We hold that the modern police forces throughout the country are de facto the standing army the Founding Fathers sought to avoid.
Radley Balko has long written about the civil rights abuses common to police forces, and especially SWAT teams. Here he reviews an ACLU survey of SWAT team usage in America.
- 62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs.
- Just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10 SWAT raids were not initiated to apprehend a school shooter, hostage taker, or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to investigate someone still only suspected of committing a crime.
- In fact, just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios.”
- In at least 36 percent of the SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind was found. The report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these raids this figure could be as high as 65 percent.
- SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
- 65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some sort of forced entry into a private home, by way of a battering ram, boot, or some sort of explosive device. In over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of weapon, the presence of which was cited as the reason for the violent tactics.
- Ironically (or perhaps not), searches to serve warrants on people suspected of drug crimes were more likely to result in forced entry than raids conducted for other purposes.
- Though often justified for rare incidents like school shootings or terrorist situations, the armored personnel vehicles police departments are getting from the Pentagon and through grants from the Department of Homeland Security are commonly used on drug raids.
Of course, ask any police department why they use a SWAT team, and almost certainly “officer safety” will be mentioned.
One of the large departments that has a reputation for shooting first, and not asking questions later is the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD has a tough job, and is really quite small for both the area and the population it serves. And if you watch any crime shows on TV, you’d think they lose a cop a day to shootouts.
Actually, 2014 has been a very tough year for them. They’ve lost three officers in the line of duty this year so far. One to a vehicle accident, and two to vehicular assault.
But prior to that, it had been five years since an LAPD officer died in the line of duty. And that was due to a train accident, of all things.
The last LAPD officer to die by gunfire was Ofc. Randal Simmons, on Feburary 7, 2008. Ofc. Simmons was a SWAT officer entering a barricaded house and died of a gunshot wound to the head. His killer was eventually shot and killed by other police.
That incident was certainly a valid use of a SWAT team.
But as Balko and the ACLU show above, that type of use is a small percentage of the times SWAT is used.