Redding, CA, SWAT Team
Redding, CA, SWAT Team

The other day I pointed out an article at Reason.com called Death by SWAT about the surprisingly high percentage of raids by police tactical units which turn up nothing as well as the collateral damage (i.e. dead bystanders) that sometimes result.

I also stated that there are certainly times and places for tactical responses by law enforcement, and I’d like to go even further and add that I will generally side with the police when something unfortunate goes down. They have a very tough job to do and have to decide and react in split seconds to situations that can end lives in moments. It’s a lot easier to sit back and Monday morning quarterback things after more facts come in and we have a chance to reflect than it is to do the hard work in the time and environment given.

I think the problem isn’t so much that tactical teams do the wrong thing at the scene, it’s very often more that they’re sent to the scene in the first place. The general perception seems to be that the use of tactical responses is up by quite a bit these days. Brillianter puts it nicely:

This is a very good article that illustrates why SWAT raids are such a poor general-purpose, law enforcement tactic.

It’s the use of SWAT as “general-purpose law enforcement” that is the real troubling issue, I think.

With the increasing number of tactical units in police forces and the increasing purchases of tactical weapons and gear (much of which is coming from Homeland Security funding) tactical units are going to be employed in situations where previously they wouldn’t have been. It’s easy to say “don’t use them unless you absolutely must,” but as a comment at Brillianter points out, all those budget dollars and training hours sitting around unused are not going to be popular, either.

As usually ends up being the case, it can often be the decision-makers and policy-writers that have opened the door for the guys on the street to end up in situations that end badly.

4 thoughts on “SWAT”

  1. When I was in the Guard, we cross-trained with a regional SWAT Team. That team is used very sparingly – I’ve only seen them on the news once. A hostage situation that obviously called for snipers.

    I cringe whenever I see SWAT used to serve warrants and I despise the idea of “no knock” warrants. It is plain laziness. In the past cops would have staked out the house, waited for the suspect to leave, arrested him on the street, then searched the house at their leisure.

  2. Thanks for the link.

    An “opposed dynamic entry” is only worth while if their is something in the structure that is worth risking lives for. Entries are risky, not just because of the potential threat inside but the high-stress, high-speed, low-light environment makes it easy to make mistakes. Those mistakes are compounded when the intelligence for the raid is suspect as well. Nobody wants a bunch of guys with sub-guns running around in the dark throwing flash bangs, especially in the wrong house.

  3. I recently had to attend a SWAT training in Florida and got to listen to national SWAT expert Larry Danaher speak. Not only is he interesting, he’s funny too. He told the story of how the Baltimore Sheriff’s Department used a SWAT raid to serve a misdemeanor naracotic warrant. Unfortunately there was a death involved in this incident to a woman. Mr. Danaher said, “I don’t know what they would have done if it would have been a felony warrant. Call in an air-strike?” There is an ounce truth in all humor. However, Larry Danaher hit the topic nail on the head. If more cops would have had pilots licenses, I am sure the Navy would have given old F-14 Tomcats to police departments for SWAT teams when they downsized the military in 1990’s and all this craziness started.

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