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Police Militarization
Posted by: Dale Franks on Sunday, May 06, 2007

Take a look at the picture Radley Balko has posted. It's some members of the Ocala County, Florida, Sheriff's Department, all gussied up in the Woodland BDU's, showing off their new armored vehicle, which looks like a surplus USAF Peacekeeper like the kind I used to drive.

Balko comments:
I can't really think of any SWAT operation where camouflage would be necessary. First, warrant service and apprehension of dangerous suspects generally happens indoors. SWAT teams are rarely deployed to the woods, or to a giant pile of leaves.

Second, SWAT teams are supposed to be easily recognizable as police, aren't they? Whenever someone shoots at a SWAT team and later claims they didn't know the officers were the police, the police respond that they should have observed the police markings or heard the identifying screams before firing. So why wear uniforms that are designed to blend in?

I can't really think of any reason for a paramilitary police team to wear camouflage other than to mimic the military. Which, for the umpteenth time, isn't a healthy aspiration for the domestic peace officers charged with protecting our rights to have. All goes back to that "mindset" problem.
And it is a problem. Once a police department has access to assault rifles, armored cars, and cammies, they're gonna use them, and do so as regularly as possible. If that means that tricked-out deputies are gonna be used to burst through the door of non-violent offenders on warrant service, then that's what's gonna happen.

This reminds me of that whack job sheriff in the Carolinas who had all his deputies wear black BDUs, and repainted all the sheriff's department vehicles with a big old black widow spider emblem, and similar rot. That kind of theatrics is a sure sign of an unhealthy mindset.

Once the police are convinced that enforcing the law has become some sort of "war against crime", then then you've got a serious problem. because wars need enemies, and when the police go to "war", the enemies are...us.
 
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I could take Radley a little more seriously when he says:
Second, SWAT teams are supposed to be easily recognizable as police, aren’t they? Whenever someone shoots at a SWAT team and later claims they didn’t know the officers were the police, the police respond that they should have observed the police markings or heard the identifying screams before firing. So why wear uniforms that are designed to blend in?
if he was’nt so blithely cavalier about the uniforms of the Taliban.
The Convention is aimed chiefly at protecting captured soldiers—either foreign or insurgent. In general, "soldier" is defined by Article IV as people wearing uniforms and openly carrying arms. However, the question of whether or not operatives of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or other terrorist groups qualify is moot because the Supreme Court decided in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that Common Article III applies to them.
He sure is eager to accept judges rulings in this case but so dismissive the judge in Corey Mayes trial.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Disclaimer: I’m an ex-operator, multiple years of SWAT experience, and I’ve stayed involved in the training side of that community. I’ve debated Balko before, but he doesn’t allow comments at his site, so I’ll just weigh in here.

The reason officers wear BDUs (I’m sure they’ll eventually wear ACUs) is to provide effective camoflage, with the express purpose of not exposing officers to fire by highlighting their location. Except in the dead of night, BDUs are actually better camoflage than any standard "SWAT black." Urban teams do operate in built-up areas, but monolithic black uniforms are tactically dumb, since they stand out just as much there as in a rural area (I’d rather have OD green). It’s bad enough that we have news helicopters constantly hovering over scenes while we’re trying to operate (and the bad guy inside can just turn on his TV to see which door the entry team is setting up on), but Mr. Balko would apparently have us in blaze orange.

The contention by many suspects that "We didn’t know it was the Police" is generally nonsense. We’d park a vehicle right in front of their house with a looped tape playing through a loudspeaker, announcing our search warrant loud enough to wake the entire neighborhood. We all wore large, reflective "POLICE" patches on our tactical vests, and announced ourselves upon entry. They’d still resist and claim they "didn’t know." How far should we suspend disbelief for some of these guys?

As for the "OMG! Armored Vehicles!!!11" alarmism, there is no better tool to rescue a pinned-down or wounded officer/civilian. In an incident like the famed North Hollywood bank robbery, you’re better off with a ballistically-hardened vehicle to evacuate victims. Throwing a bomb/ballistic blanket (Note: ineffective against rifle fire) over the side of a vehicle and attempting to improvise that way is far inferior to simply reusing a taxpayer-funded Peacekeeper for local law enforcement purposes. Would you rather it just sat in a junkyard?

