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The Economist Versus SWAT

Of mission creep and paramilitary policing.

by
Jack Dunphy

Bio

March 29, 2014 - 11:05 pm
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On Monday morning, two LAPD officers responded to a reported incident of domestic violence in the Hollywood Hills, a neighborhood where violent crime is all but unheard of.  Radio calls of this nature can be harrowing, but as the officers approached the house there was nothing to indicate that this one was especially so.  Until the shooting started.

Once at the doorway the officers were met with gunfire, which wounded one of them.  They returned fire with uncertain results and held their ground until help arrived.  With the wounded officer removed to safety, additional officers surrounded the house and attempted to communicate with the gunman.  When repeated efforts to talk to the suspect went unanswered, a SWAT team was called in, and when they entered the house they found the man dead from a gunshot wound.  As of this writing it has not been determined if the suspect killed himself or was killed in the initial exchange of gunfire.

Few would argue that use of a SWAT team in these circumstances was unwarranted.  Here you had a suspect who had already shot at two officers, wounding one of them.  He was believed to be barricaded in the home with access to unknown numbers and types of firearms and ammunition.  The first officers to answer the domestic violence call, with no indication of what awaited them beyond the threshold, approached the door with their semiautomatic handguns holstered.  Their pump-action shotgun would have remained in their car, as would have the semiautomatic rifle that some officers are trained to use.  The patrol officers who responded after the gunfire would have been similarly armed.  And while the first officers taking up positions outside the house would have been wearing Kevlar helmets, their concealable body armor would have been viewed as insufficient for the task of engaging and arresting a suspect whose willingness to kill had already been demonstrated.  Furthermore, the officer-needs-help call was answered by officers from several police stations, few if any of whom had ever had the opportunity to train as a coordinated unit.

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Top Rated Comments   
My personal experience with the police has been exemplary but I've come to fear the police as of late.

The police should have a monopoly of power on the 'street'. It should be proportional. It must be subject to judicial review. You say, "Sometimes an overwhelming show of force is the best way to avoid using it," but not "sometimes" it is always the best way to over awe people. I submit however, that the basic mission of the police is to 'protect and serve' not to intimidate citizenry. We are citizens not subjects, not of the government and not of the police.

I gather the number of SWAT has gone up exponentially from 3000 to some 50,000 a year at present. What percentage are for non threatening situations, what percentage are just wrong addresses? My understanding of these 'raids', and please correct me where need be Jack, is that they come late at night, many masked, loud, armed men smashing down your door. If you have a dog he is shot. You find yourself, in your home, castle, on your face on the floor cuffed, wife and children terrorized, or "overwhelmed" as you put it, while the house is torn to pieces in the search. Wrong house, too bad for you, because it doesn't appear to be too bad for the police.

Where is the firewall here? Who or what event will be too much, over the line for a free society?

Part of the problem as you state is that the military is giving surplus equipment to the police. My understanding is that Bush was cutting the appropriations for this while Obama has increased it to four times as much.

If this were happening in Russia what merriment would be made of yet another out of control element of Putin's 'police state'. But it's happening here and appears to be out of control here. And what of the misuse of the RICO laws, the seizing of cash, assets and vehicles even when the person is never charged with a crime? Who speaks for the basic rights of the citizen?





29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
SWAT = Special Weapons And Tactics. I submit that there should be NO "Special Weapons." Or rather, that we, the Common People, should have access to the same weapons the police use. For it to be otherwise, we would be mere serfs, existing at the sufferance of our overlords. And their vassals.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm afraid my first thought was a question as to whether the officers were lying or not and actually opened fire first.

There have been waaaay too many incidents where the Police were trigger-happy and then blamed the victims. And that's a really sad statement on how far trust in our LEO's has eroded.

Orion
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (46)
All Comments   (46)
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" Here you had a suspect who had already shot at two officers, wounding one of them."

Actually, you had a shooter who had shot at two officers. If you thought you knew who that shooter was, say, John Smith, then John Smith would be the suspect. He would be suspected of being the shooter.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Incident number one, garden variety "dude shoots at cops"...

Unless he was spraying with an AK or Belt-feed, its mano-a-mano. Armed cop verses armed perp. Thats the profession you’re in. Deal with it.

