The Disturbing Evolution of SWAT Teams in American Cinema

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Top Tier Gear USA

swat wikimedia

When most people try to make a point about how aggressive and militaristic our cops have become, they typically draw upon pop culture references, such as the Andy Griffith Show. They’ll say “Whatever happened Mayberry? Whatever happened to that polite sheriff and his goofy deputy?” It’s one of the most effective ways to express how creepy our police have become over the years, because it’s so much easier for the average person to digest a pop culture analogy. And since movies and TV shows draw upon real life to give their stories some semblance of accuracy, these analogies can still inform us about what has transpired in the real world.

However, it isn’t just beat cops and small town sheriffs that have changed over the years. Our SWAT teams have also seen an alarming evolution since they first started showing up in our major cities in the 60’s and 70’s. Arguably, the idea of a SWAT team was initially a good idea. It wasn’t uncommon in metropolitan areas, for there to be crimes that required a heavily armed police response.

But over time, these SWAT teams grew in number, and eventually started to resemble elite military units. And with that, they started being deployed for just about any crime under the sun. Now about 80% of small cities with a population between 25,000 and 50,000 have a SWAT team, and by some estimates, there are as many as 80,000 SWAT raids every year. Most of these raids are for private residences, and many of them don’t even involve violent people. Essentially, what started out as a good idea, has become an excuse for our government to bypass posse comitatus, and deploy veritable soldiers on our streets to enforce the law.

And much like the Andy Griffith comparisons, you can see this transformation occur over the years in our TV shows and movies. It all started with the S.W.A.T. TV drama, which was likely the very first time these police units were ever portrayed by the media. When American’s first tuned into the show in February of 1975, this is what they saw in the intro.

S.W.A.T. show

In the first few seconds, the cast just looks like they’re dressed as very ordinary cops who happen to be carrying M16s. By the end of the intro they’re all wearing blue fatigues and flak vests, which was a common motif throughout the 70’s. It’s similar to what you see the SWAT guys wearing in the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead.

dawn of the dead

From 1981 to 1987, the show Hill Street Blues gave us a version of SWAT teams that modern audiences can easily recognize.

lieutenant hunter

However, the resemblance isn’t in their appearance, which wasn’t all that different than what we saw in the 70’s. It’s the character of Lieutenant Howard Hunter that embodies the antics of modern SWAT teams. He is a military veteran who is always eager to fight, a bit trigger happy, and giddy about the prospect of receiving any new high-tech weapon or vehicle. He is prone to overkill, while simultaneously clumsy with his operations. In the show his occasional ineptness is played for laughs, but in the real world, characters like him probably contribute to the countless botched SWAT raids we see every year.

By the time the 90’s came around, movies started to give us our first glimpse of the terrifying storm troopers that we’re all too familiar with today. Specifically, the SWAT team in the 1994 flick Léon The Professional, is a major departure from how these cops were portrayed in the past. Clad in black and donning menacing ski masks, they no longer have any resemblance to a typical police officer.

leon the professional

By the time the remake of the S.W.A.T. TV show came out 2003, the transformation into what we see today among cops was nearly complete.

2003 swat

I say ‘nearly’ complete, because Hollywood has been using some variation of this appearance ever since. By 2008, this is what a SWAT team looked like according to The Dark Knight, which is what they still look like in most movies today.

dark knight

In reality, Hollywood has yet to catch up to the awful truth. Nowadays, many SWAT teams are completely indistinguishable from soldiers.

CHP Swat

Within the next couple of years, that’s what you’re going to be seeing in movies and TV shows. The day these guys show up in the next Hollywood blockbuster, is the day you’ll realize that the soldier-cop has become the new normal.

Related Reads

They Send SWAT for Just About Everything These Days

Green Gestapo: EPA Spends $75 Million a Year on SWAT Teams

SWAT Team Refuses Public Records Request, Says ‘We’re Not a Government Agency’

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  • doucyet

    That’s good! Because when obama’s refugees take up arms and start their terror campaigns the boys will be set up to put them down………

    • Mike

      lol, not likely, local law enforcement has been told to stand down in many areas where there are terrorist training camps. They wont be allowed to do squat.

      • Jollyjoke

        On top of that the SWAT team could be made up of ‘refugees’. After all it would be harder for me to shoot an American than it would be for a Syrian.

