Wives Criticize Plan that Would Bring More Women on SWAT Team

A report that recommends making SWAT Team tests less strenuous draws fire.

ByABC News
April 1, 2008, 2:50 PM

April 4, 2008— -- Changes to the demanding admissions tests for the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team that could make the elite unit more accessible to women have caused an uproar among some current officers and their wives.

L.A.P.D. Chief William Bratton recently told reporters that he would like to see women "in every part" of the department, including the famed Special Weapons and Tactics Team, which has never had a woman in its ranks.

But a review panel's proposal to do so by making some of the SWAT testing less physically demanding angers wives like Tracy Melchior, who is married to a veteran officer, and has prompted criticism that the department has lowered the standards for getting into SWAT.

"This is somebody's father, somebody's husband did not come home one night….This isn't a game. It's not where it's about being fair, everybody gets a turn. This is real life," she told ABC News' Senior Law & Justice Correspondent Jim Avila.

Watch Tracy Melchior Friday on "Good Morning America."

In an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Capt. Jeffrey Greer, the commanding officer of the LAPD's Metropolitan Division, and Mike Albanese, the lieutenant in charge of SWAT, disputed that the changes were brought about by the review panel recommendations.

The new selection process, which does away with some rigorous testing, such as a Camp Pendelton obstacle course, was already being designed by SWAT supervisors, they said.

"SWAT is dedicated to selecting only men and women who have the physical, tactical and intellectual prowess the job demands," they wrote. "No one is lowering the standards. In fact, we're raising the bar."

But, Melchior says she and other wives of SWAT officers are still reeling from the recent death of Randy Simmons, the first member of the SWAT team to be killed in the line of duty in the unit's nearly 40-year history.

Simmons' death shattered what once seemed to be an air of invincibility around the 43-man team, and Melchior fears that the proposed changes, some of which have been implemented, could put her husband and other members in danger.

"A red flag went up. Is this making them safer or less safe at this time? Shouldn't we be looking at this incident and saying what can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again?" she said.

The controversy began when Bratton commissioned a panel of outside experts to review the SWAT team in 2005, after a member accidentally shot and killed a 19-month-old girl who was being held hostage by her father. It was the first time since the unit was created in 1971 that a SWAT team member caused the death of a hostage.

But, the report did not discuss the girl's death in detail. Instead, it criticized the Special Weapons and Tactics team, which is responsible for handling hostage situations and serving dangerous warrants, for its "insular" culture and recommended changed testing to make the team more open to women. There has never been a female SWAT officer in Los Angeles.

The old admissions tests over-emphasized "physical prowess and tactical acumen," the report said, and under-emphasized "negotiating skills, patience, empathy, and flexibility."

In their opinion piece, Greer and Albanese said the process to select SWAT officers was outdated. "Tasks were redundant, had little to do with actual police work and were needlessly hazardous," the wrote.