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Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams

Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., an optometrist in Fairfax County, Va, was under investigation for gambling. When authorities decided it was time to arrest him, they set up a meeting between Culosi and an undercover agent. They also sent out a SWAT team as backup. The unarmed and non-violent Culosi was shot and killed during the encounter when an agent's gun accidentally misfired.

Why are police using SWAT teams for non-violent arrests? Blogger and CATO policy analyst Radley Balko reveals some disturbing facts and statistics in an op-ed on our over-militarized local police in today's Washington Post.

During the past 15 years, The Post and other media outlets have reported on the unsettling "militarization" of police departments across the country. Armed with free surplus military gear from the Pentagon, SWAT teams have multiplied at a furious pace. Tactics once reserved for rare, volatile situations such as hostage takings, bank robberies and terrorist incidents increasingly are being used for routine police work.

Eastern Kentucky University's Peter Kraska -- a widely cited expert on police militarization -- estimates that SWAT teams are called out about 40,000 times a year in the United States; in the 1980s, that figure was 3,000 times a year. Most "call-outs" were to serve warrants on nonviolent drug offenders.

Here are some examples:

Last November, police with guns and K-9 units raided a charity poker game in Baltimore. Police in New York are using similar tactics against gambling clubs. Last April, a SWAT team of 52 officers raided a small-stakes poker game in a Denver suburb. An alternative weekly, the Cleveland Scene, reported last year that Jaycees and American Legion clubs in northeastern Ohio "are being raided with the kind of firepower once reserved for drug barons and killers on the lam."

There will be more deaths like Culosi's if this trend continues. Our communities are not battlefields. Unless there is a grave danger of violence, the use of SWAT teams is overkill.

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  • Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#1)
    by Johnny on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 11:30:42 AM EST
    Why are police using SWAT teams for non-violent arrests?
    Quick anser: because they can. Shouldn't a been gambling I guess.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#2)
    by Steven Sanderson on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 11:47:31 AM EST
    Give a child a new toy and they'll play with it. Give an adult a new toy and they'll use it. When that toy is lethal equipment, people will die. When that toy is increased executive powers, millions will die.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#3)
    by Sailor on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 12:15:00 PM EST
    an agent's gun accidentally misfired
    You see, people don't kill people, GUNS kill people, it wasn't a rogue agent, it was that dammed gun! Oh, if only there was some way to assure that guns wouldn't just spontaneously erupt, if only there was a device, some sort of 'safety' device, that would keep this from happening![/snark] Seriously, I was brought up in a household with guns, long guns almost exclusively, and I was taught that you NEVER point a gun at something you don't intend to kill.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#4)
    by Punchy on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 12:50:27 PM EST
    I find this similar to many of the arrests you see on TV shows like Cops. The suspect gives up, gets on his knees, places his hands on his head (everything he's supposed to do), but will STILL get tackled, punched, face smashed into the pavement, and cuffed with 5 policemen sitting on him. I understand adrenaline, but it's overkill. Almost like a rite of passage in the police force...

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#5)
    by Johnny on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 02:01:58 PM EST
    Punchy, of course it is overkill. The police force just does not attract the type of people who would qualify for, say, UN Peace ambassadors. Brave? Without a doubt. Foolhardy? Most likely. Power Tripping? Likely. Capable of reigning in aggressive, impulsive behavior? Increasingly less, every year. Accidental discharge of firearms? My aching a$$.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 10:20:54 AM EST
    Madness. Poker games have been getting raided here in NY with great frequency...it's only a matter of time before someone gets gunned down by police at one. Madness.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#7)
    by Johnny on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 12:02:55 PM EST
    Not madness kdog, planned... One of the first steps to establishing a police state is to desensitize people to brutal acts of violence by the police. Then spin the hell out of it by claiming a gun "went off accidentally".

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 02:27:11 PM EST
    I am frequently critical of the posts here, but I agree that the use of SWAT teams is WAY overdone. I know people who are in SWAT like organizations. They are very good at what they do but I want them doing it in Afganistan, not Kansas City. I think the SWATs attract people who are not as suited to good old fashioned police work and should probably be in the military. These are just my opinions. Jimbo

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#9)
    by Patrick on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 04:55:51 PM EST
    but I agree that the use of SWAT teams is WAY overdone.
    As a former SWAT member and team leader, I couldn't disagree more. If a department is using the team improperly, that's a local matter. Take it up with the people in charge. Without the specific facts of the warrant service it's impossible to know whether or not the use of the team was justified in this instance. And sorry, just because someone has no history of violence or is said to be "non-violent" doesn't automatically rule out their use. There are many issues including location, timing, staffing, etc that should be considered.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sailor on Mon Feb 06, 2006 at 06:29:50 PM EST
    There are many issues including location, timing, staffing, etc that should be considered.
    Sorry, there is only one issue; was he so great a threat that military force had to be called in.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#11)
    by Patrick on Tue Feb 07, 2006 at 08:45:32 AM EST
    Sorry, there is only one issue; was he so great a threat that military force had to be called in.
    It's hardly military force, but if you need to use that term run with it. I agree that the issue is the threat, I guess we disagree on what factors contribute to or mitigate the threat. The ones I mentioned, in my training and experience, are valid considerations. You can disagree all you want, but that won't change the reality of it.

    Re: Overuse of Militarized Swat Teams (none / 0) (#12)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Mar 04, 2006 at 01:09:36 AM EST
    Check out the above URL to see the Israeli army do what one in the US would call police action in the Palestine territory. Now compare that military force action to what a SWAT team would do. You'd probably state that a SWAT team could pull of that kind of mission with more professionalism but you cannot deny the fact that the use of lethal force is about the same. SWAT teams are nothing more than urban warfare task forces. If you had the military train them, they wouldn't turn out any different.