Pubdate: Sat, 30 Aug 2014
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2014 Star Advertiser
Author: Jacob Sullum, Creators Syndicate
Page: A11


Contrary to what you may have heard, the armored vehicles that 
appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., during the unrest that 
followed the police shooting of Michael Brown did not come from the Pentagon.

"Most of the stuff you are seeing in video coming out of Ferguson is 
not military," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Defense Department's press 
secretary, told reporters last week. "The military is not the only 
source of tactical gear in this country."

In other words: Don't blame the military for militarizing the police.

Kirby has a point. The Pentagon has played a role by distributing 
surplus gear to police departments, but so have the Justice 
Department and the Department of Homeland Security by providing 
grants that can be used to buy military-style equipment.

In any case, the real problem, more pervasive and insidious than 
BearCats or MRAPs on the streets of our cities, is the dangerously 
misguided urge to transform cops into soldiers, as reflected in the 
promiscuous use of SWAT teams.

As the acronym implies, SWAT teams originally were intended for 
unusual threats requiring "special weapons and tactics," threats such 
as rioters, shooters, barricaded suspects and hostage takers. But 
what was once special is now routine. Today the most common use of 
SWAT teams, which are deployed something like 50,000 times a year in 
the U.S., is serving search warrants, typically in drug cases.

Looking at a sample of more than 800 SWAT operations carried out by 
20 law enforcement agencies in 11 states during the past three years, 
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that 79 percent 
involved search warrants. More than three-quarters of the searches 
were looking for drugs.

These raids tend to follow the same basic pattern:

)) Heavily armed, blackclad men enter a home early in the morning, 
while the occupants are asleep.

)) The police often break down the door with a battering ram, shatter 
windows and toss in a flashbang grenade, an explosive device designed 
to discombobulate targets with a blinding light and deafening noise.

)) If there is a dog in the home that barks at the invaders (as dogs 
tend to do), the police kill it.

The element of surprise and the overwhelming, terrifying show of 
force are supposed to minimize violence by forestalling any thought 
of resistance. It does not always work out that way.

)) Last December, a Texas marijuana grower named Henry Magee shot and 
killed a Burleson County sheriff's deputy who broke into his mobile 
home in the middle of the night along with eight other officers.

Magee said he mistook Sgt. Adam Sowders for a burglar, and in 
February a grand jury declined to indict him in the deputy's death.

)) Six months before Magee shot Sowders, a similar mistake resulted 
in the death of Eugene Mallory, an 80-year-old retired electrical 
engineer who was shot in his bed because he grabbed a gun when armed 
men stormed into his home early in the morning. They were Los Angeles 
County sheriff's deputies, looking for a nonexistent meth lab.

)) Last May, police in Habersham County, Ga., broke into a house in 
the middle of the night, looking for a meth dealer who no longer lived there.

While attacking the house, the SWAT team tossed a flashbang grenade 
into a crib, severely burning a 19-month-old boy.

No drugs or weapons were found in that raid, which seems to be a 
pretty common outcome.

In the ACLU study, records indicated that police found the drugs or 
guns they expected 35 percent of the time. The low rate of gun 
recovery is especially striking because the use of SWAT teams is 
supposedly justified by the prospect of facing armed and dangerous suspects.

The reckless use of paramilitary forces to attack the homes of 
unsuspecting civilians reflects a literalization of the war on drugs, 
as well as the unseemly eagerness of many police officers to dress up 
and act like soldiers.

Taking away their BearCats will not solve those problems.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom