The Star-News


SWAT was a ragtag bunch

Sat, Dec 01 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

In 1971 Chula Vista was a nice little town of around 70,000, a far cry from the 243,000 or so who reside here today. Violent crimes were few and far between. Working in Flint as a patrolman, I responded to my first homicide six days into the job. In Chula Vista, I don’t think I went to a shooting call for several years.

The late Lieutenant Hal King Sr. was forward thinking enough to know the peaceful days wouldn’t last forever. Even though we never had a violent situation involving a hostage, or a barricaded suspect, Lt. King knew it would happen eventually.

King and Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Jack Turner talked about forming a Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT). Turner was a former Marine and he thought that was a good idea. The late Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Dan Blackston became involved too. Blackston was a former Marine Corps Drill Instructor who carried over some of his Marine attitudes to the police department.

Always a stickler for detail, Lt. King put together a comprehensive plan for forming the SWAT team. King approached Bill Winters with his ideas. Chief Winters was always receptive to listening to new things. Because King’s plan was detailed enough (and didn’t cost anything for the moment anyway) Chief Winters agreed for the plan to proceed.
San Diego PD had a SWAT team and King tried to tap into their experience. For some reason, the counterparts at San Diego were cool to sharing information. That was sometimes the case in dealing with San Diego. It depended on whom you contacted. Some of their officers and command were excellent at sharing information and helping, and some had an elitist attitude that they were the big boys and everyone else was nothing. Apparently the elitist attitude was the case with San Diego’s SWAT commander in 1971.

Lt. King was no shrinking violet. He shrugged his shoulders, probably uttered an unprintable epithet, and went about forming Chula Vista’s SWAT team. The first order was to get bodies. Turner told me the process was “not very democratic.” Lt. King picked 15 officers and sergeants with whom he felt comfortable and asked them if they wanted to be charter members. Most agreed.

In today’s world the department would put out an announcement and interested parties would apply. King wanted people who would be cohesive and work together as a team, and follow orders. We were a small enough department that King knew everyone. The first contingent was made up of three teams. Later, when the television show “SWAT” starring Steve Forrest as Dan “Hondo” Harrelson came into being, everyone started calling Lt. King “Hondo.” He liked it.

The first training was held at Camp Pendleton with the cooperation of the Marines. Blackston and Turner were instrumental in getting this effort going. Some earlier training consisted of repelling from a tower, and later repelling at Otay dam. None of the team members had repelled before. Most didn’t care for the idea, but did it anyway. King himself had never repelled. The Marine instructor was screaming at the officers. Just before he went off the ledge King said, “You gotta die sometime.”

Over the years when the team learned of a local abandoned house that was slated for demolition, they would get permission to use it for training in arresting a barricaded suspect and practicing forcible entry.

The team was able to get .45 semi-automatic handguns to replace the six-shot revolvers, both for the number of available rounds and the extra stopping power. They also obtained the much more formidable MP-5s.

For one dollar the team purchased an old armored truck that was used for many years. As time went on, money was obtained through budget and grants to get more and better equipment. The initial SWAT team was only a shell of what was to come. But, it was a start.

Next week I write about the new and improved Chula Vista SWAT team.


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