The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has a secret weapon in its war on crime. The department’s Special Investigation Section (S.I.S.) is an elite tactical detective squad with a straightforward mandate: Track down the City’s most dangerous offenders and take them off the street. S.I.S. are possibly the hardest-working, most dedicated men and women Detectives to wear a badge.
Working undercover, they wear street clothes and disguises to blend in. They have developed and refined surveilance methods for over four decades, they shadow their targets, sometimes waiting until the actual commission of a crime to move in and take down their man.
These “hot take downs” are the most dangerous situation for an officer: “… these guys don’t want to come in quietly,” a senior training officers explained, “many of these individuals are looking at their Third Strike, and facing Life…” For that reason, exchanging gunfire with desperate, heavily armed suspects including bank robbers, serial killers, and drug dealers is more the norm for S.I.S. Former commander of the S.I.S., Capt. Dennis Conte explained to TW, “Public safety is our concern, because if we arrest someone for ‘attempt,’ the likelihood of a conviction is not great.”
The S.I.S. is protective of methods they have developed for being in the right place at the right time, without being compromised so they can move while a crime is in progress. Having honed these skills on L.A.’s mean streets, S.I.S. officers have nerves of steel and the best investigative skills in the entire LAPD. As these methods are their edge against the bad guys, TW has agreed to honor their confidentiality in this report. The folks in our photos are either retired members or non-S.I.S. agents.
Typically, S.I.S. has about 20 members. They’ve been forced to use deadly force on 28 suspects between 1965 and 1992, inciting political and community activists and prompting the “L.A. Times” to dub them the city’s “Death Squad.”
Taking Down L.A.’s Worst Criminals
S.I.S. was formed in 1965 and comprises the “cream of the crop,” detectives who have attained the highest level of performance in the field. Just as every member of LAPDs’ S.W.A.T. team had to first achieve the highest level of performance on the street, the detectives chosen for S.I.S. must have exemplary records in their Detective Division. Possible team members are selected by the LAPD. They must pass physical and psychological tests along with other requirements. In four decades, only 110 candidates have made the cut.
Staying on the Squad is as hard as getting on. There’s no free ride. All S.I.S. officers are expected to train like professional athletes, on and off the gun range. They constantly have to qualify, and when they can’t cut it, room is made for a new team member. But few want to go back to their old duties. “This is the most dedicated group you’d want to be involved with,” former unit commander Tom Burke told TW. “So dedicated, they work the job like it is their life.”
This elite branch of LAPD has operated to remove hard-core criminals from the streets. Their special skills have been brought into some of the most infamous cases in Los Angeles history, like the Alphabet Bomber and the Hillside Strangler, and more recently in the murder of Bill Cosby’s son Ennis.
Unlike their sibling officers in LAPD S.W.A.T., S.I.S. is a mobile force of investigating officers who assist other divisions by tracking down active, known criminals. Along with kidnappings and bank robberies, divisional detectives throw their unsolvable cases to the S.I.S., when they have a suspect—but no evidence.
Multiple Weapons, Monthly Qualifications
As the level of violence and firepower among criminals has increased, so have the skills, training and equipment of the S.I.S. They’re constantly refining (and inventing) the surveillance techniques that have made them legendary in LE circles. LAPD requires officers to qualify on the range six times a year, S.I.S. team members must qualify every month, with every officer checked out on their side arms, the Remington 870 and M4 .223 rifle they carry in their vehicles.
S.I.S. targets bad guys that other detective divisions have identified as habitual offenders, and use their surveillance techniques to make sure that they will be there to take the suspect down during the commission of a crime. This keeps S.I.S. rubbing elbows with hopped-up, heavily armed criminals, which lead to the myth among those elements sympathetic to lawbreakers, that somehow S.I.S. was being “unfair” and not “playing by the rules.”
“L.A.P.D. has guidelines for S.I.S. but they are still coming to grips with the complexity of the Unit’s mission. “Improvisation,” Burke pointed out, “not impropriety, is the policy of the S.I.S.”
LAPD’S S.W.A.T.: Very Satisfied Kimber Customer
Eighteen months ago, S.I.S. decided to adopt a new authorized alternantive pistol Detectives could opt for. “When your life depends on your gun, you want options,” an S.I.S. training officer explained, “But unlike a private citizen, our officers can not just see what is on the market and buy it from their local gun store. They have to follow department, and even Federal, guidelines.”
