Reining In the SWAT


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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109 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    +1 to all this.Report

  2. Avatar DarrenG says:

    Lots of additional factual goodness in this article.

    And I’d hope we can all agree that this sort of nonsense should be halted.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      Lest I be misconstrued, Darren, I’m down with cutting back on the role of the police department. I like Will’s idea of making SWAT a unit that is disconnected from normal police operations.

      From that first article, though:

      > Though passed with the PATRIOT Act and
      > justified as a much-needed weapon in the
      > war on terrorism, the sneak-and-peek was
      > used in a terror investigation just 15 times
      > between 2006 and 2009. In drug
      > investigations, however, it was used more
      > than 1,600 times during the same period.

      If you focus on the “15” more than the “1,600” in that paragraph, the obvious question is: “Will getting rid of the War on Drugs cut back on the vast majority of these escalations of power use more than moving militarized aspects of police action out of the local police department?”

      Side note: there is no justification whatsoever in the use of an armored personnel carrier for anything other than an actual war zone.Report

      • Avatar DarrenG says:

        “Will getting rid of the War on Drugs cut back on the vast majority of these escalations of power use more than moving militarized aspects of police action out of the local police department?”

        I suspect not, for the reason Will nails in the original post: As long as these units are around and have the equipment departments will find reasons to use them. Balko also collects numerous instances of SWAT raids on home poker games, warrant service for financial fraud, and other non-violent, non-drug-related situations, for example.

        Ending the war on drugs would be good policy for other reasons, but I don’t think it alone would result in de-militarizing local police forces.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          I dunno, if you’re looking at 1,600 vs. 15, making a transition to 0 vs. 15 +1,600 other sneak and peeks is going to raise some eyebrows.Report

          • Avatar DarrenG says:

            Sadly, in all likelihood it would only raise those same eyebrows as the 1,600 uses for drug enforcement have.

            Why would more people be suddenly perturbed over shifting their use from drugs to other crimes?

            I think you’re overly optimistic about the degree to which American voters and politicians care about police and prosecutorial misconduct, and a depressingly large number will actively cheer it on. Remember: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

              We’ve got forty years of culturally-hammered-in “drugs are bad” background.

              I’m pretty sure if you switched that all to busting home poker games you’d get a few raised eyebrows. Maybe if ten years pass with more publications about the evils of gambling.Report

  3. Avatar dexter says:

    I think that the police should all have shoulder mounted camcorders that is linked to facebook.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Oh god, i don’t want Policeville updates all over my FB page.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      But what if they bust a high-class escort service and the mayor and the District Attorney is somewhere on the premises?

      What about their privacy?Report

      • Avatar dexter says:

        That would only hurt their political career if they were democrats (think Spitzer) and would not effect anything if the were republicans (think Vitter).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      And squad cars, bikes, and the officers themselves should all have GPS tracking on them, which cannot be disabled, and the results of which are recorded in an archive. It’s just zeroes and ones in the cloud, after all.

      I can see not dispensing this information to the public on a live-action basis; the bad guys should not be able to log on to and see the cars converging on their hideout. But the data should be searchable a reasonable time after the fact. There should be no question about what the police have been doing with the public’s assets and executing the public’s business.Report

      • Avatar Mike says:

        Never will happen.

        All it takes is one of the Thugs In Blue going in his off-duty squad car over to his buddy’s house to bang the wife while his buddy is on shift…Report

      • Burt,

        That level of oversight will render the police departments of the country ineffective.Report

        • Avatar dexter says:

          Mike at the big stick, that level of oversight will ensure that the police don’t beat the crap out of somebody and then get off becasue the beatee was resisting arrest.
          Do you think the Danziger Bridge tragedy would have happened if the police knew they were being filmed?Report

          • Question- Would you suggest he same level of oversight for the following:

            – all government officials
            – all government contractors
            – fire departments
            – doctors
            – EMS
            – utility companies
            – the military
            – FEMAReport

            • Avatar dexter says:

              I would not mind a taped recording of conversations between government officials and government contractors, but the rest I could live without.
              I would love to hear the conversation that enabled some of those Iraqi deals.
              Do you think the tragedy at Danziger would have happened if the cops knew they were being taped?Report

              • But what about utility companies, EMS, the military, etc? What about oversight for them?

