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Worth remembering in this age of extreme police militarization that the concept of the SWAT team came straight out of the LAPD after Watts in the mind of a very nice man named Daryl Gates. In case you forgot the details of Gates’ reign of terror over black communities as LAPD chief between 1978 and 1992, here’s a primer.

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  • prufrock

    Yeah but it did give us one of the great television music themes, so it all balances out.

      • prufrock

        The 70’s gave great wacka-wacka rhythm guitar.

        • Brad Nailer

          With the woo-ee-ow wah-wah mixed in.

        • Linnaeus

          Arguably the apotheosis of the 70s TV show theme song.

          • wjts

            Nah. (And I assume that its 1968 debut disqualifies one of the three objectively best TV themes of all time even though the show ran for the entirety of the 70s.)

            • The Temporary Name

              God damn. The Rockford Files was an actual HIT. Old-person stuff: I had it on a K-Tel record. This one.

              • wjts

                Say what you will about everything else that was wrong then, but the 1970s were truly a golden age of television theme songs.

                • The Temporary Name

                  This is routinely in rotation.


                • osceola

                  Have you noticed the theme music for FOX’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a homage to 70’s cop show intro music?

                  Temporary Name slipped in while I was typing. The Baretta theme! Yesss!

                • efgoldman
                • The Temporary Name

                  On the other hand….

                  That’s a terrific song. Everybody should howl like Jean Stapleton once in a while.

                  Did not know there was a long-form Sanford and Son:

                • Colin Day

                  I liked the theme from Battle of the Network Stars, but I can’t find it.

                • wjts

                  Have you noticed the theme music for FOX’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a homage to 70’s cop show intro music?

                  I honestly hadn’t, but now I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine even more.

            • Linnaeus

              Well, I did say “arguably”. There are probably several candidates for that distinction.

    • shawn k

      And launched the career of Robert Urich.

      • efgoldman

        And launched the career of Robert Urich.

        He was still all wrong for Spenser.

    • Schadenboner

      He also launched Sierra’s SWAT series spin-off from their Police Quest line. And I’ll lay SWAT 3/4 against the Rainbow Six series for “Best squad tactical shooter” any day (fite me, bro…)

      Although, ironically enough, SWAT 3 and 4 both had huge penalties for improper use of lethal force (auto failure on harder difficulties, even).

  • It took eight years of hard work by Bratton, prodding from reform organizations such as the Advancement Project and the hiring of a diverse new police force to erase Gate’s legacy and give the LAPD back to the people of Los Angeles.

    That’s an interesting quote at the end of the article, Granted, the 10 or so hours I’ve spent in LA in my life were all at LAX, but watching the news reports of the department freak out in 2013 in their efforts to catch Christopher Dorner, suggest that Gate’s legacy has not been erased.

  • Warren Terra

    Also, that the problem isn’t even necessarily the existence of SWAT, nor their history, but how they are used. A specially trained and heavily equipped unit sitting around and called out in the case of an exceptional situation is an idea one can defend (much as Britain has Armed Response officers to back normally unarmed cops in a normally unarmed society), but this doesn’t explain why every podunk town needs its own Delta Force, nor why SWAT and other up-armored cops are used in situations where they constitute a dangerous escalation, and far, far too frequently.

    • Crusty

      Every podunk town needs its own Delta Force because every citizen of every podunk town has a right, no, a duty, to be their own one-man poorly regulated armed to the teeth militia.

      • Schadenboner


        Assumes facts not in evidence.

    • osceola

      Absolutely agree, Warren. Here the SWAT team gets called out whenever some suicidal nut locks himself in his house with a gun, and they evacuate the whole block.

  • Regulust

    I learned about him from an old computer game for which he wrote an introduction which perfectly encapsulates the paranoid warrior cop “us vs. them” image.


    While he remarks that SWAT can’t just blow up buildings with bazookas, it’s worth noting that SWAT does routinely barge in to people’s houses & deploy armored battering rams & flashbangs even while serving relatively trivial warrants.

    • Brad Nailer

      Speaking of trivial, I know this will sound so, but lately I’ve been watching a lot of the original Law & Order episodes from the early 90s. On those old shows, when the boys needed backup or were serving a warrant, there would be regular uniform cops with pistols and maybe a shotgun. In the later eps, that changed. Then you started seeing SWAT dudes: kevlar helmets, riot shields, combat boots and semi-automatic rifles, to say nothing of the ubiquitous hand-held battering ram (“Thanks, NYPD. Now who’s gonna pay for my fucking door?”).

      Next to the SWAT guys, Lennie Briscoe looks positively silly running in with his little .38 revolver.