The Department had already authorized handguns by S&W, Beretta and Glock (with many Detectives using the 2-inch Smith for backup) so that’s where S.I.S. began their search for an arm with a smaller grip—concealable, powerful, and compatible with LAPD’s already-approved side arms.
Caliber was a given: happy with the performance of their Federal Tactical bonded 230-grain +P hollow-points, they knew they were staying with .45ACP. Since S.I.S. is part of LAPD, they also needed a pistol that would be approved by Administration.
They considered .45s already doing duty with LAPD, from S&W’s 4506, to Beretta’s Cougar. Since their lives would depend on these new guns, they approached another unit that relied on their side arms: S.W.A.T. S.I.S. and S.W.A.T. often work together in high-risk situations, and they knew L.A.’s other elite tactical unit was utterly satisfied with their Kimber TLE .45s.
S.I.S. took a long, hard look at S.W.A.T.’s pistol—a modified version of Kimber’s basic Custom II. As issued, the TLE has a reliability work-over, including polished breech face for reliable extraction, a match-grade barrel and trigger group, full-length guide rod, Meprolight tritium night sights, front and rear slide serrations, a 30-lpi checkered front strap, and matte-black oxide finish.
Rather than go through all the 1911’s on the market, S.I.S. chose to concentrate on Kimber’s platform, getting pistols from S.W.A.T. and having their detectives fire the T&E sessions. The ergonomics of the 1911 won them over. “We decided this was the platform we were going to approve for S.I.S., but there were some features that S.W.A.T. had on their Kimbers that we didn’t feel we required, and there were other features that we liked because of our training, that weren’t incorporated into the S.W.A.T. guns,” the S.I.S. armorer explained.
A call to Kimber followed, and the 18-month process of developing a new gun for the S.I.S. began.
Under The Hood & Visual Custom Work
The custom quality of the Kimber 1911 was evident in the S.W.A.T. guns. “We said we like the TLE, but there are things we’d like to change. We had an open line with the engineers at Kimber: We’d give them our input, they’d tool up prototypes and we shot them. We were very happy with the end product[s],” said the detective.
During the evaluation process, the quality of the Government-model sized pistol from Kimber got them thinking they might have a gun that could satisfy all the unique requirements of their unique squad. “We’re a plainclothes unit, we’re different than S.W.A.T., who carry their gun exposed. So while we had initially focused on a 5-inch 1911 platform, we said, it would be really nice to put these features into other 1911-style pistols that would be more user-friendly to a plain clothes.”
S.I.S. asked Kimber, “Rather than making us one specific gun for S.I.S., can you make us a package, a line of guns?” Kimber agreed, and S.I.S. selected four models with three barrel lengths: the S.I.S. custom, a 5-inch standard 1911; the S.I.S. Custom/RL, a 5-inch with light rail; the S.I.S. PRO, a 4-inch with full-sized frame; and the S.I.S. Ultra, a 3-inch with compact frame. All four share the major features of the full-sized gun including novel innovations.
First thing TW noticed? The racy “S.I.S.” initials at the rear and the front of the slide as cocking serrations. Biggest differences under the hood? A regular, easier-to-strip GI-style guide-plug in the 5-inch guns. The 4-and 3-inch guns have full-length guide rods.
‘Undercover’ Features & Specs
Another major requirement was more controversial: a version of Kimber’s Meprolight rear night sight, notched across the front edge to allow the officer to rack the slide one-handed, against any sharp corner, like the edge of a car door or the top of their holster. The S.I.S. noted, “ask anyone on the street why they would want that feature and they wouldn’t know what you are talking about. You ask someone who may be in a fight for their life, and may be wounded in one hand, or maybe wrestling with a suspect, and have to operate the pistol one-handed, and that becomes an important feature.” This is also why S.I.S. pistols have ambidextrous thumb safeties, even though this makes the gun slightly thicker.
