Updated June 5, 2023 - 11:24 am
The Metropolitan Police Department has restructured the chain of command around SWAT, and the first director in the unit’s history is hoping training and community engagement will help create a safer team.
Bryan Peterson, 44, oversees more than 60 people combined on Metro’s SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics Bureau, and K-9 team. Peterson worked for Metro for 18 years, before temporarily leaving the department in 2017, and spent seven years as a SWAT officer.
Metro’s SWAT team consists of 44 people, including officers, administrators, sergeants and a lieutenant who respond to “critical incidents and high-risk situations,” according to Metro’s website. Peterson said he worked in every area of SWAT except as a sniper, meaning he worked with explosives and gas munitions to open doors and held less-than-lethal weapons against people who were armed or refused to come out to see police.
Nearly 18 months ago, SWAT officers Kerry Kubla and Brice Clements were shot when they tried to enter the apartment of a homicide suspect and found another man sleeping on the couch with a handgun. Kubla, Clements and three other officers fatally shot Isaiah Williams, 19.
Charges were dropped two weeks later against the murder suspect, and the union representing Kubla and Clements sued Metro alleging the officers’ rights were violated when they were questioned about the shooting.
In 2017, Peterson was hired as the vice president of executive security and facilities over the Ultimate Fighting Championship, meaning he also served as the executive protection for UFC President Dana White.
“I left a little early, and it wasn’t out of my system yet,” Peterson said. “I still felt I had a lot to offer this department.”
Peterson said he started considering coming back to Metro in June after he called his former downtown area command sergeant, Kevin McMahill, to congratulate him on being elected sheriff during the primary. He said the two men share the same vision for what SWAT, and the police department, could become.
“The vision of having the safety community in the United States, that’s important to me,” Peterson said. “Being born and raised in this city, having my family in this city, I think that’s extremely important.”
Peterson serves as the first director, replacing a job that used to be held by a captain. In an interview two days before Peterson started in his new role, McMahill said one captain typically oversees up to 200 officers, but the work SWAT does requires closer supervision.
“Because of the nature of their mission and the level of inspection, I need by those sergeants, lieutenants and captains to make sure they’re accomplishing what it is that I want, those are high risk units that we have,” McMahill said. “They’re an absolute necessity when it comes to fighting crime but I think there’s a higher level of inspection over those units.”
McMahill, who took office in January, instituted a policy that requires SWAT to serve all warrants except for DNA swabs. He called it a high-liability position, and cited a record-breaking $11.5 million settlement Metro paid in January.
“We paid out the highest Metro payout in history over a SWAT warrant that went bad,” McMahill said. “And I’m making sure we never have to do that again.”
In January 2021, an execution of a warrant to collect property resulted in Jasmine King nearly losing her eyesight, according to her attorney, Joshua Benson.
SWAT officers testified in a deposition that they thought they were at King’s apartment to make an arrest. They did not knock before placing an explosive device by the door. King opened the door and the device detonated, Benson said.
She sued the department alleging assault and battery and a violation of her rights against excessive police force.
Benson wrote in a statement Monday that hiring Peterson was a step in the right direction, but he hoped officers would learn why certain policies, procedures and laws are in place regarding search warrants.
“It has taken more than 15 depositions, years of litigation, and an $11.5M settlement for LVMPD to finally implement changes to protect citizens from this happening again,” Benson wrote. “A lot of good officers made a lot of bad decisions. If any positives can be taken away, it would be that the Department has good men and women in place. This was not a personnel problem — it was a policy and tactics problem. And those problems are much easier to fix and remedy.”
When Peterson took the helm of SWAT in March, he sent officers through the longest academy in the bureau’s history, with 184 hours of training and a focus on decision making and de-escalation.
“The decisions these operators have to make in split seconds is critical,” Peterson said. “A bad decision could go very wrong for an entire section, this department and this community.”
As part of the sheriff’s goals to “inject humanity” and Peterson’s goals to maintain good relationships with the community, he said he expects the sergeants and lieutenants to visit neighbors after officers serve a search warrant.
Peterson said he hoped to resolve every SWAT situation peacefully, using technology to aide in de-escalation.
“Give them an understanding of what just happened, give them some peace of mind of the neighborhood they live in and ask them what their concerns are,” Peterson said.
Contact Sabrina Schnur at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.