WHO DROVE THE VAN?
In 1975 I was spending afternoons like most any other child of that era. Pretending to be an Army soldier fighting a foreign enemy preoccupied most of our weekends. In addition to winning Super Bowls, World Series and NBA Championships in the sand lots dotting the neighborhood, we played the classic, cops & robbers.
One evening as my family gathered in the living room, and kids still served the role as “channel changers,” I first heard that distinctive theme song. Who can forget it; benanah, benanah, benanah, …
The solid black cargo van, the unknown driver, the CB radio mounted to the dashboard, the fast-moving men grabbing long rifles. I was hooked. I hummed that lyric-less theme song constantly, and wore black pants and shirts as often as possible to emulate their BDU uniforms.
Today, kids dressing in black while pretending to fire assault rifles has an entirely different connotation. Sadly, how times have changed.
SWAT, the television series captured my imagination and ignited my passion for policing. Previous years of television cop dramas only portrayed officers in traditional uniforms, or detective’s coat and tie.
SWAT broke that mold. Although the concept of a dedicated platoon of officers serving solely as a special weapons and tactics unit in real-life policing was relatively a new concept in the United States, the television series spread the word.
Most assume this fictitious team protected the streets of Los Angeles, but the show never specified their jurisdiction. The shoulder patches had “W.C.P.D.” and it did not matter to a neighborhood group of kids.
SWAT was immediately controversial because of its intense scenarios and the militaristic methods of resolving the crisis. Each of the characters were portrayed as Vietnam veterans and used that military specialization in the domestic jurisdiction somewhere in California.
Changing Police Era
The era of police violence during the 1960’s demanded reform after a period of law enforcement known as the Professional Era.
Televised events such as the civil rights demonstrations disbanded by brutal police force, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where millions of Americans watched in horror as police wielded force without mercy.
That may have been the standard of the time, but the times had changed. The era of Community Oriented Policing was firming up during the 1970s, and SWAT (TV series) was in stark contrast to those ideals.
The media were also hyper-critical of the series as the super cool cast created a five-man unit that shot first and asked questions later. No messy paperwork or negotiations. The unit often dispensed more violence than the miscreants they pursued. As kids, that mattered none. They kicked butt and left the name taking to the cops in the sport coats.
Lasting only two seasons, SWAT left its mark on spin-off series. It also demonstrated that despite a nation just out of Vietnam, civil rights unrest and the turbulent 1960s, the television consuming public desired cop dramas with a touch of toughness.
Do you remember?
Do you recall Kojack, Baretta, TJ Hooker? They almost seem like Barney Miller’s crew compared to the cop dramas of today.
I spent sixteen fantastic years in SWAT. Although I do not miss it, I also do not regret it. Watching reruns of the original television series makes me laugh at the simplicity of the series.
Maybe that was also the attraction for watching it. Can you imagine if Lt. Harrelson focused more on administrative policy than giving orders to “take ‘em out!” If their biggest challenge was confronting the administration over civil liabilities instead of saving lives?
Fantasy to Reality
Long before my paid SWAT career began, I was a member of an elite neighborhood force consisting of the kids from the Westside. We all watched the series, then met for training and missions each weekend.
I was Hondo and took naturally to creating the training plans, identifying the targets and executing the missions. Who knew decades later I would serve in that same command capacity in real-life.
I still say the neighborhood unit was better than the real thing, but time has a way of making our perception much more different from reality.
What was your favorite Cop Show?
Check out my good friends at The Badge Guys, where Juli Adcock hosted a week long series of her favorite shows.