Tuesday, March 21, 2006


While watching V for Vendetta, I kept coming back to the agitator's focus lately on the over-use of SWAT teams in our country. More and more often SWAT teams are being used to serve warrants for non-violent crimes. Regardless of whether or not I agree that gambling with your friend in your own home or smoking a little pot should be illegal, it's ridiculous that SWAT teams are being employed to bust these type of criminals.

Balko links to a recent BBC piece on SWAT teams, and does his own review primarily of the study often used to debunk the claim that SWAT raids are often excessively violent.

2) Those who cite Klinger's study as evidence that that the massive increase in SWAT deployments is harmless wrongly assume that the only harm done by paramilitary raids is done is when shots are fired. That's most certainly not the case. I've documented dozens of cases in my upcoming paper in which SWAT teams have broken down the door to the wrong home, and needlessly terrorized an innocent family -- and it's almost certain that the number of actual botched raids like these is exponentially higher than the number reported in the media.

In other words, there's significant harm done when heavily-armed tactical units break down doors in the middle of the night, and drag innocent men, women, and children out of their beds at gunpoint, even if shots are never fired. Two of the more infamous botched SWAT raids resulting in death -- Alberta Spruill in New York and Accelyne Williams in Boston -- involved no gunfire at all. Both died from heart attacks after SWAT teams mistakenly raided their homes. There are also several cases of botched SWAT raids resulting in the death or injury of innocent people due to misuse or malfunction of the "flashbang" grenades police often use to distract the targets of a raid.

3) We also need to ask ourselves, quite simply, if we want to live in a society where its appropriate to serve warrants on nonviolent offenders with cops dressed in battle garb. I sure as hell don't. Does a pot smoker really deserve to have his door beaten down while he's sleeping? To be sworn at, forced to the ground at gunpoint, and handcuffed? Go back to that Churchill quote: "Democracy means that when there's a knock at the door at 4 am, it's probably the milkman." What does it mean that we've reached the point where not only can we no longer be sure it's actually the milkman, but that police don't even bother to knock?

I certainly know how I feel about this. Do you? If you don't see that this is a problem, why not?

No comments: