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


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 home.

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

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 targets.

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 

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 homes.
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