Thursday, July 5, 2012


DEAR SERGEANT AL: What is the difference between ESU and SWAT? Do they do basically the same thing? –EMERGENCIES SUCK UNAMBIGUOUSLY SOMETIMES WHEN A THING YANKS ON US

DEAR ESU SWAT YOU: Interesting question. Both are very elite uniformed tactical field support services units either within the NYPD (New York City Police Department ESU-Emergency Services Unit) or the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department SWAT-Special Weapons and Tactics Unit). Both provide tactical support to regular field officers on patrol when they need additional assistance for things like riot control, hostages, manhunts, missing persons, terror threats, etc. In essence, when people need help, they call 911. When the cops need help, they call ESU or SWAT. These units provide help in situations that are a bit too heavy handed for regular officers to control, and thus provide the big guns for assistance. The late LAPD Police Chief (then an Inspector) Daryl Gates formed SWAT in the late 1960’s in response to issues such as the SLA, Black Panthers, and then-recent political assassinations, one of which was Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 murder in Los Angeles. ESU has been in existence since 1930 and its role in field support has expanded over the years. Half of the NYPD officers killed on September 11th were members of the NYPD’s ESU. I should also note that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, which polices New York and New Jersey’s major airports, tunnels, bridges, PATH trains, and the World Trade Center complex, is a phenomenal organization that also lost members in those towers on 9/11, and has an impressively operational ESU organization, perhaps more thoroughly trained than their NYPD ESU brothers, and designed specifically for airport, bridge, tunnel, skyscraper, and subway tunnel emergencies. The basic difference between the management, operation, training, even down to the culture of the two types of units (ESU and SWAT) comes down to the east coast verses west coast philosophy of their styles of policing. 
 Both are very prestigious units to become members: you generally need experience and/or seniority on patrol (usually at least five years tenured patrol experience or more; a good service, sick, and disciplinary record; and preferably some kind of skill or training that will enable them to assist both their unit and the regular officers out in the field for whom they provide their services. It also probably helps to know somebody either in rank or seniority within either department who can put in a good word to get a uniformed applicant considered, approved, and transferred. Both require at least a year of very intense training. If you are successful in either unit, it can generally lead to something like a detective designation or some kind of advance grading in pay. While both have similar scopes in mission, both are very different in their substance, style, and the kind of services they provide. While both have very impressive equipment and vehicles, ESU is more of a 24/7 operation that is based out of substations throughout the city, SWAT generally mobilizes out of regular patrol cars while their officers provide patrol duty during the course of their tours, thus making them more readily mobile and dispersed. I can go at length analyzing their similarities and differences, however suffice to state that the major differences between ESU and SWAT are ESU’s ability and training in areas like air/sea rescue, vehicle extrication, HAZMAT, and fire-suppression, which SWAT does not do. Based on the information I researched on the Internet all NYPD ESU officers are trained level-1 Firefighters, and in fact all PAPD ESU officers are trained for FAA certified fire-suppression duties required during an aircraft emergency. If you see firefighters on a PA runway during an aircraft emergency, those are actually some of the 600 trained PAPD officers that are firefighters. I can tell you from my experiences that either type of officer, ESU or SWAT, is a phenomenal cop; they truly are special breeds worthy of their espirit de corps, and in many ways they are truly warriors to their creed and craft. I am always in awe of the work they do.

I take this time to honor the men and women of ESU and SWAT and thank them for their service they have provided me, either as a cop on patrol I once was, as a police manager I needed them to the time I retired, or as a citizen I still am today. Our cities and thus this country just would not be as safe if it were not for the work they do to help the cops on patrol in your neighborhood throughout the nation. ESU SWAT YOU I’m citing everyone reading this with a WARNING: the next time you see one of these guys/gals at work at a scene, give them no back-talk, step back, and let them do their job, because most likely the situation is critical that they are needed. My message to ESU and SWAT: Be careful doing what I call a “cop’s emergency” and God Bless!

Suggested Reading:

What is a CARMAGEDDON and when will it happen? 
Am I allowed to walk on a highway?
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The definition of a “Concours” car and event
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What is the new national terror alert warning?
Taking photographs at off-limits tourist landmarks .


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Sgt. Al here. I welcome your comments, ideas, and suggestions. You have questions about the police, and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say as a citizen. Thanks!