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While the public image of SWAT first became known through the LAPD, perhaps because of its proximity to the mass media and the size and professionalism of the Department itself, the first actual SWAT-type operations were conducted north of Los Angeles in the farming community of Delano, California on the border between Kern and Tulare Counties in the San Joaquin Valley.
One officer then obtained permission to observe the Delano Police Department's special weapons and tactics units in action, and afterwards, he took what he had learned back to Los Angeles, where his knowledge was used and expanded on to form the LAPD's own first SWAT unit.
John Nelson was the officer who conceived the idea to form a specially trained and equipped unit in the LAPD, intended to respond to and manage critical situations involving shootings while minimizing police casualties.
The LAPD SWAT units were organized as "D Platoon" in the Metro division.
Early police powers and tactics used by SWAT teams were aided by legislation passed in 1967-8 with the help of Republican House representative Donald Santarelli.
Other countries have developed their own paramilitary police units (PPUs) which are also described as or comparable to SWAT forces.
SWAT units are often equipped with specialized firearms including submachine guns, assault rifles, breaching shotguns, sniper rifles, riot control agents, and stun grenades.Television news stations and print media carried live and delayed reportage of these events across the United States.Personnel from the LAPD, having seen these broadcasts, contacted Delano and inquired about the program.Inspector Gates approved this idea, and he formed a small select group of volunteer officers.This first SWAT unit initially consisted of fifteen teams of four men each, making a total staff of sixty.On the afternoon of May 17, 1974, elements of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a group of heavily armed left-wing guerrillas, barricaded themselves in a residence on East 54th Street at Compton Avenue in Los Angeles.Coverage of the siege was broadcast to millions via television and radio and featured in the world press for days afterwards.The LAPD Metropolitan Division's "D" Platoon is one of the world's most prominent SWAT units and was the second SWAT team established in the United States, after that of the Philadelphia Police Department in 1964.According to the Historical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, the term "SWAT" was used as an acronym for the "Special Weapons and Tactics" established as a 100-man specialized unit in 1964 by the Philadelphia Police Department in response to an alarming increase in bank robberies.In the United States as of 2005, SWAT teams were deployed 50,000 times every year, almost 80% of the time to serve search warrants, most often for narcotics.SWAT teams are increasingly equipped with military-type hardware and trained to deploy against threats of terrorism, for crowd control, hostage taking, and in situations beyond the capabilities of ordinary law enforcement, sometimes deemed "high-risk".