Pubdate: Sun, 01 Mar 2009
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2009 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Don Markus
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


Calls Of Unnecessary Force Prompt Regulation Proposals

On a January morning, Howard County police learned that two of their 
cruisers had been broken into while parked in an Elkridge 
neighborhood. Someone stole penlights, a Police Department baseball 
cap, citation books - and a high-powered rifle and nearly 150 rounds 
of ammunition.

The next day, a SWAT team raided Mike Hasenei's nearby mobile home.

Hasenei says an officer hit him in the face with a shield, knocked 
him to the ground and handcuffed him and his wife. Police shot one of 
the family dogs.

But no weapon was found. And Hasenei has added his voice to those 
raising questions about the use of SWAT teams by Maryland police 
agencies. "It's just a sad situation that could have been avoided if 
they had done some homework," said Hasenei, a 38-year-old senior 
computer analyst for Marriott International.

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon defended the raid, one 
of three that night on homes in Elkridge's Deep Run Park.

"The bottom line is that we had information that we believed the 
weapons can be in that home, the judge agreed and authorized to do 
the search," McMahon said. "Nobody feels good about the fact that a 
dog was killed."

Hasenei, who has filed a complaint with county police, says he plans 
to testify Tuesday at a state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee 
hearing. He is in favor of a bill that would require a standard 
report for police agencies that would include how often SWAT teams 
are deployed, for what purpose and the results of those raids.

Requests for data from several police agencies throughout the 
Baltimore region produced varying amounts of information about 
tactical unit deployment last year, including how many warrants led 
to arrests in Baltimore County and the number of hostage situations 
handled in Howard County. But none could readily provide 
comprehensive information about their units' activities last year.

In pushing for the bill, Hasenei joins Cheye Calvo, the mayor of a 
suburban Washington town, whose dogs were killed by a SWAT team last 
year in a raid that made international news.

"It's pretty clear to me that police are using SWAT teams for duties 
that used to be performed by ordinary police officers," says Calvo, 
whose Berwyn Heights house was raided July 29 when police mistakenly 
thought his wife was involved in drug trafficking. "No question, 
there are times when SWAT teams are appropriate. What strikes me 
about this is that police are using SWAT teams as an initial response 
rather than a last resort."

Sen. Brian Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County who is chairman 
of the Judiciary Committee and is co-sponsoring the bill, said, "It's 
not just how they decide on who to raid, it's how they carry it out."

During the past two decades, raids by police agency tactical teams 
have been on the rise nationally, experts say. Peter Kraska, a 
professor of criminal justice and police studies at Eastern Kentucky 
University, has conducted two national surveys of police departments 
during the past decade. According to Kraska, the number of 
deployments jumped from 2,500 annually in the early 1980s to between 
50,000 and 60,000 by 2005.

The rise in the use of SWAT, or special weapons and tactics, teams 
was largely the result of the Reagan administration's war on drugs, 
Kraska said. His research details the transformation in how units are 
used: from negotiating hostage situations, combating criminals with 
high-powered weapons and curtailing major drug deals in the early 
days, to deployments for recreational narcotics users or small-time 
marijuana dealers in more recent years.

"They terrorize these people unnecessarily," Kraska said.

Radley Balko, a former policy analyst at the Cato Institute in 
Washington who wrote a paper that details the history of SWAT teams 
and accounts of several raids that went awry, said that this week's 
hearing in Annapolis is a positive step.

"It's really sort of an obvious reform," he said.

However, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers 
Association says reporting requirements for SWAT teams should emanate 
from the law enforcement community, not legislators.

"Our data shows that when SWAT teams are deployed, the violence goes 
down," said John Gnagey, who was a SWAT team member for 26 years in 
the Champaign, Ill., police department.

McMahon said there is a clear distinction between Howard County 
patrol officers' duties and those that should be handled by the SWAT 
team."The threshold we use for authorizing the use of a SWAT team is: 
Is there a heightened sense of danger in serving that search warrant 
that the judge has authorized us to serve," McMahon said. "What's the 
search warrant written for, what's the past history of those people 
in the residence? All those things come into play."

High-risk situations that call for a SWAT team response include when 
police face suspects with weapons or who have taken hostages, the chief said.

McMahon declined to discuss the specifics of the Elkridge raids.

According to the court documents filed in support of the "no-knock" 
warrant, police said an informant told them that Hasenei's stepson, 
Michael Smith Jr., who also lives in the neighborhood, and a friend 
of Smith's might have been trying to sell an assault rifle the day 
after the theft from the cruiser.

Police raided the residence where Smith lives with Hasenei's 
mother-in-law, as well as the home of the friend.

No arrests had been made in the thefts from the police cruisers.

Hasenei said his wife, Phyllis, and their 12-year-old daughter, 
Angel, are still rattled by the raid, which Phyllis said involved 
about two dozen SWAT team members.

"They had their guns drawn, Angel and I were screaming," she 
said."They had their black-on-black uniforms. All you could see were 
their eyeballs."

Their 3-year-old Australian cattle dog, Noah, was shot after 
retreating to Hasenei's bed.

Mike Hasenei questions whether officers thoroughly investigated 
before securing a warrant.

"They would have found out that neither of us are violent criminals, 
we don't have criminals records at all," Hasenei said. "I mind my own 
business, I go to work, I make money, I come home, I take my family 
out to dinner and stuff. That's the way it is with me."

2008 SWAT team deployment * Anne Arundel County: 147 responses

*Baltimore County: 153

*Howard County: 108, including 12 hostage situations.

*Maryland State Police: 106, including 38 with "no-knock" warrants.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom