Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2006
Source: Ranger, The (TX Edu)
Copyright: 2006 The Ranger
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public issues for the DKT Liberty 
Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


You and your law-abiding neighbors in Texas might be just one street 
address away from a life-threatening, midnight raid by the local 
paramilitary police unit.

As these so-called SWAT squads increasingly become America's favorite 
search warrant delivery service, bungled raids - including many to the 
wrong address - have skyrocketed.

In these assaults on private property, scores of innocent citizens, police 
officers and nonviolent offenders have died.

In a recent Cato Institute report titled Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary 
Police Raids in America, Radley Balko describes how "over the last 25 
years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law 
enforcement, along with 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 raids - as many as 40,000 per year - terrorize nonviolent drug 
offenders, bystanders and wrongly targeted civilians who are awakened in 
the dead of night as teams of heavily armed paramilitary units, dressed not 
as police but as soldiers, invade their homes.

Earlier this year, Balko reports, on a tip from an informant, a Fort Worth 
SWAT team fired several rounds of tear gas into the home of Steve Blackman 
- - he was not home at the time - and then forcibly and violently entered the 

To add to the destruction, the police also slashed the tires on Blackman's 

Later, the police realize they trashed the wrong house.

Back in 2002, a San Antonio SWAT unit fired tear gas canisters, shattered a 
glass door with bullets and then stormed an apartment occupied by three 
Hispanic men.

One man, Vincent Huerta, said, "the way they entered, I never thought it 
could be the police."

All thought the raid was a robbery.

Again, police raided the wrong address, even though they had conducted 
surveillance on the suspected residence for two days.

Police blamed the error on the darkness and that the apartments were in a 
cluster of look-alike buildings.

How did the once trusted neighborhood cop become a serious threat to life 
and privacy on the home front?

Originally, Los Angeles officials formed the nation's first SWAT units in 
response to civil riots and hostage taking and bomb-toting radical groups 
in the 1960s.

But by 1995, one study found, 89 percent of the nation's police 
departments, including 65 percent of smaller towns in the 25,000-50,000 
population range, had a paramilitary unit.

As the violence-prone '60s faded away, SWAT squads found a new lease on 
life in the emerging tough-on-drugs culture of the 1970s.

By 1995, serving search warrants, especially in no-knocks "drug raids," 
accounted for 75 percent of the actions of the nation's SWAT squads.

These SWAT squads have become more and more of a threat to our civil liberties.

First, they depend on notoriously unreliable informants when picking raid 

Self-serving and ill-informed sources often send raids to wrong addresses.

Second, SWAT teams trained by the U.S. Army Ranger and Navy Seal units blur 
the line between war and law enforcement.

Citizens are then treated as if they are, in fact, combatants.

Third, the use of military assault weapons and tactics - nighttime raids, 
crashing through front doors and setting off stun grenades inside homes - 
actually turn otherwise nonviolent situations into violent confrontations 
when startled occupants try to arm and defend themselves.

Finally, by 1990 (the last year for which information has been made public) 
38 percent of all police departments, 51 percent of all sheriff departments 
and 94 percent of all state police departments in the U.S. received money 
from the sale of boats, cars and other assets seized during drug raids.

This money is then used to outfit more SWAT teams for more asset-seizing 
raids - a practice that serves as a license for SWAT teams to confiscate 
private property for their own use. To rein in out of control SWAT units, 
Texas state and local governments should limit the use of these squads to 
their original purposes; end corrupting asset forfeiture policies; and pass 
laws that safeguard families' rights to the privacy and sanctity of their 

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public issues for the DKT Liberty Project, 
a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
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