                Yes – go on YouTube sometime and look at all of the videos of people doing terrible things with cameras knowingly filming. Situations make people do bad things.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                I worry a lot less about the utilities and EMS people than about the police. I have never had two utility workers hold my roommate over a second story balcony while a third one beat him until he started bleeding.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                It’s a matter of power & accountability, the greater the power, the greater the accountability must be.Report

              • The reason they have the power is because it was delegated to them by the people for protection from the other people. Tying one hand behind their back defeats the original intent.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m not really clear on how persistent taping ties one hand behind their back.

                Can you explain what sort of scenario you regard as problematic, in this case?Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                And those same people have the right to demand accountabilityReport

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


              I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: audit is expensive.

              You audit things when you can reduce waste (including the price of the audit); so if

              Policy = N dollars
              Auditing Policy = M dollars
              Waste Related to Policy = P dollars

              You audit when

              P – M > 0


              (P – M) / N = X%, for 0 < X < 9% You don't typically need the level of audit you're talking about for anything other than large government (usually military) contracts. Many of these contracts have this level of audit. Shoot, a NSF audit is a huge waste of time and money, and we do those *now*. When it comes to the cops, though, as I said on the other thread: carrying a badge and a gun as a beat cop is already an astronomically huge power imbalance over a normal citizen. * Cops are expert witnesses * Cops are armed * Cops are allowed quite a bit of leeway and independence in action All of these things are arguably necessary for them to do their jobs. That in and of itself is fine. There is no reason why their actions should not be covered under a much more stringent audit than all of the other examples you cite, however, due to the power imbalance issue. Trust but verify.Report

              • A utility company can enter your property, destroy things and leave – and send you a bill.

                EMS can forcibly transport you to a hospital you did not choose.

                Government officials can do all sorts of crazy things (see Kelo v. New London).

                Fish & Wildlife officers can enter your property whenever they want and seize cars, boats, etc for any manner of offense.

                The military has the most freedom of all because they are killing people overseas (see no evil, hear no evil). How long before we demand they each have a camera on their helmet?Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Except for the last paragraph all the things you mentioned are legal. If you don’t like a particular laws, then I recomend that you work to change them. The cops beating up my roommate was illegal.
                Also, since fish and game are basically cops I would prefer they had cams too.Report

              • So those cops were charged and prosecuted – right?Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                No, but if there had been cameras they might have been.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Unless they were your friend’s cameras, in certain states, in which case he would have been arrested.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                M@TBS. It always hep’s to have a linkReport

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Mike at big stick, If you don’t believe Mr. Truman, I recommend you go to google and type in “person charged for videotaping police”.Report

              • As they (correctly) point out in the news piece, the videos (rarely) capture the whole incident. They are at best one piece of a puzzle.Report

              • Dexter – sorry about that. I was asking YOU if you were sure the cops would have been charged for what happened to your friend.Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Mike at big stick, the reason I said “they might have been charged” is because I am not positive they would have been charged. I am positive they would have thought more about the ramifications before they acted if they had cams on their shoulders. They still might have done it though.Report

              • Or they might not have because the law is on their side. So that begs the question: With everyone having a camera are they planning on trying to get cops in trouble or hoping to change the rules of engagement?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > As they (correctly) point out
                > in the news piece, the videos
                > (rarely) capture the whole
                > incident. They are at best
                > one piece of a puzzle.

                All the more reason for the cops to have their own record. Civilian video can be selectively edited to their detriment (and yeah, I’m on board with saying that selectively edited video is a problem).

                So can the cops, granted, but if everybody is taping everybody else and it is not legitimate to halt a private citizen’s video recording by police action, then it’s much more likely that both sides will have fair representation.Report

              • If both sides need to tape each other to prevent false accusations or to prove force was warranted – why not just move towards a US version of CCTV?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                It’s expensive and ineffective to tape everything?Report

              • If A) you never know when you’ll need to tape something, B) you want to capture the entire incident and C) police abuse of authority is really so problematic then the costs seem worth it. London has certainly thought so.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > If A) you never know when
                > you’ll need to tape something,
                > B) you want to capture the
                > entire incident and C) police
                > abuse of authority is really
                > so problematic then the
                > costs seem worth it.

