Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2006
Source: Middletown Journal, The (OH)
Copyright: 2006 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Ronald Fraser, Ph.D.
Note: The author writes on public policy issues for the DKT
Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.


You and your law-abiding neighbors in Ohio might be just one street 
address away from a life-threatening, midnight raid by a local 
paramilitary police unit. As these so-called SWAT squads increasingly 
become America's favored 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 a 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 officers but as soldiers, invade their homes.

Botched Ohio Raids

In Elyria earlier this year, Balko reports, police smashed through 
Jerry Agee's front door at 6 a.m. while Agee was cooking eggs. Agee's 
girlfriend had just taken a shower and was ordered to come out of the 
bedroom nude, with her hands up. Police refused to let her get 
dressed. After the police realized they had raided the wrong home, 
they searched a while longer and then left without an apology.

In 1993, Akron police, clad in black, knocked down the front door and 
rushed into the apartment of a 32-year-old woman and her three young 
children. She did not realize the invaders were the police until her 
children were forced, face-down, onto the floor at gunpoint. The 
police had raided the wrong house, and later said, "It didn't look 
like any drug house."

SWAT Origins

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, mostly in no-knock "drug raids," accounted 
for 75 percent of the actions of the nation's SWAT squads.

Threats To Liberty

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 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 the 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, Ohio's 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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