Does every police call need a swat team? Check out these two examples this from this week

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Two cases this week in which swat teams were possibly used in excess have slipped quietly past the mainstream media. Since we are here to bring you the politely unreported stories that concern our 2nd Amendment, we here at Firearms Talk are serving them up hot.

Anderson County, SC

When a local woman returned home to find the door to the house open, she called the local police and the Anderson County Sherriff's office sent by regular patrol units including a K-9 who cleared the bottom two floors of the home and found no one. Then these officers heard a noise in the attic and pulled out, then called in SWAT.

The SWAT team arrived on-scene with full tactical gear, Bearcat armored car, Kevlar helmets and the whole nine yards to clear said attic in style.

They found nothing and cleared the scene by 8:30pm-- about five hours after the first call.

Burglary is classified by the FBI as a non-violent crime, however the Bureau of Justice Statistics say that in as many as 13 percent of these crimes, the criminal is armed and in an almost equal proportion, can turn violent when confronted.

Harris County Texas

In the Darbydale Crossing community, a new development filled with partially built homes in North Harris County, an off-duty Homeland Security Agent was wandering around looking at prospective new homes when he heard what he felt was a gunshot. This led to the agent calling the local police department of a sniper running around the neighborhood.

This sent the cavalry coming with a Bearcat armored car, full tactical gear, and arms, found a 25-year old soldier who was target practicing with his air rifle in the alley way between the houses-- something that he had been doing for some time and the neighbors were aware of.

Excessive use of Special Units?

First started by the LAPD in 1967 by then-Inspector (later Chief) Darryl Gates, the SWAT (acronym for "Special Weapons and Tactics") team soon became legend and every large city got one of their own after the popular 1970s television series by the same name. These units were established to serve high-risk warrants, take down large criminal activities, and assist with extreme hostage-barricade situations. Commonly called SRT rather than SWAT today, their numbers have been rising in recent years.

(The house to house search for the Boston bomber was warranted on many levels but images from it are still unsettling)

In 1975, there were around 500 designated SWAT units throughout the country, now thousands exist. In addition, the number of towns with between 25,000 to 50,000 residents who have SWAT teams has grown from 13% in 1983 to 80% in 2005 (pdf).

During this same time period the number of raids performed by special units grew from just a few hundred per year to more than 50,000 per year today. That means in the time it took you to read this article, at least one probably happened.

This has diluted the use of these units from legitimate raids on violent criminals to being used for everyday police work that would require no more than a black and white or two to handle in years past.

SWAT teams have been used to break up charity poker games, shut down (legal) medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the open, raid organic farms, and even serve warrants on people suspected of committing student loan fraud.

(Farmington Police Department's SWAT team, as have dozens across the country, has recently taken possession of surplus US Army MRAP vehicles. These huge beasts were built for the war in Afghanistan and are now excess with the winding down of operations there. These vehicles will be very common in police department parking lots-- and city streets in coming years.)

(...Augmenting more traditional Bearcat armored vehicles used by SRT units for years..)

In Pittsburg, PA in 2011, the Moreno family had their home raided by an 11-member SWAT team (pdf). The officers threw some members of the family to the floor, kicking them, handcuffing them, holding guns to their faces and forcing at least one to lay face down in broken glass. After the family was handcuffed, the officers proceeded to roam their home destroying their property. The officers dragged Ms. Moreno's ten (10) year-old son Trent violently from the bath tub, injuring both of his ankles. He was then made to stand naked at gunpoint with his four (4) year-old sister standing nearby. The plaintiffs in this case are law-abiding citizens of the United States with no record of criminal activity and the raid was apparently brought about by Mr. Moreno having an argument with a drunk, and off-duty Pittsburg cop the night before.

(The Washoe County SWAT team, well equipped for just about anything that can happen in Reno--including countersnipers in ghillie suits.)

In Billings MT, a SWAT team with battering rams and stun grenades took down a suspected meth lab, only to find that no such lab ever existed at that location. In that incident one of the flash-bangs inflicted severe burns on a sleeping 12-year old girl.

In a drug raid on a small time pot grower in Texas, the homeowner shot the first deputy through the door who, on a no-knock warrant, did not disclose that he was a police officer before the team crashed through the door in the pre-dawn hours. Charged at first with capital murder, the homeowner was cleared by a grand jury, having acted in what he felt was self-defense.

(Regular patrol officers, who average 400+ hours of training, protected by soft body armor, armed with sidearms, less lethal weapons, and patrol carbines and shotguns in case of emergencies, like these here seen in Colorado after a school shooting, can often cover the vast majority of calls given without having to get SRT/SWAT involved. --Great TD btw on the female deputy with the AR)

In Maryland in 2012, a man who had not been suspected of a crime in two decades had his house raided by a force of over 150 Maryland State Police (MSP), FBI, State Fire Marshal's bomb squad, and County SWAT teams, complete with two police helicopters, two Bearcat "special response" vehicles, mobile command posts, snipers, police dogs, bomb disposal truck, bomb sniffing robots, and a huge excavator. The size of the raid was so large that it cost taxpayers nearly $80,000 in overtime and even required food trucks be brought in to feed the troops.

His crime was for owning some rifles and shotguns which he was not permitted to have in his possession due to a twenty-year-old felony conviction and received two years of unsupervised probation after the case concluded.

There will always be a need for special response teams in law enforcement. The trick is to make sure that all law enforcement responses do not become special.

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February 23, 2014  •  09:58 PM
Can we say special needs law enforcers...
February 24, 2014  •  02:44 PM
The militarization of domestic police is never a hopeful sign. I understand that a lot of it is because it's "tacti-cool" and if the money is there why not get it; the problem is once you get a new toy you always get the itch to play with it. A majority of police that I know are pretty reasonable guys, but not all of them, and there will always be the guys out there who feel that gear replaces training. If you give em a ghillie suit and a .308 they're gonna think they're a sniper, not a police officer with sniper gear. Once they think they're a sniper they're eventually gonna act like it and that's where you have problems. People doing jobs they're not qualified for because they have the gear that makes it possible. Just because you have the rifle doesn't mean you should take the shot, just because you have an MRAP doesn't mean you should drive up to a bomb threat. Most, but not all, police know this; and the ones that don't are a serious and frightening problem.
February 25, 2014  •  12:30 PM
We know that if the swat stuff is on the shelf, somebody is itching to use it. Some police seem to be distancing themselves from protecting the public by becoming more militaristic and threatening. If you had a surplus tank, that Homeland Security, gave you sitting in you parking lot, don't you think that every body on the department would be saying, "me first!" to driving the thing to the first call?
February 26, 2014  •  02:14 PM
I don't think it is bad for the police to exercise their "special response teams", but I wish they could keep those exercises from impacting "regular citizens" and their freedoms and enjoyment of their private lives. Rescuing a kidnap victim or clearing a meth lab, GREAT! Serving a warrant on a no-show traffic offender with no real criminal record, NOT GOOD.

Unless I am a felon, am regularly associated with felons, am a victim of a felon, or am involved in SERIOUS (violence, kid danger, LARGE-SCALE drug distribution/production) crimes, I should never have to interact with a SRT/SWAT unit or personnel.
March 10, 2014  •  04:02 PM
Geeeez! Talk about overkill...