                How is this a problem summation that isn’t solved by helmet cams or the equivalent?

                If we’re worried about the potential of *police* abuse, doesn’t “taping the police” solve this problem?

                Why tape the entire environment otherwise? Maintaining all those cameras is an asspain. Maintaining a helmet cam on a cop would be much easier (for one thing, when it breaks it reports back to the station house at the end of its shift, automatically, so you don’t have to go out and fix it in the field).

                > London has certainly thought so.

                Yeah, well, they have nationalized medicine over there, too.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                As they (correctly) point out in the news piece, the videos (rarely) capture the whole incident. They are at best one piece of a puzzle.

                And therefore taping police should be illegal? Should this recording have been illegal? Setting aside the issue of taping on the police’s side, I am struggling to understand the rationale for going after people who tape police.Report

              • Pat – but you’re putting costs and logistical issues ahead of civil liberties. The police ARE BEATING PEOPLE. So tape everything. If everything is taped the police can’t violate people’s rights. And also, with 24/7 surveillance crime rates will drop and then we save money on having a larger police force – which then pays for the cameras.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Pat – but you’re putting costs
                > and logistical issues ahead of
                > civil liberties.

                I put cost ahead of a lot of things, Mike. I’m a heartless bastard that way.

                > So tape everything. If everything
                > is taped the police can’t violate
                > people’s rights.

                Well, no.

                Some level of additional audit will reduce the probability that violations will occur.

                No level of additional audit will prevent all violations from occurring.

                Also: some level of violation will be enabled by an increased level of audit.

                This is tricky business. I think right now we can add some level of audit and increase transparency without adding too much cost and definitely without adding too much burden… and without adding too much in the way of additional civil liberty concerns. Pervasive CCTV use doesn’t add much more in the way of audit capabilities, it massively increases cost and complexity, and it enables additional civil liberty concerns.

                > And also, with 24/7 surveillance
                > crime rates will drop

                Turns out, this doesn’t work out that way (there is actually a lot of research on this, I can give you some cites if you like). Pervasive cameras have only a transitory and marginal effect on crime rates.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > A utility company can enter your
                > property, destroy things and leave
                > – and send you a bill.

                I’m not aware of a record of this occurring with any frequency. Also, to the best of my knowledge, they cannot enter my property beyond the extent required to do their job. Since the power and gas meters are accessible without going inside the fence or the house, I don’t think this would fly. If you’re worried about this exception scenario, I believe moving your gas/power meters would qualify as a minor expense on your part.

                Plus, I have a dog. In my town, you can’t get the power or utility companies to come on your property unless you’re present, if you have a loose animal.

                > EMS can forcibly transport you
                > to a hospital you did not choose.

                I don’t generally regard this as a major threat to my welfare or safety. It’s highly likely that anyone requiring both hospital care and emergency transport would be in a state of shock to some degree and I’m not certain you can make an argument that the EMTs ought to consider these people, by default, entirely in possession of their faculties.

                > Government officials can do all
                > sorts of crazy things (see Kelo
                > v. New London).

                Oh, sure. Hey, if you want to talk about increasing oversight and audit of public officials, I’m game. Let’s throw down on that one!

                > Fish & Wildlife officers can
                > enter your property whenever
                > they want and seize cars, boats,
                > etc for any manner of offense.

                Ditto property seizure laws. I would say that having an audio and video record of any attempt by any government agent to execute a warrant of seizure is included in the bag of “things that ought to be done”.

                An asset seizure can be a case where a property owner may engage in violence to protect what they believe is their property. If the seizure is executed improperly, the agents might get shot. I would think a video and audio record of the proceedings would be a benefit to the guys following the rules, wouldn’t you?

                > The military has the most freedom
                > of all because they are killing people
                > overseas (see no evil, hear no evil).
                > How long before we demand they
                > each have a camera on their helmet?

