Friday, February 20, 2009

What's wrong with SWAT

In August of 2008, the lives of Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo and his wife, Trinity and her mother Georgia were irrevocably altered when Prince George County SWAT and police officials stormed their house and shot their two friendly dogs (one as he ran away from the officers). The dogs died.

The Washington post recently published a great article on what the Calvo's went through that fateful day.

Of course, this story is truly more about the dogs (though the emotional impact is powerful and heart-wrenching) - it is about how faulty the "War on Drugs" really is. Innocent people have died and been emotionally scarred because of these no-knock warrants, all on the quest for a few pounds of pot or cocaine. Many dogs have died because they had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing what dogs do and defending their pack (or, if you're in Omaha, sitting at the end of a chain).

Americans have defended their right to privacy and the sanctity of their homes since Revolutionaries denounced British soldiers entering homes and businesses with impunity to search for contraband rum and tea and generate taxes for the British Crown. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizures. But civil libertarians argue that this constitutional protection has been seriously eroded in recent decades, largely as an unintended consequence of the nation's war on drugs.

In Balko's summary, paramilitary police units called Special Weapons Attack Teams, or SWATS, grew out of the social unrest of the 1960s. They were used to quell protesting migrant farm workers led by Cesar Chavez, then against urban rioters and in a shootout with the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. Balko writes: "Until the 1980s, SWAT teams and other paramilitary units were used sparingly, only in volatile, high-risk situations such as bank robberies or hostage situations. Likewise, 'no-knock' raids were generally used only in situations where innocent lives were determined to be at imminent risk. America's War on Drugs has spurred a significant rise in the numbers of such raids, to the point where in some jurisdictions drug warrants are only served by SWAT teams or similar paramilitary units, and the overwhelming numbers of SWAT deployments are to execute drug warrants."


Last year, Prince George's police deployed SWAT teams to serve search warrants more than 400 times, a police spokesman said. The department's narcotics unit now deploys its SWAT team to serve the overwhelming majority of its search warrants, Maj. Andy Ellis said. The Prince George's Police budget shows that the county expects to spend at least $2.5 million this year reaped from assets seized in drug raids.


Many victims of botched or abusive drug raids are poor minorities whom the public is unlikely to hear about or rally around, Boyd said. Legal immunity granted to police makes it difficult for victims to successfully sue for compensation, he said.

You can read the entire Washington Post article HERE.

Even more provocative is The Cato Institute's tracking of botched paramilitary (e.g. SWAT) police raids.

No comments:

Post a Comment