        • scary thought: That’s the logical end to the inclusive, “diverse” police forces certain ethnic groups are currently demanding.

      • Doctor Mayhem

        That good ol’ Anarcho-Tyranny that Sam T. Francis warned us about.

      • LiberalsRLost

        yes… Sweeny texas there is a muslim ‘camp’ and the local poh-pohs are told to ‘not offend them’ and be left alone…..there are several ‘camps’ here in Texas…
        .. so the average born-in-the-usa kind man or woman is now the enemy of the state….if you are a liberty minded type that is….

  • Roscoe

    police parasites have NO Constitutional sanction to even exist… The founders drove their ilk into the sea, right along with the british. WE should be doing the same. The policepigs are entities of the communistfascist corporations, who are their bosses, NOT a FREE country.

    • Meltonmark

      Interesting comment. In Britain, local authorities are using private police forces. The traditional policeman is a waning entity. Instead, we have police officers. Not the same thing. Most Lymies don’t know the difference of course.

  • Airb0rne4325

    Many SWAT teams use an algorithm to determine if someone is dangerous enough for a SWAT team entry. Violent felon with a history of resisting arrest and reports that there are weapons in the home, that’s a SWAT team entry.
    After the bank robbery in Cali when the robbers came out and sprayed the cops with automatic AK fire, the cops started to arm up. They were severely outgunned and confiscated ARs from a local pawn shop, I believe, to fight back. All they had at the time were pistols and shotguns. Now most patrol men have ARs, most have body armor. It is an escalation in force.

  • The single-greatest impetus for the growth of the militarization of police in this country is the drug war tyranny, and it is on behalf of this selective drug prohibition that most of the home invasions by police are carried out.
    Revolution is the only recourse!

  • I always love it when people make the “Andy Griffith” comparison when they’ve never actually watched the show. Barney Fife is actually an over the top ass who swaggers about and has the tendency to accidentally discharge his weapon quite frequently. Fife is made out to be the bungling ass that he is to be comedic, but pay attention: Cops today are EXACTLY like Barney Fife. There’s just no “Sherriff Andy” to keep them in check.

  • call him names all you want, he’s right: the LA bank robbery shootout and the ’86 Miami FBI shootouts both had fundamental effects on the tactics and gear of cops.
    Not saying that’s a good thing, but its a fact.

    • LiberalsRLost

      and never let a crisis as this one go to waste but perfect to justify the israhell training that many LEOs are attending and we soon will all be treated as Palestinians…

  • ” It’s one of the most effective ways to express how creepy our police have become over the years, because”

    How much longer will Americans ignore our expanding and shameful sub-culture of immature American teen girls and young women of African descent who subject their children to *Childhood Abuse and Neglect, aka Poverty* by building families with too many mouths to feed, clothe and supervise?

    *Child Abuse and Neglect* that is primarily responsible for our prisons and far too many American communities being populated by depressed, angry, frustrated, undisciplined, unpredictable, sometimes suicidal teens and adults *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)* full of resentment for irresponsibly being introduced to a life of hardships and struggles.

    The article mentions words like “disturbing” “real life” and “creepy.”

    Here’s some disturbing, real life, creepy for you.

    This video depicts horrific examples of men who were victims of childhood abuse and neglect, conditioning a young teen to embrace ‘The Street’ culture Baltimore Mom of The Year failed to protect her teen son from…not to mention representing the fear peaceful people living and WORKING in the community experience knowing depressed, angry, unpredictable teens and young adults need to vent their angers and frustrations for being introduced to a life of pain and struggle by irresponsible, “living wild” single moms and/or dads.


    Doctors Ross and Dietz offer insights into how our Early Childhood Development plays a key role in determining the type of individual we mature into.

    Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO of The California Endowment, addressed inmates at Ironwood State Prison offering a compelling overview of the role that exposure to childhood trauma plays in the lives of *emotionally troubled* and chronically ill American teens and adults.

    At 2:12:25 in this documentary about Mafia hitman and victim of Early Childhood Trauma/Abuse, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, Dr. Park Dietz explains why young Richard most likely developed into a emotionally disturbed, paranoid, cruel, heartless teen and man who did not give a frig about anyone else, including his wife and kids.

    *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)*

    Black *(Children’s)* Lives Matter; Take Pride In Parenting; *End Our National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect*; End Community Violence, Police Fear & Educator’s Frustrations

  • RandyJ/ProudSurvivor