Under the Radar

'S.W.A.T.' and the Joys of Tactical Policing


'S.W.A.T.' is back for a third try and the series connected with an audience this past season on CBS in a way that the original 1975-976 ABC series nor the 2003 movie reboot ever did. It's been renewed for a second season and season one is out now on DVD.

LAPD Chief Daryl Gates established the Special Weapons and Tactics unit in 1965, allegedly in response to the Los Angeles riots that year. Anyone who came of age after 9/11 might find it hard to believe, but the idea that domestic police forces would employ military tactics was highly controversial in S.W.A.T.'s early years.

That didn't matter to kids in the '70s. The original "S.W.A.T." had (and still has) the great TV theme song of all time, one that became a #1 single in a disco-fied cover by Rhythm Heritage. Shows that featured the military in those post-Vietnam years were not happening and "S.W.A.T." filled a void for a generation that weren't going to see operators on TV any other way.

Flash-forward to 2017 and the reboot. The new series is run by Shawn Ryan, who previously made the classic LAPD series "The Shield." Most of the original character names are recycled, so middle-aged fans of Hondo, Street and Luca will feel at home from the beginning.

Shemar Moore upgrades from a supporting role on "Criminal Minds" to the lead part of team leader Daniel "Hondo" Harrelson here. Alex Russell is the loose cannon Jim Street, Kenny Johnson plays Dominique Luca, while Lina Esco portrays Chris Alonso, the first women on S.W.A.T. It's 2018, and the cast features both men and women (including a woman captain who oversees the entire unit) and the squad features black, Asian, Latino and white members.

Over the course of a season, the sheer volume of gear this team uses is terrifying. The Los Angeles portrayed in the show is closer to the peak war years in Fallujah than anything resembling the crime coverage coming out of Southern California. These guys gear up every single week to confront the kind of threat that would dominate CNN coverage for weeks.

This is the police force that sovereign citizens warn us about. Angelenos trust that their tactical units are highly trained and have learned from mistakes over the past 50 years. But this is exactly the kind of mindset that has overtaken small town police forces after 9/11. You know there's some guy out there who couldn't make the cut for the military who's watching this show and just itching to kick some ass with his squad's shiny new tactical gear.

That shouldn't detract from the show's pleasures. Unlike "SEAL Team," "S.W.A.T." never goes very deep and the clipped dialog seems tailor-made for easy dubbing into other languages for world-wide syndication (cf. "CSI Miami"). CBS knows how to make these procedural shows and this one runs like a machine. L.A. isn't really a war zone, but "S.W.A.T." is a lot of fun if you realize it's all just pretend.

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