Incident number two, a "SWAT Raid" over retail theft?
Oh, but dude had priors? Most Shoplifters are repeat friends of The Sate, no surprises there
And a "knife" was found you say?

Reality Check: Knives are GOING to be found anywhere people live....some a big as a bayonet, right there in that wooden block on the kitchen counter….stamped "Hienkel" or "Williams Senoma" in the better neighborhoods...and in the drawer below, you’ll find these really wicked stabbing- things that have FOUR PRONGS on them too...so you'd need a SWAT team AND a helicopter to counter that threat I suppose?

Everyone, in every private domicile, has "access" to a "lethal" weapon.

Its called "normal".

Using “normal” to justify the “abnormality” of SWAT teams, is criminal.

29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
In this case I agree with Jack on most of the points he has made. SWAT exists to meet "force with force". Why they are showing up in other situations is basically as Jack pointed out; 1. They have to justify their existence- which is very expensive. 2. Boys like toys and can't wait to try them out, so they make up "events" they think they need to have to be part of.

In my department we bought two (not one but two) fifty cal sniper rifles. Why? Officially it was to be used to stop vehicles from fleeing a scene by stopping the engine. After I stopped laughing and could speak, I asked my Captain the real reason. He said, "Well, we just wanted them. They are very cool."

Those rifles were eight grand a piece and the best group they could muster was 3" at a hundred yards! I shook my head. Our city was flat. You can see in any direction for a mile! There is no "fleeing". Worse, that damned round has a bad habit of not stopping. You shoot the car there is a good chance elderly Mrs Smith walking her dog a quarter mile away may catch the round in the rear! Nothing good here folks!

But kids like toys. And men are grown up kids. SWAT cops are grown up men with a huge expense account.

Bottom line is SWAT is overused and over trained and over expensive. When you do need them you usually need them badly, so you are happy they show up. But MRAPS and all that other stuff? Bad idea.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
"the Economist" is a joke, This publication spends most of its time pushing and defending socialist economic theory and attempting to push socialism on everyone who reads it. Every once and a while "The Economist" pushes market capitalism without realizing it - but this very rare phenomenon is generally worded in a way to imply that the results should not have happened in the first place.
Unfortunately "The Economist" is a misnomer like most left wing socialist organizations in the UK and the US their name is a diversion from their true purpose. Sort of like the ACLU - which spends most of its resources attempting to use the legal industry to extort money from State and local governments in its efforts to take rights away from US citizens - and the legal industry judges continue to play along.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes. They were given stuff, so they use it. It's been going on for years. I have always called it the "helicopter syndrome". Someone offers a Sheriff an obsolete, but working helicopter. It turns out that he has, among his staff, veterans who knew how to fly helicopters. Of course, now we need repair staff, a hangar, a helicopter operations manager. The expenditures are justified because of the lives they will save at highway accidents, alone.
Well, it turns out that not so many accidents are really appropriate to helicopter transport. So we start making simple evacuations "helicopter" evacuations. I have seen people die with an ambulance standing right there, because they were waiting for the helicopter, even though the hospital was three miles away, with the highway wide open.
Also, that "To Protect and Serve" thing should be removed from police vehicles. "To Augment Our Revenue" should replace it.
After Hurricane Sandy, a man was found with a decrepit wooden picnic set in the rear of his twenty year old pickup. They said he was "looting". He sat on the hood of his truck for two hours while representatives of the Suffolk Police, The Mastic Beach Police, Homeland security, federal Marshals, New York State troopers and God knows who else tried to figure out who should prosecute him, and what for, exactly?
We have way too many cops. And WAYYYYYY too many swat teams and helicopters.
The problem with the justice system is the stupid lawyers and judges who have made superfluity a requirement. The more chow for the System, the better. Go see how many cops kept places safe in 1960.
Now we have way too many cops, and I don't feel safe at all.
Especially from them.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems to me that a basic bottom-line fear is that given the current Administration, we seem to be edging towards a permanent "state of emergency" millitary take-over, where we have government-armed people shooting at similarly-armed citizens, on the orders of someone in the US Attorney General's office, the DOJ, or Michelle her very own self.