Armored vehicles are also useful as platforms to deploy gas or throw-phones in situations where you’re facing a barricaded gunman/men. Sometimes there’s no other way to approach that won’t get an officer shot or killed.

Balko doesn’t like to admit it, but SWAT teams have all sorts of practical reasons (including cost) for using the cast-off military stuff... it’s not just because they want to "play Army" and treat the citizens like POWs.
 
Written By: TheNewGuy
URL: http://
Balko makes plenty of good points in general, but he’s also in danger of being the hammer that sees everything as a nail.
 
Written By: Grimshaw
URL: http://
NewGuy, problem isn’t having stuff available for, call them ’special occasions’; it’s agencies/people who get this stuff and use it at every opportunity, to serve warrants for non-violent offenders, etc.

Used properly, in situations that call for it, damn few people have a problem with it. Used the way too many do, it is a big problem.
 
Written By: Firehand
URL: http://elmtreeforge.blogspot.com
Actually, to split the difference between many here and yourself, I think Firehand makes a good point, but what Radley Balko and many, oh say like Tom Perkins or Billy Beck, are REALLY "On" about is the War on Drugs. They really don’t dislike SWAT or don’t really think it’s threat, they dislike the War on Drugs.

I think that SWAT is over-used, in that so many polities have a SWAT unit, and once you have one, don’t you need to justify it’s existence? But rest assured if SWAT were 1/10th it’s current size Radley and many here would still rail against them.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The war on drugs makes Iraq look good. Legalize them, tax them, and treat the addicts. Less crime and less corruption. No, I don’t do drugs, I just don’t like the wave of crime and violence that goes with the current approach.

I think SWAT is at least 95% a solution in search of a problem.

 
Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
First, for Tom Scott:

Your link goes to a column by Ronald Bailey, not Radley Balko. Nice try, though!

Second, for Joe:

I have no problem with SWAT being used in situations where the suspect presents an immediate threat to the community. In fact, I endorse it. Hostage situations, terrorist situations, mass shooting, etc. My problem is when they’re used against nonviolent offenders. Here, they’re creating violent situations, not defusing them. There’s been a 1500 percent increase in SWAT callouts since the early 1980s, almost entirely driven by drug raids. So you’re right, I’d still have a problem if SWAT teams were deployed one-tenth as often. One-fiftieth would probably be closer to the mark. That would still amount to 800-1,000 raids per year.

Finally, for TheNewGuy, who seems to be making the blog rounds this morning:

"The contention by many suspects that "We didn’t know it was the Police" is generally nonsense. We’d park a vehicle right in front of their house with a looped tape playing through a loudspeaker, announcing our search warrant loud enough to wake the entire neighborhood. We all wore large, reflective "POLICE" patches on our tactical vests, and announced ourselves upon entry. They’d still resist and claim they "didn’t know." How far should we suspend disbelief for some of these guys?"

This is laughable. Yes, this is the way SWAT teams are used when they’re used appropriately. But not when they’re used on drug raids and for other nonviolent crimes, which is where my objection lies. The whole point of using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants in the middle of the night is to take the suspect by surprise, so he can’t shoot back and/or flush his drugs. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told over and over by people who support such tactics.

Are you telling me that’s not the case? I have documentation of a few hundred raids that says otherwise.

 
Written By: Radley Balko
URL: http://www.theagitator.com
There’s been a 1500 percent increase in SWAT callouts since the early 1980s, almost entirely driven by drug raids.
That’s my point you don’t object to SWAT you object to the War on Drugs, so nothing that SWAT does is likely to be OK, as long as there is a war on drugs.

It’s like the thread here about the Atlanta cops, everyone was angry, rightly so, about the raid that killed the old lady. And We read of you and your tallying of the 42 dead in these "No knock" raids, over 25 years. And of course you and many were positive that No Knock Raids were the Devil’s Work...of course int he same period 1300 people had died in police hot pursuits, but because they weren’t involved in the War on Drugs, they were much less a cause of concern.

So it’s not No Knocks or the "Militarization" of the Poh-leece that sets you alight, it’s the War on Drugs...I’m just asking you to be honest.

