SWAT Teams: A Case Study In Overzealous Domestic Policing

SWAT Teams: A Case Study In Overzealous Domestic Policing

Radley Balko’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, in which
he writes about the rise of the warrior cop, takes the same title of his
recently published book. It describes the militarization of America’s
police forces. It shows us how SWAT teams – which used to be a rare
thing – follow in the footsteps of Special Forces units, wielding
M-16 assault rifles and flash bang grenades in raids on private citizens’ homes.

It’s alarming how accustomed we’ve become to the militarization,
as Balko puts it, of police officers who are sworn to serve and protect.
That’s “serve and protect,” as the saying goes, not
raid the homes of private citizens and businesses.

Balko describes a number of cases where SWAT teams were used when they
probably should not have been, including:

  • The man whose home was raided in the middle of the night because his ex-girlfriend
    tipped off police that he had some
    small marijuana plants growing in his basement
  • The factory floor of the Gibson guitar maker raided by a SWAT team with
    the Fish & Wildlife Service (who knew Fish & Wildlife had its
    own SWAT team?), on account of a suspicion that Gibson was using illegally-harvested wood
  • The Tibetan monks who remained in the country on expired visas who were
    likely surprised when a SWAT team in full battle dress descended upon them

And the examples go on.

And it’s quite troubling. As Balko writes: “Americans have
long been wary of using the military for domestic policing. Concerns about
potential abuse date back to the creation of the Constitution, when the
founders worried about standing armies and the intimidation of the people
at large by an overzealous executive, who might choose to follow the unhappy
precedents set by Europe’s emperors and monarchs.”