These new pistols are aesthetically striking, with all sharp edges rounded (Kimber’s “Service Melt” treatment) and then finished in steel-gray, self-lubricating KimPro II. S.I.S. asked Kimber for a finish that would not “dry out” in leather holsters beneath clothing on 12-hour stakeouts. Kimber’s latest incarnation of their KimPro II finish is applied over stainless steel frames and slides (all these guns are of stainless steel, even the vertically grooved mainspring housing).
TW met with members of S.I.S. after they had these new guns just a week, and they were doing their best to burn up the range with all four configurations. Every detective interviewed had bought one of each model: More than 120 guns for just 20 officers. The 5-inch for their belt, the RL with a Surefire X-300 for their tactical rest, the PRO in their stakeout car and finally the Ultra as an off-duty carry piece. Concerns over the 1911’s eight-shot capacity are dealt with by carrying extended-capacity 10-round magazines.
Can They Really Shoot?
TW watched the detectives put the new guns through their paces at Scott Reitz’ ITTS training facility. We weren’t allowed to photograph anything that would compromise the unit’s proprietary training techniques, but we were allowed to shoot the guns.
While the KimPro finish and the “Service Melt” treatment made us wonder if the custom “S.I.S.” signature cocking-serrations would be too slick, there was no problem bringing the gun into battery. The grooved backstrap and checkered front strap made for a sure hold during rapid fire. Sharply checkered pistols chew up clothes and floating ribs on long stakeouts. The pistol’s 30-lpi front-strap checkering ends before the bottom of the frame, because when a magazine is out, that edge can tear clothes or flesh.
The solid, match-grade trigger, even with the firing pin safety, felt like it broke cleanly at less than four pounds. The crisp single-action triggers drew raves from the detectives, a big difference from the heavier “safe action” triggers on their previous Glocks.
The match trigger’s over-travel screw is locked in place. The new, lightened S.I.S. hammer gave faster lock time than another TLE they previously tested. Recoil felt like 185-grain loads, because of the steel frame and 18-pound springs. The Meprolight tritium sights lined up quickly for follow-up shots.
Commercially Available S.I.S. Kimbers
Kimber’s new line of S.I.S. pistols are as elite as the unit that they were designed for. As with their S.W.A.T. TLE, all four configurations of the S.I.S. pistol will be available to the public, only configured as type I pistols without the firing pin safety in states that don’t require one. Kimber is donating $15 for every S.I.S. pistol sold, to the LAPD Memorial Foundation. Visit: kimberamerica.com.
Gunsite Alumni Shoot
The Gunsite Alumni Shoot (“GAS Match”) was held at Gunsite Academy, 6 October 2007. It is a “social event occasionally interrupted by gunfire.”
Phoenix police officer Lew Gosnell took First. A repeat offender, he also won top honors in ’06, but there is hope: Lew, as an apprentice instructor, will not compete in ’08. Second Place Trevor Cooper, Third Place David Nater were 2007 graduates. Traditional awardee of an M1911 as shooter scoring in dead-center, was Terry Pemberton.
As camaraderie among good folks is a worthwhile learning experience, this annual alumni conclave/competition was well attended, with more than 100 shooters: Two younger than 18, 15 older than 65—and many in between probably use a senior’s card at the buffet.
Having Fun with Serious Business: The Alumni Shoot is a learning exercise, as few competitors have attended every Gunsite Class, and shooting six combat simulation stages and several side matches not only refreshes, but teaches. Although certifiably enjoyable, it’s a Gunsite for-real event. It can be difficult: 112 competitors started, only 95 shooters finished the match. Competitors can expect to profit from the experience and take home new skills.
Former students gleaned new tactics from Ed Stock and Chris Weare in the Funhouse, billed as “The Best 10 Minutes of Your Life.” How did they prevail among the maze of Funhouse simulators and situations? Chris noted, “Ed and I train a lot of military units here, and we spend a lot of time on house clearing. The elements we were watching for were safety, tactical movement, shot placement. Shooters were briefed… about where they had to hit—all targets had subdued circles… We had a lot of good shooters, but very few that put everything ‘together’.” Observed Ed, “the guy that won the stage did a few simple things: he kept his head about him, did not get excited… he used his ‘front sight’ and controlled his ‘trigger.’ The best of shooters use the basics perfectly every time…”
The 2008 GAS Match is scheduled for October 11. All Gunsite alumni are invited. Visit gunsite.com, or call 928-636-4565.