SWAT Teams: A Case Study In Overzealous Domestic Policing

Radley Balko’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, in which he writes about the rise of the warrior cop, takes the same title of his recently published book. It describes the militarization of America’s police forces. It shows us how SWAT teams – which used to be a rare thing – follow in the footsteps of Special Forces units, wielding M-16 assault rifles and flash bang grenades in raids on private citizens’ homes.

It’s alarming how accustomed we’ve become to the militarization, as Balko puts it, of police officers who are sworn to serve and protect. That’s “serve and protect,” as the saying goes, not raid the homes of private citizens and businesses.

Balko describes a number of cases where SWAT teams were used when they probably should not have been, including:

 

  • The man whose home was raided in the middle of the night because his ex-girlfriend tipped off police that he had some small marijuana plants growing in his basement
  • The factory floor of the Gibson guitar maker raided by a SWAT team with the Fish & Wildlife Service (who knew Fish & Wildlife had its own SWAT team?), on account of a suspicion that Gibson was using illegally-harvested wood
  • The Tibetan monks who remained in the country on expired visas who were likely surprised when a SWAT team in full battle dress descended upon them

 

And the examples go on.

And it’s quite troubling. As Balko writes: “Americans have long been wary of using the military for domestic policing. Concerns about potential abuse date back to the creation of the Constitution, when the founders worried about standing armies and the intimidation of the people at large by an overzealous executive, who might choose to follow the unhappy precedents set by Europe’s emperors and monarchs.”