OK, so far we got that police officers are worried about their safety, that the War on Drugs have not worked, and that SWAT was designed for high risk operations.
The problem is that all of these things have come together and had an unintended consequence. As the War on Drugs continued and some of the criminals began to use more violent methods, it was natural that police would begin to use SWAT on those raids. In some cases, it was appropriate to do so. Just as was the case during Prohibition, some criminals were violent and fought the police. For example, in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, SWAT raided a series of homes used by a criminal gang. In addition to large amounts of drugs, a bullet-proof vest and 13 firearms were seized. Or in Sonoma County, California, where SWAT raided the home of a known gang member, who was out on bail from a previous drug arrest. SWAT seized drugs and guns, including an “assault weapon.”
The problem is mission creep. Once the police got used to using SWAT, it became more common. So now police departments regularly use SWAT for any search. Examples abound of the misuse of SWAT:
- Arlington, Texas SWAT raids an organic farm, holds residents for 10 hours. The crime? Code enforcement violations. Oh yeah, these people are hippies, so there are probably drugs involved.
- Saint Louis. SWAT served an “administrative” felony warrant, because SWAT serves all felony warrants. Really? What happened to arranging for the perp to surrender?
- Orange County, Florida police and a state regulatory agency perform a number of warrantless “inspections.” In the raids, 37 people were arrested, the vast majority for misdemeanor “barbering without a license.” See Barry v. Demming, No: 6:11-cv-1740-Orl-36KRS, 2013 WL 4500467 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 22, 2013) (summary judgment denied, there is a question of fact whether the search was reasonable and if excessive force was used).
- New Haven, Conn. police used SWAT to check if bar patrons were of legally drinking age. Really? Yale students are going to attack the police? Look, I’ve handled underage drinking. These kids do not assault police for the most part. They either run or try to use fake IDs. Whoever thought that using SWAT was appropriate should have been demoted or fired.
- Atlanta, Georgia. SWAT is used to raid a recording studio for copyright violations.
And those are just some of the ones where no one was seriously injured.
When questioned, for the most part the police try and justify the use of the SWAT teams. Remember, in the police mindset, the First Rule of Policing takes precedence—and they don’t think of the right of the citizen to go home safely.