      • (((Hogan)))

        Lennie Brisco didn’t need that shit. He could kill you with a quip.

  • keta

    “Casual drug users should be shot.”

    Daryl Gates, Professional Problem Solver

    • Colin Day

      Daryl Gates, Professional Problem Solver Causer


  • Caepan

    60 Minutes did an interview with Gates after the 1992 riots following the “not guilty” verdicts of the cops who beat Rodney King (America’s first viral video of police brutality?). They took him to speak to African Americans in South Central LA.

    The image I remember most from that interview was when the people that Darryl Gates allegedly swore “to protect and serve” confronted him with the news that his cops harassed them for nothing more than walking or driving down the street, the cameraman kept showing Gates with his hand constantly on his nightstick. It was as if he “feared for his life” in order to defend himself from all those uppity citizens and taxpayers that dared speak to him in any other manner than “yes sir/no sir.”

    In short, fuck that fascist rat bastard.

    • Ah yes, the reason a cousin who lives out there had to start building in “Random stops by power-mad racist cruds” into his travel times when he hit 13 or so.

    • Colin Day

      Should Marcia Clark have not tried OJ in downtown LA? Didn’t she believe that black jurors would respond negatively to the police?

  • Crusty

    Is the hat in the photo supposed to look like an SS or Luftwaffe kind of thing or is that just a crazy coincidence?

    • Caepan

      Nah, that’s just your old-school policeman’s cap from back in the day.

      Though it’s casual similarities to something an SS officer might wear (and the fact that they were pretty expensive, as well as hot in the summer) might have caused cops to go with either the state trooper-style wide-brim hats, or the cheaper baseball hats.

      • Schadenboner

        Really? I think the movement away from postman-cops to the tactilol BDU-clad urban warriors of today speaks to a definite shift in mindset from police being police to police being paramilitaries.

        Although, I’m still of the mind we should make them all dress like bobbies. Not for any reason, just so as to laugh.

        • Crusty

          It goes in two directions- in NYC, I think they moved away from the traditional hat to no hat required or the occasional baseball cap. That’s different from the riot/combat gear. I’ve heard people complain that the hat is actually an important part of command presence and that when an officer’s command presence is diminished he has to resort to force more frequently. I dunno. As for Gates’ hat, I’m referring more to the insignia than to the style of hat.

          • Schadenboner

            I think it’s a pretty standard hat badge but the angle (seen from slightly below with the badge sloping back/away from the viewer) makes the eagle look a lot more Reichy than it would look normally/IRL.

          • ajay

            I’ve heard people complain that the hat is actually an important part of command presence

            People in this case being Captain Martin Crieff?

        • ajay

          the tactilol BDU-clad urban warriors

          Either this is a very fortuitous typo or a frankly inspired neologism. Either way I’m stealing it.

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      Personally, I quite appreciate that the cover of the book effectively reads “CHEF”.

  • Anna in PDX

    I know that most everyone here has heard of / read Radley Balko’s book “The Rise of the Warrior Cop” but have to recommend it once more. He had a great chapter on this infamous horrible guy and his legacy at LAPD and across the U.S.

  • UncleEbeneezer

    The recent OJ documentary series on ESPN covered alot of the Gates’ Years rather well in the first couple episodes. As does the Crips/Bloods documentary on Netflix (though I only just started that one the other day.)

    • sam

      I was going to mention this as well – that episode provides a really excellent grounding for understanding LA at that time. (and not just LA, but the whole nation).

      And, of course, not just that time, but now. The whole time I was watching, I was mesmerized not just by how excellent the doc was, but how timely. The more things change…

      • Crusty

        The sad thing about the more thing change notion is that maybe they’ve gotten worse. As for numbers, I don’t know, they probably haven’t gotten worse, but Rodney King, which at the time seemed a horrific incident, was beaten, but he was not shot dead. A friend with a twisted sense of humor called me the other day and said sheesh, did you see these two shootings in two days? Makes you long for the halcyon days when the police simply shoved a plunger up your ass.

        • Pseudonym

          I’d bet that the combination of cell phone cameras and social media has made police shootings much more visible, not that they’re any more common.

      • UncleEbeneezer

        It was really a fantastic documentary. It did a great job of illustrating why so many Black Americans cheered when OJ was found not-guilty.

        As TNC wrote yesterday: “”To understand the lack of police legitimacy in black communities, consider the contempt in which most white Americans hold O.J. Simpson. Consider their feelings toward the judge and jury in the case. And then consider that this is approximately how black people have felt every few months for generations. It’s not just that the belief that Officer Timothy Loehmann got away with murdering a 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it is the reality that police officers have been getting away with murdering black people since the advent of American policing. The injustice compounds, congeals until there is an almost tangible sense of dread and grievance that compels a community to understand the police as objects of fear, not respect.”

