SWAT: Coming To a Town Near You?

  SWAT: Coming To a Town Near You?

Posted by CN Staff on May 20, 2002 at 08:10:59 PT
By Scott Andron 
Source: Miami Herald 

Miramar just got one. Pembroke Pines is in the midst of starting one. Davie has had one for years.Why do these West Broward suburbs need SWAT teams? Police say they want them in case of a hostage situation or a Columbine-type incident. But in practice, the teams are used mainly to serve search warrants on suspected drug dealers. Some of these searches yield as little as a few grams of cocaine or marijuana.

And critics, especially in academic circles, say the teams are an example of ''Militarizing Mayberry'' -- from the title of an influential 1997 critique of ''paramilitary'' policing.Police point to the benefits of having a highly trained team available that could quickly respond to a crisis.''The biggest benefit is you have that immediate response to critical situations,'' said Pembroke Pines Police Chief Dan Giustino. ``You're not dependent on other agencies. In a growing community, which Pembroke Pines is, it's definitely a service you want to be able to provide to the community.''SWAT teams are groups of specially trained officers equipped with military-style equipment such as M-16 assault rifles, armored vests and helmets, and stun grenades. In all but the largest cities, team members have regular jobs in patrol or detective work, and take on SWAT duties as needed.The teams first appeared after a 1966 incident in Austin, Texas. A gunman climbed to the top of a bell tower and killed 15 people before police climbed the tower and killed him.Shortly after that, Los Angeles started the first Special Weapons and Tactics team. Fort Lauderdale appears to be the first Broward city to start a team, back in 1971. Hollywood and the Broward Sheriff's Office followed in the mid-'70s -- about the same time that the SWAT television series was on the air. (Columbia Pictures is now working on a movie with Samuel L. Jackson.)By the late 1980s, suburban cities like Davie and Coral Springs were starting SWAT programs. Last year, Miramar started a team, and now Pembroke Pines is starting one.Executing search warrants for drugs appears to be one of the teams' main jobs. In the '80s, police found that drug traffickers were arming themselves with submachine guns and similar weapons, which they didn't hesitate to aim at cops. That kind of problem seems to have tapered off, but police still figure it's better to be safe than sorry.  SHOW OF FORCELt. Richard Rein, a Davie patrol commander who doubles as head of the town's SWAT team, said the group's powerful armament and sudden entry discourage resistance.''People don't resist when they see 10 guys in black coming,'' Rein said.Davie's team is typical. It has been called out 24 times since January 2001, mostly to secure the homes of suspected drug dealers so detectives and police dogs could search them.Injuries have been few. Police shot and killed a pit bull belonging to a suspected drug dealer.And one officer needed knee surgery after he fell over a sofa that suspects had used to barricade a door.A typical warrant mission follows a standard pattern. Police announce themselves at the door, and, if there's no response, break it down using a battering ram or similar tool. Occasionally they also use stun grenades. Then officers burst in and order anyone present to lie on the floor. Once the place is secure, the SWAT team leaves, and detectives come inside and look for drugs.The SWAT teams also can handle cases where someone has barricaded himself in his house and threatened to kill himself, hostages or police. In these cases, the SWAT team works with an officer specially trained to negotiate in these situations.Davie's team has handled seven such cases since January 2001.Rein said the SWAT team would be worth having even if it weren't needed for drug searches. Since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, police have come to the conclusion that this kind of incident could happen even in the sleepiest community.''It can happen anywhere,'' Rein said.But does every suburb need a SWAT team? Many in academic circles say no.In 1997, Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University criminal justice professor, published an influential article called Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing. The article criticized suburban and small-town police departments for taking a militaristic approach to policing. SWAT teams were high on Kraska's hit list. THE CRITICISMIn an interview, Kraska said SWAT may be necessary for unusual situations such as a raid on a major drug lab, but not for routine searches. In fact, he said, many departments are scaling back the use of SWAT teams for drug searches, and at least two states are talking about passing laws to limit the practice.''The benefits don't outweigh the costs,'' Kraska said. ``You're manufacturing a highly dangerous situation when you raid somebody's house.''Tim Lynch, who runs a criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, agrees. He points to seven cases since 1998 in which SWAT teams reportedly shot the wrong person. In one case, in Kansas, authorities agreed to pay $3.5 million to the family of a man killed by a SWAT team that raided the wrong house. Lynch and Kraska both worry that a military mentality will bleed into routine police work.''It can cultivate a strong paramilitary culture which runs counter to what we think of with policing in a democratic society,'' Kraska said.But local police dismiss these criticisms.For one thing, police note that local SWAT officers spend only a small fraction of their time on SWAT duties.''They're out there with the community every day,'' said Capt. Keith Dunn, commander of Miramar's SWAT unit and the department's executive officer. ``They work the same area every day. They're encouraged to know the people in that zone to handle the people's problems in that zone.''As for the Kansas incident, police say the risk of such a disaster is small. They note that such cases are rare compared to the thousands of searches carried out safely by SWAT teams every year.In fact, Rein figures SWAT teams lower the risk of injury because they discourage resistance and because they are specially trained to handle dangerous entries. The goal, which is usually achieved, is to have everyone -- police, suspects and any bystanders -- come out safe.''We don't want to hurt anybody,'' Rein said. Note: Academics decry 'military' mind-set.Source: Miami Herald (FL)Author: Scott AndronPublished: Monday, May 20, 2002 Copyright: 2002 The Miami HeraldContact: heralded herald.comWebsite: Related Articles & Web Site:CATO Institute & Rollie Memorial Page Turns Deadly Special Report: Hooked on SWAT Officer Kills Boy, 11 

