Background: From an historical perspective, during the early stages of the war in Viet Nam, American military combat personnel expressed a growing dissatisfaction with the M14 rifle. The M14 rifle was introduced to the US ARMY in 1957 to replace the M1 Garand. The M14 was heavy and fired a .308 caliber bullet making the personal carry of additional ammunition difficult. That dissatisfaction led the United States Army to develop a light weight weapon capable of firing small caliber bullets. As a consequence and in 1960, Colt Firearms introduced the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, followed by the M16 military full-automatic version capable of delivering a controlled dispersion pattern. The M16 rifle was lighter and used a 5.56mm (.223 cal.) cartridge in 20 or 30-round magazine. Over the next 30-years, Colt would make several improvements and variations of the M16 system.

Established in 1966, the Los Angeles Police Department Special Weapons & Tactics Platoon (LAPD SWAT) was organized and tasked to provide a special and rapid tactics response to and for frontline LAPD personnel. That response would include improved, specialized equipment and weapons. During its infancy, LAPD SWAT looked to and evaluated tactics, weapons and ammunition used by the US military. As a result of that evaluation, the M16 rifle with standard 55 grain military ball ammunition was identified as a combat-tested general purpose system and selected by the Department’s SWAT Unit.

LAPD SWAT was a new phenomenon to law enforcement. As a consequence, there were few, if any, specialized weapons or ammunition available to evaluate and test for the SWAT mission. Therefore, many of the weapons used by LAPD SWAT were obtained through LAPD Property Division as “seized weapons.” Those weapons included large caliber rifles for police snipers (.308 caliber), 12 GA. shotguns, a variety of .223 caliber rifles and .45 caliber handguns. 12 GA. shotguns, various .223 caliber rifles and the .45 caliber pistols were authorized as SWAT entry weapons. The early 1980’s would see a significant change in how LAPD SWAT would obtain their weapons systems. That change in protocol was the direct result of the team’s preparation for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games held in the City of Los Angeles. During the early 1980’s, there was a strong belief and perception throughout the law enforcement community, that the .223 caliber bullet was prone to “over-penetrate” thus inappropriate as a primary entry weapon. In theory, the bullet would consistently pass through human tissue (with little or no resistance) and maintain lethal capability until its terminal resting place. Therefore, the selection of a handgun bullet (9mm) in a submachine gun appeared to be an appropriate solution to this perceived problem of “over-penetration.” In an effort to establish a viable counter-terrorist and hostage rescue component for the LAPD, SWAT personnel researched and evaluated contemporary weapons used by counter-terrorist units throughout the United States and Europe (1983). The result of that research culminated with the selection of the Heckler & Koch (H&K) weapons systems:

  • Submachine Guns
  • through H&K).

The H&K system was reliable, well-built and field tested by such groups as the German GSG 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), British 22nd SAS (22nd Special Air Service Regiment) and US ARMY DELTA. All of the weapons performed well with standard NATO ball ammunition. The MP5 (Machine Pistol 5) submachine guns were ultimately selected as SWAT’s primary entry weapons for the following reasons:

The selection of the H&K MP5 replaced the M16 and other .223 caliber rifles as a primary entry weapon; however, the .223 caliber rifle would remain operational as a perimeter or as a special needs weapon. In order to maximize the terminal properties of the newly acquired MP5, LAPD SWAT evaluated a variety of 9mm ammunitions. After careful evaluation, The Winchester Super-X 115 Grain Silvertip Hollow Point (STHP) 9mm bullet was selected as a general purpose bullet. Other bullets were identified for special needs such as for defeating barriers (windows, screens, fabric). Therefore, standard military ball would be carried in a spare or secondary magazine for that purpose. In addition, armor-piercing 9mm ball ammunition was authorized and issued on a case-by-case deployment need/consideration (North Hollywood Bank Robbery deployment). Although the MP5 system had numerous advantages, there was room for improvement and consequently, LAPD SWAT recommended to H&K that several modifications be made to the system:

After nearly 20-years, H&K developed a system similar to the recommendations proffered by LAPD SWAT. Presently, that system is the H&K UMP (Universal Machine Pistol) Submachine Gun that fires a .45 caliber cartridge. The H&K UMP has easy manipulation of the select lever from a shouldered position, includes a “two-shot” select position and has a bolt lock-back feature. By years end (2005), several H&K UMP’s will be field tested and evaluated by LAPD SWAT. At the conclusion of field testing the UPM, the findings of the evaluation and a recommendation will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Division Commander for final review and recommendations.