I would agree that SWAT is too created, if not too used, or rather because they are so created they are so used...it seems that EVERYONE needs, or says they do, a "Special Response/SWAT" Unit. I would have to agree that 90% of most jurisdictions have no need of a SWAT-type unit. Boston, LA, NYC, Chicago, sure, Louisville, Nashville, not so clear and "Two Sticks" Missouri, not at all, but I bet they all have one.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Which drugs? There is no way one could legalize PCP or methamphetamine and say it is a good thing. Not with how unpredictable they are. Likewise the GHB and rohypnol legalizations are a recipie for disaster. In fact ANY of those home chemistry set drugs would Now as to THC delivery devices, there would need to be a lot more research done on it to determine its impairment affects, and a clinical definition of stoned as far as the law is concerned.

As for less crime and such, we have people stealing prescription drugs from people in pain to get high. Children "pharming" medicine cabinets, huffing and other such stupidity. Without any evidence, other than personal experience, about 15% of the population of 15-30 year olds are stupid enough to make a leglaization of drugs a new national nightmare.
 
Written By: MunDane
URL: http://
You’re correct Radley and I apologize for associating you with that ludicrous piece in Reason.
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
The reason officers wear BDUs (I’m sure they’ll eventually wear ACUs) is to provide effective camoflage, with the express purpose of not exposing officers to fire by highlighting their location. Except in the dead of night, BDUs are actually better camoflage than any standard "SWAT black." Urban teams do operate in built-up areas, but monolithic black uniforms are tactically dumb, since they stand out just as much there as in a rural area (I’d rather have OD green). It’s bad enough that we have news helicopters constantly hovering over scenes while we’re trying to operate (and the bad guy inside can just turn on his TV to see which door the entry team is setting up on), but Mr. Balko would apparently have us in blaze orange.
I’ve never been a cop. However, it is quite clear to me that in many suburbian situations, woodland camo is quite appropriate.

And black does "highlight" you. It’s better than white, but it is less than ideal. Actually, something like German army field gray might be a good choice, but I suspect it won’t catch on . . .

Joe seems to have hit on the sensitivity. I don’t like the fact that the po-po can has equipement I can’t. I don’t like the various gun control regulations, and the fact that military surplus is now typically off limits to us lowely civlians.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
I would agree that SWAT is too created, if not too used, or rather because they are so created they are so used...it seems that EVERYONE needs, or says they do, a "Special Response/SWAT" Unit. I would have to agree that 90% of most jurisdictions have no need of a SWAT-type unit. Boston, LA, NYC, Chicago, sure, Louisville, Nashville, not so clear and "Two Sticks" Missouri, not at all, but I bet they all have one.
Last week on ar15.com there was much discussion of a picture of a SWAT team from a small town. The team had these AR15 pistols based upon the Carbon-15 that were the silliest thing. One hopes they never have to respond to a real event, but they did provide quite a bit of entertainment (comedy).
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
Mr. Balko,

I have no problem with SWAT being used in situations where the suspect presents an immediate threat to the community. In fact, I endorse it. Hostage situations, terrorist situations, mass shooting, etc. My problem is when they’re used against nonviolent offenders.

No argument from me on this point, but it’s never been my experience that non-violent offenders get tagged for SWAT no-knocks. As you know perfectly well, you have to meet and articulate specific criteria/reasons to justify no-knock raids to a judge or magistrate. The standard is significantly higher than just getting a simple search/arrest warrant. Any team I was ever on would have been highly pissed if they thought their time was being wasted for a simple vanilla warrant. As for the rest of the "drug war" raids, get the drug laws changed, or get off the cops’ backs; Police are not empowered to choose which laws to enforce, and plenty of drug dealers/manufacturers are truly 4+ dangerous people. You’re shooting the messenger.

Finally, for TheNewGuy, who seems to be making the blog rounds this morning:

You want to know something? I don’t necessarily dislike you, and I’m not your online nemesis... the fact that we happen to read the same blogs should tell you something about my political leanings (they’re not far from your own). That said, I’ve personally seen, from the other side of the badge, how well professional SWAT can work. My support for the concept comes from my own experience both as a trainer, and an operator, and just for the record, I despise corrupt cops, abusive cops, and cowboy half-assed SWAT teams even more than you do... guaranteed.