Other commenters have noted the extraordinarily high turn-over of generals and admirals in our armed services in the last 4 or more years. Petreaus' take-down seemed to be the first and the most obvious, but last I looked there were about 20 people who had unceremoniously been stripped of their rank and drummed out of the service. One wonders who those people voted for, and what the sympathies of those left in the Pentagon might be for, other than maintaining the level of their budgets.

Now we are reading that one reason for the difficulty in buying ammunition the last few years is that the government has been buying it up and distributing it to places like the US Postal Service. So that more and more federal offices and agencies are armed. Why?

Further to this scenario, Mr. Dunphy notes the increasing arms and military effect of our police agencies. Again, why?

If one were of a paranoid persuasion, one might think that the Pentagon has been denuded of patriots, people who might say, "no sir" when ordered by a civilian Commander in Chief to shoot at American civilians. That said Commander in Chief might be arming his very own Federal government troops, prior to swearing them in as Obama's Brown Shirts. And that finally, local cops are being set up as sort of a local Stasi to keep track of American citizens who might be left upright and alive after the military and the US Post Office get done with them.

On the other hand, I just watched the movie Hunger Games, so I'm probably being totallly and absolutely paranoid about our own President Snow (and his evil wife, Michella the Merciless).
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Few would argue that use of a SWAT team in these circumstances was unwarranted.

I would. Wouldn't you? Isn't that more or less the point of your article?

There is something perverse in calling out military-grade forces to capture an unknown guy who almost certainly has nothing more than a semi-automatic pistol. Perverse, cowardly, oppressive. Expensive.

Do I want cops to risk their lives "unnecessarily" against wackos even with nothing but a handgun? Well, no, but there are also costs and risks in calling in SWAT teams. Wonder what the friendly fire casualty rate is from such things? Mostly I just don't like the trend - that you describe - of increasingly huge scale military equipment being kept around, like Homeland Security equiping itself with a trillion rounds of ammo and MRAP vehicles. I don't like having that stuff under the command of non-uniformed political appointees. And SWAT teams are right on the border there, the police uniform may not be enough to control that much violence, even in support of the good guys.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, as Jack's article indicated, the risk to all (police, subjects, civilians) from an entry by a well trained tactical team is lower than if a random collection of officers were to be utilized instead.

Also, why is it "cowardly" to want the best equipment and training for an operation to clear a house in which an armed and dangerous subject is hiding?

29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's not cowardly. It's unprofessional overkill bordering on un-American when all to often the occupants are not armed and/or not dangerous. Yet they wind up terrorized if they're lucky. Shot dead if they're not. SWAT teams do not exercise the TV, training or documentary style discipline when they rush a room. They're scared a little. Cautious about themselves and their team a lot and know qualified immunity gets them off the hook almost always.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
My position is that it is neither "cowardly" nor "unprofessional" to consider use of a tactical team in the above scenario, a subject likely armed with a pistol hiding in a building. Yes, the building could be cleared by whoever shows up, but I can't understand your apparent position that this is safer for all concerned than employing a well trained tactical team.

Regarding your other point, of course real operations don’t look like a training film, but the Miami Heat are still better than the Washington Generals.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
"but i cant understand your apparent position that it is safer for all concerned than employing a well trained tactical team"

Well trained? Seriously?

I've seen in my own town, a "tactical team" un-loose over 100 rounds from MP-5's at a teenager with an Air Soft Toy....poor kid was hit 6 times, but where did the OTHER 90+ rounds go? Yeah, houses all over, including one two blocks away struck in the second floor...

But what "hero's" these guys were, no one fired or disciplined, the poor marksmanship (from shoulder weapons at less than 50 yards?) never even discussed.

This is a common theme with police in GENERAL not just "Tactical Teams"... Lots of rounds expended, 5% hit ratios, and surrounding buildings peppered to the point they have to "enter" to look for "casualtiees" of their incompetence...

And all the attendent costs, commotion, and extra resources required in the aftermath of such "gunplay", is used to justify MORE.

That "Major Police Incident" becomes the self-fulfilling prophesy.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Well trained? Seriously?"

Yes, seriously. Perhaps somewhere in Mayberry all your cops are clowns. From what I've observed of teams from a number of federal, state and large metro agencies, their competence and coordination far exceeds that of a random group of officers or agents.