Although the MP5 has proven to be and continues to be an effective and reliable weapon for special operations use, one of the initial reasons for its selection appears to have been flawed; specifically, the over-penetration of the .223 cartridge. Current studies surrounding the .223 caliber bullet have shown that as a matter of consistency, the rounds do not necessarily penetrate tissue in excess of handgun bullets. Due to the bullet’s light weight and increased velocity, it has often been shown to stay within the body or fragment significantly; not the contrary. In fact, there is no evidence to support that the .223 caliber cartridge is more capable of over-penetrating human tissue than the 9mm cartridge. The significant advantage of the .223 caliber bullet over the 9mm bullet is the ability of the .223 caliber bullet to defeat body armor.

The law enforcement community would again be challenged to re-evaluate its weapons systems on February 27, 1997. Two armed gunmen heavily clad in body armor and armed with high-powered rifles, tested the resolve and determination of the LAPD. Both suspects wore body armor sufficient to thwart an LAPD response for approximately 43 minutes. Simply put, the LAPD did not possess adequate weapons to defeat the body armor worn by both suspects. As a result of that incident, the LAPD established the UPR (Urban Police Rifle) program and authorized the .45 caliber bullet for patrol personnel. Additionally, LAPD SWAT Element Leaders were authorized to carry the .223 caliber rifle as a primary entry weapon. The addition of the .223 rifle, as an entry weapon, provided the team with the ability to defeat body armor if confronted with that scenario. The .223 rifle, specifically the M16A1, lacked certain modifications or features that were desirable for an all-purpose entry weapon. Those features were:

Weapon Selection: The popularity of the .223 rifle prompted an upswing in “tactical firearms” design and manufacturing targeting the law enforcement community. In July of 2001, LAPD SWAT was provided the opportunity to replace an aging .223 system with a contemporary .223 weapon. Resultant from funding from the City’s annual budget, members of LAPD SWAT set out to identify the best suited .223 system for general purpose use. SWAT members were tasked to identify a .223 weapon that could be used in an exterior as well as interior setting. A variety of systems were identified, fired and evaluated for general purpose use. The evaluation criteria included:

Below are listed the .223 systems that were evaluated and charted with the subsequent conclusions. The evaluation criteria used are the highlighted points (above) as a reference base:

H&K 53
H&K G36C
Sig Sauer 551-2P & P SWAT

Note: Funding for the M4 system was approved in July 2001. Once the evaluation of the weapon system was concluded a subsequent purchase order for the M4 system was generated in September of 2001; the weapons were received in August of 2002.

Current Practice: After evaluating the aforementioned systems, the Commanding Officer of Metropolitan Division and Commander Mark Leap, Operations Headquarters Bureau, authorized LAPD SWAT to replace its aging variety of .223 systems with the COLT M4 Carbine in September of 2001 (purchase date of the Colt System). The COLT M4 Carbine is a highly versatile, lightweight, gas operated, air-cooled, magazine fed, selective rate, shoulder-fired weapon with a collapsible stock. The versatility of the M4 is unrivaled. A shortened variant of the M16A2 rifle, the M4 provides the individual officer the advantage of operating in a close quarter environment, the capability of engaging targets at extended distances and defeating assailants clad in body armor. A detailed description of the COLT M4 is as follows:

LAPD SWAT is one of many contemporary SWAT units that have selected the COLT M4 as an entry weapon. The Colt M4 has been overwhelmingly accepted as a general purpose weapon for both the US military and American law enforcement alike. The overall characteristics of the M4 (light weight, shortened length, full-auto feature, etc.) have prompted many law enforcement SWAT units to adopt the M4 (or another .223 system) as a primary entry weapon during SWAT missions. Some of these teams include:

Note: Identifying a comprehensive list of all SWAT units using the M4 system is achievable; however time is requested to pursue a comprehensive list.

The acceptance of the .223 caliber system for law enforcement identified the need for a general purpose bullet. Additionally, forward deployed US military combat troops reported ineffective performances of standard-issue military ammunition (M855/SS109 – 62 grain and U.S. M193 – 55 grain), during combat operations. The failures were occurring at extended distances in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Because the COLT M4 has rifling twists of 1 turn in 7" (178mm), a heavier bullet can be fired from the weapon with anticipated better performance (not so with the M16A1/2/3). The heavier bullets have displayed an improved external and terminal proficiency when fired from the M4.

Recent LAPD SWAT shootings with the .223 caliber bullet have had less than the desired results – immediate incapacitation after shooting the suspect. Several suspects have been able to continue their aggressive behavior even after being shot multiple times with the 55 grain .223 caliber bullets. This failure to immediately incapacitate an aggressive assailant has prompted LAPD SWAT to re-evaluate and test contemporary .223 caliber bullet. On August 13, 2005, a bare gelatin ballistic test occurred at the Elysian Park Academy. There, Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann, Captain Scott Kroeber, Lieutenant. Michael Albanese and members of the LAPD SWAT firearm cadre conducted ballistic gelatin testing. During this test, current LAPD issued munitions and a variety of contemporary .223 caliber munitions were tested and evaluated.