                This one is dicey. I don’t mind the idea, necessarily, but soldiers in a combat zone have a recognized need of a higher level of security than a cop does. If a trooper is shot and his camera is not recoverable, it is possible that this could fall into the hands of the enemy. Since the DoD has a demonstrated record of failing to use encryption properly, I’m okay with saying that this would have to be done with exceeding care.Report

              • Patrick – if you have a gas line running through your property then they can do whatever they want. Likewise for power and water.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:


                I would imagine such a thing requires a variance and disclosure upon property purchase, no?

                I mean, shoot, dude, if there’s a gas main running under my property and there’s a leak in it, then yes the gas company should have a right to come on my property to fix it, and take whatever safety precautions are necessary to protect them from risk of explosions and whatnot.

                I honestly don’t think that this is a case where lots of power company people exercise this authority without cause, is it?

                And anyway, you can tape your own premises already quite easily, if you’re worried about it.Report

              • Avatar JG New says:

                Not quite – legally they generally have an easement onto the property that permits them to access gas lines, power lines, etc. But if they exceed the boundaries of the easement (take a dip in your pool, say) then they’re likely to be trespassing.Report

              • Mike:

                The utility/EMS vs. police analogy is really bad. For one thing, as a practical matter, prosecutors are extremely reluctant to charge police officers with a crime, much less a crime that occurs while on duty. It’s different when there’s video evidence and the alleged crime is sufficiently high profile to make public pressure unbearable, but otherwise, no prosecutor is going to want to risk his career by filing charges against a cop. That would mean a loss of cooperation from the cops on whom the prosecutor relies for evidence and witnesses, etc. Indeed, more often than not when people do film police abuses, they suddenly find that they’re the ones getting charges filed against them by the prosecutor for some non-crime. This, again, is a systemic problem.

                Second, repeat after me: “qualified immunity.” By and large, qualified immunity isn’t going to be any kind of a defense to civil liability to the utilities or the EMS. But it’s going to be an almost insurmountable bar to civil suit in the overwhelming majority of instances of police abuse.Report

              • My (clumsy) point Mark is that there are any multitude of public officials that do shady/bad things. I’m just trying to figure out where we draw the line. Personally I have had far more problems with utility companies and the KDFWR than the police.Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    It seems like states could focus SWAT on the state level with teams spread out around the state with helo’s on call. If SWAT was really needed they could be their fast. But having to ask and justify a deployment to a different agency would hopefully create a reasonable gatekeeper.Report

    • Avatar A Teacher says:

      My one concern in over de-centralizing this is that you can easily create a situation where the State SWAT or the national guard or who ever has the firepower to deal with a very well armed group can’t get there in time. Michigan is a big state. If we need to wait for an APC to get from Lansing to Ann Arbor that’s an hour where a LOT can go wrong.

      CAG: How long until we can get another plain in the air?
      Officer: 10 minutes?
      CAG: 10 minutes? Bulls**t. This fight’s going to be over in 2 minutes.

      Personally I’d rather see it relegated to the County Level with SWAT being an additional certification that regular patrol officers can qualify for and gear up for as needed. I agree that having a SWAT team sitting in a barracks somewhere waiting to be called is a waste of resources.Report

      • Avatar A Teacher says:

        ~cough~ PLANE in the air… coffee’s still kicking in.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Like this: The State Police have stations all over the state. Each station has a SWAT team, maybe drawn from the troopers ranks, maybe drawn from nearby Sheriff & local PD ranks. Each station has the civilian equivalent of a Blackhawk helicopter, or a CH-47. Distribute so no location is more than, say, 30 minutes by helo from a Trooper station. Each station has a team on standby (doing paperwork, whatever, just close at hand). A call goes out, SWAT deploys and is on site in 30-45 minutes.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        The problem with this is that the argument doesn’t scale.

        If < 2 minutes response time is necessary for a SWAT team to get anywhere in the state, you need about 100 times the numbers of SWAT teams we have *now*. Especially in Texas, California, and Alaska :)Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:


          Well.. the Two Minutes was a reference to Top Gun and the final battle scene when Iceman/Slider are duking it out with some Migs as Maverick/ Merlin rush to the rescue…

          Wow… .apparently I’ve seen that movie too many times or I’m getting old…Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          2 minutes?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        But we don’t see SWAT teams rolling out primarily to act in a hot combat role. If they were commonly being called into save street cops who were being overwhelmed and out gunned in the middle of firefights then that would be different story. It would be like living in Iraq, not the US.Report

        • “If they were commonly being called into save street cops who were being overwhelmed and out gunned in the middle of firefights then that would be different story. It would be like living in Iraq, not the US.”

