35 Years Ago
The year was 1973. Many of you on the department weren’t even born yet, so a little historical perspective is in order. Richard Nixon was President. The Vietnam War was winding down. Long hair, tie-dyed shirts, and drug experimentation was part of the general culture. Gasoline was 39 cents a gallon at the pumps. The most popular movie of that year was The Exorcist, and the top song was “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John. Oh, and the Sheriff’s Department formed its first tactical team to respond to critical incidents.
Actually, it formed two separate teams, in north and east county, made up of several deputies with prior military experience who had seen combat in Vietnam. The department was feeling its way through the concept of special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Most of the equipment the teams used was provided by the deputies.
Coni Grayson, one of the original SWAT team members, said that it wasn’t until a barricaded suspect/hostage callout in Oceanside and a subsequent Grand Jury investigation that the department changed the tactical team’s structure, organization, and support—for the better. The two teams were merged into one, the department started to provide equipment, and a focus on preparation and training became the standard.
In August 1982, the part-time SWAT team evolved into the full-time Special Enforcement Detail (SED) with 18 deputies, 2 sergeants, and a lieutenant as SWAT commander. However, through the 1980s and early-1990s, deputies assigned to SED purchased most of their own uniforms and gear.
Since the mid-1990s, SED has been augmented by the Special Response Team (SRT), which is comprised of 14 part-time deputies who train with SED at least two days per month. These deputies normally work other positions outside of emergency services. Recently retired Assistant Sheriff Earl Wentworth was the SED Lieutenant when the SRT came about, and he believes the concept was long overdue. “What with vacations, out-of-county training, injuries and sick days, sometimes we couldn’t muster enough deputies to handle the basics on a callout”, he said.
In addition to SRT, the Sheriff’s tactical team has long had a reserve deputy component that has been instrumental in performing key roles during callouts, critical incidents, and training. Current SED Sgt. John Pokorny, a 20-year veteran of the unit, stated, “Without the Reserves, we wouldn’t be able to manage all the key elements of a tactical response. They have played a very important role on our team for decades.”
Since the transition to a full-time team, all SRT and SED deputies have had to complete a high-stress, two week SWAT Academy that is without any doubt, the toughest, most demanding training regimen the Sheriff’s Department offers. The SWAT Academy is put on at least once a year and attracts numerous outside agency personnel, as well as, SDSO SED applicants.
Today’s SED handles a variety of calls, including crowd control, high risk warrant service and detentions support. There are currently 2 sergeants, 6 corporals , and 12 deputies under the command of Lt. Grant Burnett.
Support Association Forms
In late 2007, a group of retired and current SWAT/SED deputies got together and organized a new support group for all former and current SWAT, SED, and SRT members. The Association of Special Enforcement (TASE) is a non-profit fraternal organization dedicated to honoring, supporting, and maintaining close ties to all Sheriff’s sworn personnel (both regular and reserve) who have been assigned to the tactical team since 1973.
In addition to providing an umbrella organization for the approximately 200 deputies who have been assigned to SWAT in the past 35 years, TASE has defined some short-term and long-term goals. In the short-term, the association is currently raising funds for a perpetual bronze memorial that will honor all deputies who have worked the unit. While Dep. Lonny Brewer remains the only SWAT deputy killed in the line of duty (during a callout in Escondido in 1987), the association feels it is important to recognize every deputy who has served at the tip of the sheriff’s tactical spear.
On December 12 each year (the anniversary of Lonny’s death), the association hosts a memorial reception to honor all those members who have died in the previous year. At the inaugural reception in 2007, nine deputies were remembered at an event attended by over 70 retired and current tactical team members. Honored that night were Bill Bradley, Lonny Brewer, Benny Collins, Paul Franklin, Rusty Hightman, E.J. Lubic, Carter McKenzie, Scott Noll, and Roger Williamson.
On September 20 of this year, TASE will host the 35th Reunion Dinner at MCAS Miramar Officer’s Club. The last Reunion was held in 1998. This one should be a great night to share memories, see old friends, and rekindle the close ties that come from working on a tactical team. All past and current members of the tactical team are eligible to attend. For more information about The Association of Special Enforcement, the memorial, and the reunion, go to http://www.mytase.com. - by Craig Berry