Over the past several years, prior ballistic gelatin testing has shown that the heavier .223 caliber bullet performs well when fired from a 1/7 twist 14.5 inch barrel (current LAPD SWAT M4 issue). The additional bullet weight allows for deeper penetration and increased bullet integrity at the terminal resting point (bullet mass). Other bullet designs and characteristics, such as controlled expansion rounds (hollow points) have proven to perform well by increasing the frontal mass area after impacting a test medium. That test medium is a 10% gelatin mix that is recognized and used throughout the firearm community for testing bullet performance. The 10% gelatin mix was used to test the below munitions:


The results of the August 13, 2005 test were consistent with prior testing performed by other law enforcement agencies (FBI, BATF, San Diego Police Department, etc). As expected, the heavier .223 caliber bullets performed very well and the lighter 55 Grain bullet did not. The 75 & 77 Grain bullets demonstrated adequate penetration depths with substantial bullet integrity. The 55 Grain bullet showed massive disruption after four inches of penetration with the copper jacket coming to rest 15” within the test medium.

Other bullet calibers also showed results that are consistent with prior testing. As expected, The 115 Grain, 9 mm and 230 Grain, .45 caliber FMJ bullets passed completely through the gelatin block (21” plus). Conversely, the heavy 230 Grain TAC HP+P (hollow point) showed significant expansion, maximum integrity and a 15” penetration depth when fired from an H&K UMP45. A 12 gauge one-ounce slug (approximately 478 Grains) was also fired into the test medium. The slug demonstrated maximum expansion, maximum integrity and a 17” penetration depth. As predicted, the wading used to separate the slug from the gunpowder came to rest within 3 inches of the slug’s terminal resting-place.

In summary, the heavier bullets performed well when fired into the test medium. The finding resultant from the gelatin test showed that the below munitions met or exceeded expectations and should be considered for LAPD SWAT use:

  • Winchester 147 Grain, 9 mm RA9T – SXT
  • Federal 230 Grain, .45 caliber TAC HP+P
  • Black Hills 77 Grain, .223 caliber MOD1
  • Winchester 12 gauge, 1-ounce slug

Training: LAPD SWAT candidates undergo an extensive selection process prior to their appointment to D-Platoon. There, the newly assigned officer will participate in a 7-8 week SWAT school. The first three weeks are dedicated exclusively to weapons training:

Metropolitan officers have prior training and experience with the Benelli 12 GA. Shotgun and M16A1/2 rifle (or a variation thereof). Consequently, the recommended training time with the shotgun and rifle is not as time or labor intensive as with the Kimber pistol and MP5.

The Kimber .45 Caliber single-action, semiautomatic pistol is unique to SWAT. It is therefore necessary to familiarize a new SWAT officer with a 4 lb trigger press not found with double-action pistols. Rote training is used in order to recondition the muscles in the hands to accommodate the new system. Each officer must successfully maintain a minimum score of 90% or better to carry the pistol and continue with training.

The H&K MP5 submachine gun requires special training. This may be the officer’s first exposure to a full-automatic system. Again, rote training will condition the officer to consistently obtain a two-shot burst with every press of the trigger while firing from the sustained fire (full-auto) mode. Each officer must successfully maintain a minimum score of 95% or better to carry the MP5 and continue with training. Proper conditioning while firing the MP5 on two-shot bursts greatly improves the ability to adapt to sustained fire with the M4.

Most Metropolitan Division officers have some experience with the 12 GA, shotgun prior to assignment to D-Platoon. Obtaining proficiency with the 12 GA. Shotgun is generally not difficult for most and requires little training time to master. Each officer must successfully maintain a minimum score of 90% to carry the Benelli shotgun and continue with training.

As with the shotgun, most Metropolitan Division officers have prior experience with the .223 rifle system before their assignment to D-platoon. With prior exposure to the MP5 officers are able to quickly adjust to the sustained fire trigger press of the M4. Each officer must successfully maintain a minimum score of 95% to carry the M4 and continue with training.

Throughout the SWAT school, firearms skills are applied and tested in order to maintain and verify proficiency. After completion of the SWAT school, all D-Platoon personnel are scheduled to attend 16 hours of firearms training per month. If proficiency is not maintained, officers are removed from SWAT-ready status.


Firearm Skill Sets

Qualification Courses

Prepared by: Lieutenant Michael Albanese, Officer-in-Charge Special Weapons and Tactics Platoon Metropolitan Division Officer Michael W. Odle Special Weapons and Tactics Platoon Metropolitan Division