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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on May 20, 2002 at 08:55:32 PT

The SWATSTIKA, is more discriptive.Small towns are victims of a trend in our country to organize SWAT teams. To sell towns the need for SWAT teams, police officials talk about preparedness for terrorist incidents similar to Columbine. Once trained, however, SWAT teams nationally are mostly used to serve drug warrants and make drug arrests. One study shows 66 percent of their use is for executing search and arrest warrants. We should question using SWAT military-style power for the war on drugs ( also known as the war on some plants, war for profit and the war against citizens ). There are stories of SWAT using Gestapo tactics and entering private homes to conduct drug war warrants, including too many raids at wrong addresses, with too many innocent citizens killed in as little as 11 seconds. While the police are to serve and protect, SWAT seems primed to kill. The SWAT teams are cited so many times throughout America for gross misconduct, organizations have to resort to different names that attempt to disassociate themselves from SWAT, since it induces citizens' fear. The warm fuzzy ( propagandic ) names being phased in include emergency response teams, tactical units or rapid response teams, and (my local)"Incident Management Group." A trend to cover the escalating cost for SWAT is subsidized through grants available to police departments for escalating the war on drugs. The state and federal governments give money from various sources designated for the additional cost of fighting an unwinnable war. When SWAT needs money to sustain itself, they reach to one of the only sources available, government war money ( the political gravy train ). It's effect makes a priority out of the drug war, since there are no subsidies for work on investigations involving murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. It is preposterous for police to cage drug users and less financially lucrative to attack real crime. There is also a direct correlation between what a state spends on education and how many people that state incarcerates. The war uses the school money while our school board seeks $27 million. One of the sickest examples shows the state that spends the most on education is the state that incarcerates the least humans, and vice versa. Minnesota's ranking among U.S. incarceration rates: 51 ( includes the District of Columbia ). Minnesota's ranking among U.S. education-spending per capita: 1. District of Columbia's ranking among U.S. incarceration rates: 1. District of Columbia's ranking among U.S. education-spending per capita: 51. America is In God We Trust, not prohibitionist politicians. Help end the war, not escalate it. That will require Christ, not SWAT. SWATSTIKA
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