29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
The default setting is supposed to be that one is not guilty until proven otherwise. A warrant is not a conviction. Physically attacking another person is illegal. One better have a very good reason to do that, like actual self-defense, or one should be prosecuted for assault.
If you don't want to be a cop, don't be one.
We have way too many, anyway.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
My personal experience with the police has been exemplary but I've come to fear the police as of late.

The police should have a monopoly of power on the 'street'. It should be proportional. It must be subject to judicial review. You say, "Sometimes an overwhelming show of force is the best way to avoid using it," but not "sometimes" it is always the best way to over awe people. I submit however, that the basic mission of the police is to 'protect and serve' not to intimidate citizenry. We are citizens not subjects, not of the government and not of the police.

I gather the number of SWAT has gone up exponentially from 3000 to some 50,000 a year at present. What percentage are for non threatening situations, what percentage are just wrong addresses? My understanding of these 'raids', and please correct me where need be Jack, is that they come late at night, many masked, loud, armed men smashing down your door. If you have a dog he is shot. You find yourself, in your home, castle, on your face on the floor cuffed, wife and children terrorized, or "overwhelmed" as you put it, while the house is torn to pieces in the search. Wrong house, too bad for you, because it doesn't appear to be too bad for the police.

Where is the firewall here? Who or what event will be too much, over the line for a free society?

Part of the problem as you state is that the military is giving surplus equipment to the police. My understanding is that Bush was cutting the appropriations for this while Obama has increased it to four times as much.

If this were happening in Russia what merriment would be made of yet another out of control element of Putin's 'police state'. But it's happening here and appears to be out of control here. And what of the misuse of the RICO laws, the seizing of cash, assets and vehicles even when the person is never charged with a crime? Who speaks for the basic rights of the citizen?





29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
"My personal experience with the police has been exemplary but I've come to fear the police as of late."

If your personal experiences have been exemplary. What leads you to fear the police? Second or third hand accounts from the media?
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think the real question is why under any circumstances is any police force allowed to use deadly force to enter someone's house without reasonable warning to those inside? How does one tell the difference between police and a home invasion in such circumstances? You can't! And if the excuse is to catch drugs in a dealers home before they flush them down the toilet, I say BS! How many innocent citizens must we kill raiding the wrong home? Or even the right home but has innocents including children? Want to catch dealers with drugs, find another way. How about using all that high tech gear you're buying to find another way. Police are supposed to protect the people not shoot them. Nothing grants police the authority to kill alleged drug dealers in the middle of the night by smashing into homes and shooting anything that moves without warning.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was involved in federal law enforcement in the 90s and early 21st century in a large US city with a violent crime problem that kept us very busy. Based on that experience, I offer a few observations:

1. I witnessed the very quick transition (2 or 3 years) from arrest and search warrants being planned and approved in a relatively simple manner to requiring extensive planning and high level approval. As Jack indicates, this also often increased the likelihood that SWAT participation would be required. I believe that this increased oversight was due to the simultaneous dramatic rise of media/litigation/political review of law enforcement actions. No aspiring law enforcement executive wants to be left holding the bag if something goes wrong. Much better if s/he can show a paper trail wherein multi-level review (diffusion of responsibility) was required. Perhaps counter-intuitively, it is also helps in after-action critiques to show that the SWAT conducted the operation in question. The end result is that SWAT now conducts operations which 20 years ago would have been conducted by line officers/agents.

2. I don’t understand Jack’s critique of federal SWAT operators wearing tan, green, black, etc. uniforms instead of blue and arriving in their marked SWAT vehicles. Local police and sheriff departments have service uniforms in a variety of colors besides blue. Federal SWAT operators don’t have a daily service uniform. Their options were to wear their tactical uniforms or to wear civilian clothes. In a large operation like this it’s important that all officers be well marked and dressed comfortably for a long and dirty day. I also don’t understand the critique of the agents arriving in marked SWAT vehicles, even if they were salvage Humvees. In a large, multi-agency operation well marked vehicles are preferred (except for pre-execution surveillance) and these vehicles carry and store the units’ gear and radios.

3. I have read a few articles by Balko. He makes a few good points but also takes a fair number of cheap shots. I guess this helps to sell books to the Alex Jones/Paul-bot crowd.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
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