You and I should really have a beer sometime, just so I can prove to you that all of use "swatties" don’t have horns and tails.

You also seem to greatly dislike groups like the NTOA. The nationalization of professional SWAT training/leadership, and the cross-pollination between various state Tactical Officers’ Associations have greatly accelerated beneficial changes to tactics. The rapid paradigm shift to IARD tactics in response to the lessons learned at Columbine was greatly aided by mass debriefs and frank discussions at national conventions (I was there, and attended several of these). New tactics and tricks that perps use to kill officers are also rapidly recognized, and the information disseminated nationwide.

The whole point of using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants in the middle of the night is to take the suspect by surprise, so he can’t shoot back and/or flush his drugs. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told over and over by people who support such tactics. Are you telling me that’s not the case? I have documentation of a few hundred raids that says otherwise.

In my experience, it was almost always the former reason. The latter reason has been falling significantly out of favor, and I think you’re going to see less and less of that as time goes on. Plenty of teams have completely stopped doing full-on dynamic no-knocks simply to preserve evidence, on the philosophy that no officer’s (or suspect’s) life is worth a bag of dope. That’s a beneficial change that came from within. Most of the no-knocks I was involved in were strictly to short-circuit violent resistance from the subject.

SWAT has definitely had growing pains, but the professionalization of the concept is proceding apace, and should yield significant benefits as time goes on.
 
Written By: TheNewGuy
URL: http://
As you know perfectly well, you have to meet and articulate specific criteria/reasons to justify no-knock raids to a judge or magistrate.
It seems that since we only hear about some of the mistakes in outcome, and those probably follow on the heels of repeated mistakes in procedure and mindset, that those requirements in most jurisdictions become more notional than actual.

Tools which are repetitively misused should be taken from those who will not learn to use them.
SWAT has definitely had growing pains, but the professionalization of the concept is proceding apace, and should yield significant benefits as time goes on.
SWAT has been around for 40 years, 1st year newbs have retired on full benefits since it showed up.

It takes 40 years to begin to be professional?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, & pfpp
 
Written By: Tom Perkins
URL: http://
It takes 40 years to begin to be professional?

Why not? SWAT requires a higher level of effort and training, and really only spread in earnest in the 80’s and 90’s. For a bit of persepctive, consider that it’s taken police work in general a lot longer than that to get where we are today. It wasn’t even 40 years ago that we were routinely beating the hell out of suspects for all sorts of minor offenses.

It still happens, but not nearly like it used to. SWAT will continue to evolve, and probably at an accelerated pace, thanks largely to the tools and organizations we now have for training and disseminating information.
 
Written By: TheNewGuy
URL: http://
NewGuy, I think some of the problem here is that when you say SWAT you literally mean a full-on SWAT team, but some of the other people (including Balko) are talking about the use of SWAT-like dynamic entry tactics in drug cases.

I’ve heard, for example, that NYPD narcotics cops use their own fast-moving dynamic entry teams for drug busts. They think SWAT is too focused on a careful takedown of the bad guys, which often leaves time for evidence to be destroyed.
 
Written By: Windypundit
URL: http://www.windypundit.com
Windy,

Excellent point, and shame on me for not clarifying a little better. A lot of things fall under the "paramilitary" term, and get included in the general "militarization" language that are not SWAT-specific. Patrol-car-rifles (often cast-off military rifles) are not SWAT-specific, but are often lumped into the discussion. I’ve been guilty of failing to make that distinction myself, so I’m certainly not pointing fingers at Mr. Balko or anyone else.

As far as raids-to-preserve-evidence, I personally don’t believe a dynamic entry that risks the lives of officers, suspects, and bystanders is worth it simply for a bag of dope, or an 8-ball of heroin.

I’ll also tell you that I’m not alone in that opinion in the tactical community. The feeling is out there, and spreading, that we need to evolve and get smarter about where/how we utilize our skills, and for what stakes. If I was the team-leader, I’d feel terrible getting a friend or colleague injured or killed to keep a suspect from flushing evidence, particularly if I could simply fish it out of their septic tank later. Given the choice, I’ll take the latter option, even if I have to go diving in it myself; I’d much rather smell like sh*t than feel like sh*t.
 
Written By: TheNewGuy
URL: http://

 
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