The Economist Versus SWAT
Of mission creep and paramilitary policing.
March 29, 2014 - 11:05 pm
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.