we will wear on our uniform. As new members of the team we will train hard, for the day when we are needed will surely come.
Until then, we will wait. Tactically, of course.
Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at firstname.lastname@example.org; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.