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Danny Bradley, chief of the North Little Rock Police Department, has been around long enough to remember when the department first fielded a Special Weapons and Tactics Team in the late 1970s.
While the ongoing case kept him from talking about the Ingle shooting, he defends the use of the team for high-risk warrant duty, saying it is the safest way to do an extremely hazardous job. Even at that, Bradley is mindful of an over-militarized police force, and has taken steps to keep that trend in check.
In cities the size of North Little Rock, Bradley said, SWAT duty isn't a full-time job. “They're patrol, or detectives, and then the SWAT team is a special assignment that they do in addition to their regular duties.” There are normally between 12 and 15 officers assigned to the North Little Rock SWAT team, with that number broken down further into specialized teams — sharpshooters, entry teams and others. The team trains two days per month, usually at Camp Robinson or at a tactical training facility near Memphis.
Bradley said that while it can be expensive and time-consuming to maintain a SWAT team, it is necessary if they expect to be ready for any situation. “As a full-service police department, you're expected to be able to deal with — however seldom they occur — those crisis situations that do arise,” Bradley said. “No, we don't often have those cases like you see on the nightly news, but we fairly often have a situation where it's safer to use the SWAT team. It's kind of like Homeland Security. Though we're not an obvious target for a terrorist attack, you still have that possibility, and the police department is still expected to be trained and capable in that situation.”
Bradley said that the SWAT team is only called out to serve warrants in high-risk cases, where it has been determined that sending regular patrol officers would endanger their safety. Both high-risk and no-knock warrants, he noted, must be reviewed and signed by a judge before they go ahead.
“The no-knock warrant is a higher level,” Bradley said. “But in terms of the normal warrants, we‘re going to play it on the safe side. If we have any doubts about the detectives and the uniformed officers being able to execute the warrant safely, we‘re going to use the SWAT team. I would rather spend the extra money that it takes to get the SWAT team together than risk someone getting injured.”
In addition to better training and equipment for making forced entry in dangerous situations, Bradley said that the SWAT team also has the element of intimidation going for it. A suspect is much less likely to take on a heavily armed tactical team than he is a pair of uniforms serving a warrant.
Bradley agrees that the natural instinct of a homeowner would be to protect his or her home, possibly with a weapon. He said it‘s a factor that SWAT takes into account every time they go out. “It‘s a consideration… how do you weigh a situation where executing a warrant safely means exploiting the element of surprise, versus the natural reaction of a person when someone is intruding into their house? It‘s dangerous business.”
As for fears of a more militarized police force, Bradley said he cringes a bit when he hears politicians talk about “the war on drugs,” because it assumes that police officers are soldiers, and citizens are the enemy.
Bradley said that since he became chief, he has worked to remove the militaristic trappings of the NLRPD. “You don't see North Little Rock police officers wearing fatigues out on patrol,” he said. “Back when I came in as chief, they did have a fatigue-looking uniform. We've still got those for dog handlers and the dirty jobs, but that's not something that's part of our philosophy… I don't want my officers out there thinking they're soldiers against the enemy. That's not what we're about.”