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.