Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Does Your Police Chief Need With An Army?

I believe that by and large, the police of this country are decent, honest folks who are doing their best to do a difficult and dangerous job. I certainly am on the side of law and order.

However there is a trend in law enforcement that I believe should be completely stopped. Special response teams such as SWAT ("Special  Weapons And Tactics"). You've seen them... military gear, military vehicles, military weapons, military bearing, and little to no regard for the due process that is the hallmark of legitimate law enforcement.

And yes, I said "legitimate law enforcement", which is, I believe, something that SWAT teams are not. Please read to this report from the Cato institute:

An issue here is many-faceted and simplistic at the same time.
  1. SWAT teams blur the demarcation between appropriate police and military action. The people that a SWAT team faces are not enemy combatants. They are citizens, who always, 100% of the time, always have Constitutional rights which must be respected. And I don't mean just their right to due process, but all of the rights afforded by the Constitution.
  2. But SWAT teams are "sexy". They've been glamorized in movies and television. As a result, police departments across America want them. And when they see some action going down in Columbine or Sandy Ridge, they consider how they would respond to such an action, and start making plans for their own little armies just like the ones the big-city. It's a little bit of jealousy, mixed with a little bit of fear, mixed with a little bit of hero-complex.
  3. SWAT teams also give the appearance of "doing something", and God knows we need to "do something"... which given only the time required for a knee-jerk reaction is almost always the wrong thing. And SWAT teams are almost never given more time than is appropriate for the "knee-jerk" reaction. Therefore, use of them is almost always the wrong response. .
That's a police car?
Roderick Yang - Creative Commons
SWAT teams are often referred to as "paramilitary", but I think that's mis-informative. Again: military gear, military vehicles, military weapons, military bearing, military tactics, and a military outlook on the nature of their opposition, none of which is appropriate to police work. SWAT teams are tiny militia, under the command of local police chiefs. And that is not kosher, nor in my mind is it constitutional.

Here is article 20 of the Constitution of South Carolina (my home state), which states the problem and solution (emphasis added)
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. As, in times of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they shall not be maintained without the consent of the General Assembly. The military power of the State shall always be held in subordination to the civil authority and be governed by it. No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner nor in time of war but in the manner prescribed by law. (1970 (56) 2684; 1971 (57) 315.) [PDF]
Now, Article XIII, Section 1 informs us that "the militia" consists of "all able-bodied male citizens of the State between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years" (with certain exemptions, notably conscientious objection), but here we're talking about "active" militia, all of whom must be under the command of the Governor by the direction of the General Assembly. And that is because the kind of safety imposed by a standing army is dangerous to liberty.

Our problem in the present day is that we forget the part about militia being "dangerous" to liberty, burying it behind arguments concerning the public safety. But our indulgence of special response teams results in neither safety nor liberty. Witness this report from regarding Eugene Mallory, an 80-year old man who was executed in his bed, by six bullets fired by a deputy, before being told to "drop the gun"... a gun which Mallory was not holding.

The warrant for this action was executed only on a verbal accusation from a self-proclaimed "expert" in controlled substances who had never set foot on Mallory's property, who claimed he could "smell" methamphetamine from downwind. And no, this incident didn't happen in South Carolina, but it could happen anywhere, and does happen in jurisdictions across the country.

Eugene Mallory's is not an isolated case. I could keep you here all day long with case after case of abuses rained down upon citizens by militarized police. In recent times this has not been limited to SWAT teams. As stated by Wikipedia,
"The relative infrequency of SWAT call-outs means these expensively trained and equipped officers cannot be left to sit around, waiting for an emergency. In many departments the officers are normally deployed to regular duties, but are available for SWAT calls via pagers, mobile phones, or radio transceivers." 
These are policemen?
Oregon DOT - Creative Commons
Those members who have been trained to look at the public as though they are combatants are distributed throughout the force, and they take that mind-set with them. That's inevitable, or else they wouldn't be very effective SWAT team members. And those who aren't a part of the "elite" but aspire to be may adopt that mindset as well. Hence, we have seen a marked increase in the number of shootings by police of innocent citizens and even their pets over recent years.

And here we have another issue. SWAT teams are expensive. The result is that they look like a monumental waste of money if you don't use them. After all, you've gone to the public and argued the urgent need for having a "force" to deal with "urgent" threats; and if you then don't find any urgent threats you look like Chicken Little... and an idiot. So suddenly, non-urgent threats become urgent, and officers who have been trained to deal with terrorists and hostage-takers are deployed in force to pick up a couple of legally-grown pot plants and shoot an old man in bed.

That's what you get with a SWAT team. Eventually, that's what you always get with a SWAT team, I think.

And it's completely  unnecessary. SWAT is by nature intended to equip the police to do things that police aren't equipped to do, and they can never be equipped to do everything. If that sounds to you like an invitation to never-ending escalation of violence and spending, you're right. We do, however, already have a force on hand that is already equipped, funded and trained to do those things, and that is the legitimate militia... the National Guard, properly under the command of the Governor of the state. They can be deployed at the direction of the Governor, given a request and a damned good reason.

And with all due respect to police officers past and present, if you're one of those who thinks that's its "too onerous" to have to provide a damned good reason before charging onto private property in riot gear and firing weapons without first at least attempting to knock at the door and speak civilly, then I don't think you should be doing police work.


[Main photo caption: A SWAT team vehicle. Courtesy Flickr user Roderick Yang. Licensed under Creative Commons:]

1 comment:

  1. This: