In 1967, the foundation was laid for future SWAT teams when then Chief of Police Joseph Carroll decided to form a specialized unit to handle emergency situations. Chief Carroll was worried about a growing city and the need to protect Lincoln from outsiders after the shooting death of Detective Paul Whitehead at the hands of three escapees from Indiana. This unit, the forerunner of today's SWAT teams, was comprised of four officers and a commanding officer, Robert Jatczak.
The group attended training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia and trained locally two times a month. Training included physical fitness, hostage negotiations, marksmanship, and rappelling. While this early group was never officially called out to handle an emergency crisis, they were used as support personnel for different details within the community.
When George Hansen was appointed Chief of Police in 1975 he brought many changes to the Lincoln Police Department, including the desire for a better organized, better trained SWAT Team. The SWAT Team concept we are familiar with today, had developed on the west coast where Hansen had been a public safety director in Sunnyvale, California. In a December 1975 newspaper article, Hansen touted SWAT as a way to prevent violence and keep situations from getting out of control. Hansen had seen first hand the value of having a group of people with specialized equipment and training that could be called upon to handle situations that were beyond the capabilities of a street officer.
Hansen appointed Lieutenant John Hewitt as the SWAT Team Commander, a position Hewitt would hold until 1986. Hewitt along with Team Leader Detective Ron Tussing, began the process of selecting, training and equipping a team which was expanding from four to eight members. For the first time in LPD history, Hansen required SWAT members to undergo and pass psychological evaluations to prove their fitness for this assignment; a practice still required today. Speaking in a newspaper article about the evaluation requirement Hansen said, "They show all the people are well qualified for this assignment, based on maturity and judgment. All appear to have a high degree of concern for other people."
Initially the team outfitted itself by buying OD green fatigues at a military surplus store and acquiring things like ballistic helmets and gas masks through the Nebraska National Guard.
Eventually the department bought blue jump suits to replace the fatigues and began to upgrade equipment as budgets allowed.
The newly organized team placed a higher emphasis on training, sending members to Los Angeles, California to train with and study the LAPD SWAT model. In addition, members returned to Quantico for more training, and trained locally with the Omaha FBI SWAT Team.
Although positions within the team became more specialized as people were assigned specific duties, the team made a conscious decision to cross train at all positions. Training was made realistic by setting up different scenarios for the team to work through and using role players. Whenever possible the team would acquire floor plans of different businesses and then work through likely scenarios.
Members were issued pagers for the first time and were on call 24/7 unless they were out of town. According to Hewitt, during the eleven years that he acted as the Team Commander, the SWAT Team averaged a call out a month.
The first activation for the newly organized group was on June 27, 1977, when four inmates attempted to break out of the County/City jail, taking two hostages in the process. After a seven hour standoff and face to face negotiations the hostages were released and the inmates surrendered. According to Lt. Hewitt this first call was a big learning experience that the team would build on.
The size of Lincoln's SWAT Team has increased over the years and currently stands at thirteen deployable members, a team commander and two assistant team commanders. Team composition includes a team leader, assistant team leader, sharpshooters, negotiators, less lethal/grenadiers, and shield/entry personnel. All team members are assigned to various police teams and specialized units within the department. They are on call 24/7 and activated for call outs when needed.
As has been the practice since the team's inception, members still cross train at all positions. The team trains two days a month and also conducts an annual week long training session that takes place each year during the first week in October. Training includes firearms, tactical planning and execution, building entries and searches, hostage negotiations/rescue, warrant and raid planning. Changes in SWAT Team tactics over the years have come as a direct result of improved equipment and technology. Things like ballistic shields, better optics, and less lethal options have all played a role in the way SWAT Teams can approach different situations. In addition, cell phones, improved radios and radio headsets have helped to improve communications.
The number of SWAT Team activations varies from year to year; but, on average, has consistently been one activation per month. Typical call outs include barricaded or armed suspects, but the team is also used for high risk warrant service and special details, which may involve dignitary protection or stand-by during major events.