Here's Part 1 of Detective Hussey's chapter. He calls it Human Bomb. Come back tomorrow for the conclusion.
I guess there comes a time in every cop's life, when he wishes he could circumvent the system, so to speak. You know, go around the rules, regulations and laws and get the bad guy. Some cops actually think the end justifies the means. It doesn’t. It just gets really frustrating when you work day after day within the parameters of the establishment and they let these scumbags go free to terrorize other innocent people.
One such time when the feeling of helplessness had overcome our ability to think clearly, happened in the summer of 1982. We were revisiting our thoughts on Viet Nam. The memorial to the over 50,000 Americans who had lost their lives was dedicated by the President in a moving ceremony. We still weren’t sure how we felt.
A purse-snatcher had been working the Searstown Shopping Center on the Boulevard. Not only had he been working it, but over a period of three weeks had amassed over 30 of, what Florida calls, "Strong-arm robberies." Which means that the perpetrator uses either force or intimidation to separate the unsuspecting victim from his or her pocketbook.
The news media was making a huge deal about the fact that nine of the victims had been injured—six seriously, requiring hospitalization. All the robberies were committed in broad daylight in front of witnesses. In each case the description was relatively the same.
Black male, 6 feet tall, short hair, several days' growth of beard, wearing white tee shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers.
Several said they could identify the suspect if caught, and others said they had seen the man in the area riding a bicycle. The newspaper couldn’t understand why the police were unable to make an arrest. The Chief of Police couldn’t understand it either. With all of the crack (not current meaning pertaining to cocaine) officers and special equipment the department had, the bad guy should be in jail by now.
Well, as most law enforcement officers know, shit rolls downhill. The City Manager was getting pressure from the public and the media, as well as store owners at the shopping center, who were losing business. The City Manager called the Chief of Police and put pressure on him. The Chief of Police called the Major and chewed his ass. The Major called the Captain and the Captain called the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant called a couple of Sergeants and that’s kinda where I come in.
The Los Angeles Police Department had created a SWAT team. The team was trained in the use of special urban assault weapons and anti-personnel devices not commonly used by the street officer. The idea was that these specially trained officers would be available for call out in the event of an incident requiring their special talents and training. The teams would train together regularly and attend special schools when available. Other police departments soon followed suit, as they usually did in those days.
The Lakeland STAT team was formed in the mid 1970’s as a result of several nationally publicized incidents involving hostages and terrorist activities. Police in urban areas and not so urban areas around the country found themselves ill equipped to handle these heavily armed, sometimes well-trained individuals and groups. A majority of these bad individuals were Vietnam veterans, who were not only well-trained, but heavily armed. A lot of good cops lost their lives as a result of this learning process.
The Lakeland Police Department, not wanting to fall behind, sent representatives to Quantico, Virginia to the F.B.I. Headquarters in 1974 to attend a seminar on urban terrorism. They gleaned just enough information to be dangerous. The committee returned home, a budget request was granted, and the first Lakeland Police Special Weapons Team was born.
I had just been accepted to the Lakeland police “SWAT” team or “STAT” (Special Tactical Alert Team) as it was called. The name was chosen in 1973 when the team was formed, as a result of a contest. The Officer who submitted the new team name would receive a paid day off.
Many entries were submitted, including one that I was particularly fond of: “Fast Action Response Team.” The administration really liked the way it sounded and almost used it, until someone pointed out that the acronym was FART. They then realized they’d been had.... Again. They settled on STAT, because it was different than SWAT.
It was quite an honor to be chosen for this elite group and I was feeling pretty “special” when the team was called together as part of a special “Anti-purse-snatcher” task force.
Most traditional teams consisted of five men, two riflemen, who carried automatic rifles (machine guns), one scout or forward observer, who would gather intelligence and report to the command post, one sniper whose job title is self-explanatory, and one rear guard whose duties were flexible.
If additional personnel were needed, another team, if available would be deployed or bodies would be taken from the patrol division.
If all this sounds a quite militaristic, you’re right. Most of the deployment tactics and weapons were taken from our armed forces. Everything from uniforms to insignia to call signs. When we deployed we looked like we were headed to the jungles of Southeast Asia.
The only problem in Lakeland was that the people chosen for special assignments, such as STAT, were chosen on the basis of either their looks or their popularity. Their level of education, common sense, maturity or training never entered into the decision. In many cases the guys that were assigned to these teams were irrational, almost unstable individuals. When an operation went bad because of some “Rambo” type behavior, the brass would look the other way, even cover up or praise the individuals because the STAT guys were their “boys” and could do no wrong. The purse snatching detail in July of 1982 was just such an incident.
Come back tomorrow for the conclusion.