        • so-in-so

          I’m an older white guy and I almost cheered when OJ was found not guilty – because I thought it was obvious that the police “improved” on the evidence they had, and I don’t think anybody should be found guilty based on falsified evidence. Even if he actually committed the crime.

          I agree with the rest of our comment as well. It is not a matter of “training” police as long as there is little or no down-side to violations of that training, and a huge up-side of fixing any sense of being in danger.

          • Crusty

            Being a moron is nothing to brag about.

            • so-in-so

              So, you don’t agree with “better 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished”? Or you believe the LA PD was fully on the up-and-up?

            • Chetsky

              Neither is being a racist asshole.

          • sam

            I’m with you – to this day I still believe the police “enhanced” the evidence. I think that they were simply so accustomed to doing such things, that they did it all the time and that it had become such second nature to them, that they didn’t even think about *not* doing it. The main difference this time being that the defendant happened to have the best defense money could buy instead of a solitary, overworked public defender. (also, everyone focuses on the glove, but I always think the bloody socks in the otherwise pristine bedroom, discovered after OJ was more clearly a suspect and his blood samples took a joyride in Vanatter’s car for a day and a half, as the more likely “extra” evidence. They just didn’t get a rhyme named after them).

            Also, the prosecution got completely outlawyered.

            I also 100% believe OJ did it.

          • Dilan Esper

            I thought there was reasonable doubt because the crime lab was so unreliable.

            But planting evidence? No way. How do none of the 12 other cops see the second glove before Fuhrman picks it up, and how does he know he can get away with planting it when he doesn’t know yet whether Simpson has an alibi?

            • so-in-so

              As Sam says, it was the supposed bloody sock, found well after the searches were done, by a detective who had access to the blood samples, and by some miracle there were no blood stains on the white carpet…

              Also, the uniformed officers admitted under oath that they did not really control the crime scene, and officers entered and left without signing in properly.

              • Crusty

                And with the uncontrolled crime scene, it was time to take down that symbol of black America who had been nothing but a thorn in the side of the white man, LAPD’s public enemy No. 1, you may know him from the Naked Gun or setting records at USC, number 32, OJ Simpson.

                • sam

                  It wasn’t a massive racist conspiracy against this one guy that they had some particular grudge against.

                  It was banal shit that they did every freaking day and usually got away with.

              • LNM_in_LA

                I remember Harry Schearer at the time commenting that the LAPD was trying to get away with framing a guilty man. Given what we think we know about OJ, I’m not inclined to disagree.

                But you never know, do ya?

                Still SMH about Martin Sheen.

  • Sly

    EDIT: Bah this was in reply to Schadenboner upthread.

    Technical note: The SWAT games were a spin-off of the existing Police Quest series of games by Sierra, and in practical terms had little to do with Gates.

    The first three PQ games were designed by retired police officer named Jim Walls, and were “point-and-click” adventure games with stories similar to TV police/detective procedurals. When Walls left Sierra, the company hired Gates as a “designer,” but in practical terms he was just a name on the box. Tammy Dargan, who worked as a producer on America’s Most Wanted, was the actual designer of the only two games Gates was associated with – Police Quest: Open Season and Police Quest: SWAT.

    Police Quest: Open Season was still somewhat based on detective procedurals with the same kind of gameplay as the first three, but the story focused on tracking down a serial killer and used live-action video, so it was much more dark and gruesome than the previous three.

    Police Quest: SWAT was more of an interactive movie – this was at a time when CD-ROM drives were becoming less expensive, so games that were loaded down with full motion video were all the rage – and was a critical and commercial turd. The acting in the FMV segments was cringe-inducing and the gameplay during the “on-rails” shooting section was boring. Which was typical of these types of games, and thus why no one makes them anymore.

    Both Gates’s and Dargan’s business relationship with Sierra ended after that. The company didn’t make another police-themed game for years until the entire series was retooled as a “tactical strategy” game under the SWAT IP, dropping the Police Quest title.

  • DAS

    I grew up in the LA area, and Gates was police chief for most of that period. My dad was always wont to point out the similarities between Daryl Gates and Mr. Roper from “Three’s Company” and that Mr. Roper was not a good choice to lead a police force.

  • Bitter Scribe

    I’ll never forget how, when there was a spate of black suspects dying in choke holds placed by LAPD officers, Gates maintained that it was the suspects’ fault because blacks have arteries narrower than those of “normal people” (his words).

  • pianomover
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