SWAT officer Holly Vizcarrondo made headlines in ’92.
Twenty-six years before Police Chief William McManus announced this week that a woman had become the first to pass the rigorous tests to become a SWAT team member, Holly Vizcarrondo received a phone call.
She’d finished a grueling day of tryouts, including marksmanship, a tactical scenario and an interview, hoping to join the department’s prestigious team.
It was 1992, and she was 26. She’d trained for months to prepare for the tests but left that day dogged by self-doubt and the fear that she’d failed.
After the tryouts, Sgt. James Herring told her “We’ll call you,” Vizcarrondo remembered in an interview Friday. She was already steeling herself for rejection, “mentally preparing to go out again, to keep trying out,” but the call came and she learned that she’d been accepted.
It brought absolute shock, followed by total elation — feelings Vizcarrondo knows she shares with Officer Perla Dominguez, one of two new members of the SWAT unit, and wasn’t bothered that the San Antonio Police Department referred to Dominguez as the “first female to successfully complete the SWAT tryout process and be selected to the SWAT Unit.”
“I was very happy, very proud of her,” Vizcarrondo said, knowing exactly how hard Dominguez had worked for it. “She’s an amazing young woman, just very driven.”
She hadn’t joined the SWAT team all those years ago for the sake of being first.
But at a ceremony Wednesday to present Dominguez and Officer Marshall Davis with their new SWAT badges, McManus made a comment that left her feeling diminished, Vizcarrondo said.
His assertion, reported by the San Antonio Express-News and other local news media, that Dominguez was the first to be accepted under the “rigorous formal tryout process” felt “very dismissive of my achievements” and of the men who served on the team with her, Vizcarrondo said.
“I felt that it disrespected us, to dismiss history like that,” she said.
Vizcarrondo voiced her frustration on her Facebook page. Dozens of others posted on SAPD’s page, urging the department to acknowledge her and correct the record.
In a prepared statement, McManus said, “I wanted to highlight the accomplishments of Officer Dominguez. It was not my intent to diminish the achievements of retired Detective Vizcarrondo.”
SAPD said information about the differences between the tests taken by Vizcarrando and Do-
“I was very happy, very proud of her. She’s an amazing young woman, just very driven.” Holly Vizcarrondo, San Antonio’s first female SWAT team member, speaking of Perla Dominguez, the team’s newest female recruit
minguez was not immediately available Friday.
The current process, implemented four years after Vizcarrondo joined the team, requires a firearms qualification (with a minimum score of 90); a Coopers physical conditioning assessment, which is a physical test used by many law enforcement agencies; an obstacle course; a tactical scenario; and an interview panel.
Vizcarrando, who was a member of the SWAT team for five years before becoming a detective, recalled a physical test that included running a mile and a half, as well as pull-ups, pushups, sit-ups and climbing a rope with only her arms.
In her interview, she fielded questions from several senior SWAT officers, she said. She was required to score at least a 90 out of 100 on a marksmanship test, compared with the score of 70 required for regular patrol officers.
Vizcarrando scored a 98 and finished second among 10 applicants, according to a 1993 Express-News article. The only one to beat her was Officer Harry Gonzales, whom she described at the time as a “mean little machine” and “awesome.”
In the article, Herring, who led one of the SWAT unit’s three squads at the time, praised Vizcarrando’s achievement and strength.
“She whipped them all, except for one,” Herring said.
Carrying battering rams, ballistic shields and assault weapons puts a physical strain on the squad members, he said.
“Holly is part of the team that goes in and makes entry to a location whenever it’s needed,” he said. “If she had not done as well as she did (in applicant testing), she would’ve never worked here. Being the only woman put a monkey on her back, but she did so well that it really doesn’t matter.”
Vizcarrando, who joined SAPD when she was 19, said she became a police officer “because I really wanted to help my community.” She decided to pursue the SWAT team seven years later because “they went above and beyond,” she said.
“They went into situations that most people didn’t want to go into, and it was just a step up from where I was at the time,” Vizcarrando said. “And I’m guessing that’s what’s driving Perla to excel, too.”
While Vizcarrando credited the people who saw her potential throughout her 28-year career with SAPD, there were many who were not as accepting, she said.
“I was constantly having to prove myself,” she said. “It was just the territory back then. It was new.”
Vizcarrando recalled feeling like she and her colleagues were “trying to wing it” as they worked to join the team, and she added that “none of us had anybody to guide us.”
That feeling has prompted her to reach out to the women now in the department, whom she calls incredible — “so much more focused, so much more directed and driven than I remember being” — and she has contacted Dominguez to congratulate her.
The spotlight should remain on the new officer, Vizcarrando said.
“I just wanted to let her know that I’ve been where she’s at, I know how difficult it was to get there and how difficult it’s going to be there,” she said.
Friends, colleagues and those who looked up to Vizcarrondo recalled her work ethic and effort on the squad.
Both women “deserve credit for setting their goals and and making it happen, by pouring their blood, sweat and tears and hard work into becoming a member of the elite SAPD SWAT team,” one wrote on the SAPD Facebook page.
Another, posting on Vizcarrando’s page, recalled watching her beat out men for the spot on the team and said it was an accomplishment for anyone to reach.
“You landed on the moon first and we all saw your flag,” he wrote.
Holly Vizcarrondo, shown in the 1990s and known then as Holly Cheatham, served with the SAPD for 28 years.
Holly Vizcarrondo, right, then known as Holly Cheatham, appears with Sonya Dominguez in the 1990s. Vizcarrondo is the first woman selected for the SAPD’s SWAT team.