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Police Para-military Unit Proposed Is There A Swat In Detroit's Future?

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The Detroit Pólice Department is considering the establishment of an "Emergency Service" unit whose officers would be both heavily armed and specially trained to deal with "high risk" situations. The unit is largely modelled on the well-publicized SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) program of the Los Angeles Pólice Department, which gained notoriety in the SLA shootout some months back. A five member pólice committe recentlyirecommended that the department set up a 60-officer unit to handle situations such as barricaded gunmen, snipers, armed persons with hostages, and visiting dignitaries needing protection. The unit would be divided into five-man teams, whose members would be equipped with sniper rifles, high-gauge shotguns. protective vests, radio-wired helmets, gas masks and possibly automatic weapons as we 11. The proposed unit is now being considered by Pólice Chief Tannian and the civilian Board of Pólice Commissioners in the Motor City. Originally Deputy Pólice Chief Walter Douglas stated the pólice would go ahead with the unit without going through the civilian board, but later recanted on that position. Multiple sources confirm that the Police would likely seek federal funding for the unit through the Law Enforcement Assistance Adminstration (LEAA). "ANYTHING BUT SWAT" When contacted by the SUN, Detroit Pólice officials declined to provide many details about the proposed unit, but they seemed very concerned that it not A be referred to as SWAT, due to that unit's swashbuckling image as conveyed by the ular televisión show of the same name. When asked what the special unit would be called, one pólice mation officer remarked "anything but SWAT". When asked how the Emergency Service Unit would differ from the jt Los Angeles program, Depüty Pólice Chief Walter L i Douglas responded, i "It's a hundred and eighty degreesaway from that." However, in every detail so-far available, the Emergency Service Unit appears to be virtually identical to SWAT, down to the actual numbers of officers per team, their organizational structure and the size of the unit as a whole. Since its cneation in 1966, similar programs have sprung up in 39 U.S. cities. The immediate model for the proposed unit seems to be the Emergency Service Program of the Michigan State Pólice, whose members would provide much of the training for. the Detroit pólice unit if it is created. The State Pólice program has been in existence for about a year, and is itself largely based on SWAT. SAVING LIVES? According to Lieutenant Milton Jury of the State Pólice Emergency Service División, out of which the teams opérate, "The most important part of our training is we're talking about human lifc. We're out to save human lives. Over-reaction, cspecially with firearms, is not something we're in favor of." So far, at least, not one shot has been fired by Í mem bet of an EST, and this is viewed as a sign the State program is working. "The fact that nothing has happened is a j success, "Bill Owen of the Department of Criminal Justlce stated. But, lic continued, "They do have the capacity, if a situation deteriorates, to take strong action, For such action. EST members can draw on au arsenal including sniper rifles, automatic weapons. machine guns, and shot guns, as well as a variety of protective gear. Critics of SWAT, express great concern over the heavy armament and military style training of the units, and Eear a potential for abuse of the squads. REPRESSIVE POTENTIAL SWAT's violent potential was clearly exhibited in the shoot-out last year between a SWAT team and fugitive members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), in which all six SLA members were killed. SWAT received considerable criticism at the time for what many people considered a complete case of unnecessary overkill in the incident. Most likcly the SLA members could have been taken alive. An editor of the L.A. FREE PRESS, in a recent interview, termed SWAT "an element of a kind of secret pólice, an urban üuerilla war outfit." He soinc of the unit's tactics as "very reminiscent of the and-destroy techniques of the Vietnam era. We're afraid," lic cpncluded,"of their potential fot abuse, especiall) in highly politica! situalions. That kind of potential is very subject to abuse." Concern tliat SWAT is bcing employed not primarily for individual terrorist mstances, but in fact foï political counter insurgency, gains sonic credibility whefl you consider the statement of Lieutenant Jury of tlie State Emergency Service División. Jury told us he telt there mighi be üouble in connection with the bieeniennial celebration. "There are going to bc a lot of activities going on, and thé dissidentshave already said they wani to overthrow the U.S. govemment, the establishment," he remarked. A recent issue of TRUE magazine quotes one SWAT membcr as sayiug he had been sent abroad to leam about tactics used by "revolutionary" groups. "We try to keep up on them to know hów dcep their dedication is and what they will do if we gei them cornered," he is reported ;is saying. ('learly, ESTSWA I teams can phis sonie role in preventing unnecessary deaths in sonic potcnli;illy lethal miu;itions. duc to the squads' special equipment and training if properly utilized. However, the frequent political thrusi of these super pólice iquads, their c]ikisiniilitary training and armamen! and the greal potential foï use of such units as repressive tools of the suite is bound io raise cuntroversy over the Detroit proposal. In a town where pólice sions and violence are already at the bursting point, the SWAT Lsquad cuulcl make civilian and m black community control of Wthc pólice in Detroit tliat rniích I more difficuK in a time ot crisis.