SOFT SWAT (for kinder, gentler, wrong-house drug raids!)

In a recent Human Events piece -- "The Softer Side of SWAT," Brett Winterble complains about a plan to admit more females onto SWAT teams on the theory that male SWAT members "under-emphasize negotiating skills, patience, empathy and flexibility while over-emphasizing physical prowess and tactical acumen."

...isn't the whole point of a SWAT team to be a weapon to use when all else fails?

Let's keep it simple enough for even an LA pol to understand. When SWAT gets called its because someone has been or is about to be killed. PERIOD. They are the tip of the spear for law enforcement. They need to be intimidating. They don't need to empathize with the killer or would-be killer barricaded in the 3-year-old's bedroom.

OK, I could see his point if SWAT teams were used solely in such situations.

But, while that may have been the case in the old days, it simply is not the case today. Far from it. Radley Balko has written extensively about the growing use of SWAT teams for routine police work -- especially to serve search warrants in drug cases:

Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.

And dogs, of course, the shooting of which is now routine. Dogs are being routinely purchased as a first line of defense against the invaders.

If they want to go back to using SWAT teams for their original purpose that would be one thing. But if they continue to use them in routine police work at the cost of innocent human lives, I think that's an argument for disbanding their use altogether.

"Softening" or feminizing them is only a half measure.

posted by Eric on 03.20.08 at 06:09 PM


Where are the semioticians when we need them? These teams look and act like SS storm troopers. Nice image American police are creating for themselves.

I assume the voters approve of all this drug war tyranny. As I said, nice image we're creating for ourselves.

Brett   ·  March 20, 2008 6:27 PM

Anyone remember National Lampoons Vacation? At the end where Clark Griswold holds the park guard (John Candy) hostage with a BB gun and starts going around to the rides? A van full of cops show up in SWAT gear with M16s. Back then it was part of the comedy. Younger people who watch that today don't seem to get it because, well, of course they'd call the SWAT team in a situation like that.

Sebastian   ·  March 21, 2008 9:27 AM

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