The Military Occupation of Ferguson, Missouri

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Police Shooting Missouri SWAT-14 SWAT-13 SWAT-12 APTOPIX Police Shooting Missouri SWAT-10 Police officers keep watch while demonstrators protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson Riot police clear a street with smoke bombs while clashing with demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri

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Police Force? Or Occupying Army?

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The First Rule of Policing – and the Harm it Does, Part IV

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Part of a continuing series, see Part I, Part II, and Part III.

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.

The First Rule of Policing – and the Harm it Does, Part III

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Part of a continuing series, see Part I and Part II.

Special Weapons and Tactics.  SWAT.  A valuable tool that has been overused and misused in the police field.

charles_whitman_ut_towerSWAT began for a good reason–it was needed.  On August 1, 1966, a former Marine with an undiscovered brain tumor, Charles Whitman, murdered his mother at her apartment and his wife at their home.  Whitman then went to the University of Texas tower with “six guns, a shotgun, ammunition, a foot locker, knives, food, and water.”  Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines 21 (2004).  He killed three more on his way to the observation deck and then opened fire.

Whitman killed ten more and wounded thirty-one more from the tower.  Austin police responded, but there was no planned response.  Ordinary Texans with deer rifles showed up and provided suppressive fire.  Officers made it into the tower and up to the observation deck, where they had to get past the barricaded door.  Two officers, Ray Martinez and Houston McCoy then shot Whitman to death.  Gary M. Lavergne, A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders (1997); Ron Franscell, Delivered from Evil: True Stories of Ordinary People Who Faced Monstrous Mass Killers and Survived (2011).

SWAT was formed from this, and other events.  Depending on who you believe, either Los Angeles or Philadelphia were the first to form the teams.  The teams were initially used properly, for high risk incidents like bank robberies in progress, or other incidents involving heavily armed subjects.  They were, for the most part, successful, with operations such as the 1974 Symbionese Liberation Army shootout or the 1984 McDonald’s killings (ended by a SWAT sniper).  When you have a useful tool, you begin to look for other problems to use it on, and when that tool is a hammer, problems start to look like nails.

So SWAT began to be used for other tPolice from tactical team making entry to serve a high-risk drug related search warrant. Street Narcotics Unit.hings, like drug raids.  “In 1972, there were just a few hundred paramilitary drug raids per year in the United States.  By the early 1980s, there were three thousand . . . and by 2001 there were forty thousand.”  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 74 (2010).  Some of these are warranted and there are plenty of examples of big drug dealers using weapons to protect their drugs.  SWAT is perfect for those.

But as many have begun to point out, with the increased use of SWAT, there have been increases in both idiocy and errors, some leading to unnecessary fatalities.  Radley Balko, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America (2006); Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2013).  Errors do not however, slow down the idiocy.  In 1994, a botched Boston PD SWAT raid at the wrong address caused the death of a respected cleric by heart attack.  The police commissioner personally apologized and vowed to insure that this would not happen again.  Boston Official Apologizes After Cleric Dies Following SWAT Raid At Wrong Address, 85 Jet 8-9 (Apr. 11, 1994).  In 2012, Boston Police have expanded the use of SWAT to include raids on prostitution parlors, in order to seize sex toys, condoms, pajamas, and cash.  While I’m sure that we wouldn’t expect a respected cleric to be at a house of ill-repute, I’m also sure that expanding the use of SWAT to raid whorehouses is idiotic.  It is the expansion of the mission that keeps SWAT in business.

In addition, SWAT types have a different mindset, a combat mindset.  We’ll cover that in more depth next.

The Windypundit’s Review of “Rise of the Warrior Cop”

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The Windypundit has a series of posts reviewing “Rise of the Warrior Cop.”

Part 1, part 2, and part 3 are at the links, Mark does an excellent job of reviewing the book.

 

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