SWAT of­fi­cer Holly Viz­car­rondo made head­lines in ’92.

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Teitz

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.

Bob Owen / Staff file photo

Holly Viz­car­rondo, shown in the 1990s and known then as Holly Cheatham, served with the SAPD for 28 years.

Bob Owen / Staff file photo

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.

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