          Have you been to Baltimore? Detroit?Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            If we are talking about an emergency combat role then i can see the purpose of SWAT teams. I think the problem is that there usage has sored and they are being used for all sorts of other things like serving warrant and arrests. That is a over militarization of police work as many people have noted above.Report

            • The problem isn’t the frequency of using SWAT – it’s tactics. Using overwhelming force for even minor situations is actually much safer for the police (most police shootings occur with solitary officers). It also shouldn’t be more dangerous for the public of safe tactics are followed. It seems though that tactics need a severe revision so less dogs are being shot and less people are being roughed up.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Using overwhelming force for even
                > minor situations is actually much
                > safer for the police

                I will grant this without challenge.

                How much safer is it for the citizen? Has this ever been studied robustly?

                I’ll give you this, Mike: I don’t *know* how big of a problem police brutality/misuse of force actually is. I suspect it’s a lot more pervasive in some areas than others, too.

                Cops busting in with overwhelming force might actually result in less innocent civilians getting shot accidentally – that’s certainly possible.

                It might also be the case that it results in *more* innocent civilians getting shot accidentally. Especially gun-owning civilians who respond to violence at the door by grabbing their gun rather than freaking out and running or freezing in place.


              • I’m pretty sure the first thing the police yell when they go through the door is POLICE! Why would anyone grab their gun?Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Which is why home-invading burglars have learned to yell “Police” since before the Valentine’s Day Massacre (when the “officers” said, “Line up against this wall here”). Let’s just say it doesn’t matterReport

              • Avatar Joecitizen says:

                If your a equal opportunity shooter there will be alot less burglars and police willing to breach your doorway, or your lawn for that matter.Report

              • Wardsmith, I hate being that guy that demands linkage on a point but can you backup the claim that burglars are yelling POLICE as they invade a home? I don’t even follow the logistics of that.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                I have to agree that I think part of the use of SWAT is to develop something like a “Shock and Awe” tactic where people simply can’t process enough what’s happening to respond other than to freeze in place.

                Contrasted to a uniformed cop with a side arm where they might feel more compelled to resist, arm themselves etc.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I second what Greg is saying here. Too much emphasis is being put on quick roll-out. The primary cases I am considering are warrant executions, not the same as “calling all cars” situations. Having local “crowd control” teams within the local PD, helping keep things under control until reinforcements arrive.

          For geographically large states and/or population-dispersed such as California and Texas, you might need a little more regionalization. One team for Northern California and another team for Southern, for example. Or a team in San Antonio and another in Dallas. It doesn’t strike me as unreasonable, though, for there to be a lag between getting the warrant and busting down the door as the team drives from Sacramento to San Jose or Riverside to San Diego.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    my inaugural front page post…

    Don’t forget this means you need to do Friday Jukebox. I’m certain you’re up to the challenge.Report

  6. Avatar Robert Neville says:

    Moving control of SWAT teams to the state level or only to large cities would only cause more problems. I believe that units of government should be controlled as locally as possible to ensure the maximum amount of accountability. Also, local police departments seem likely to let situations get out of control and *then* call on the statewide SWAT instead of using them proactively.
    The increased funding and use of SWAT teams is a disturbing trend, but I don’t think the suggestions offered are likely to help.Report

  7. I seem to recall the old model was that police departments had SWAT teams that were simply on-call officers with special training. These guys worked their normal jobs by day and were only mobolized for hostage situations, etc. I really think the proliferation started with bad guys getting more serious weapons and being more willing to have shootouts with the police. Now many departments have designated SWAT officers.

    Still though, it’s important to note that SWAT was not the player in the Oakland protests. My understanding was that these were normal patrolman on riot duty. Completely different dynamic.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      … call me when they start actually _using_ the mortars they’ve got lying around.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

      “I really think the proliferation started with bad guys getting more serious weapons and being more willing to have shootouts with the police.”

      That’s true, Mike, but any way you slice it this peaked in the 80s and has been going down ever since.

      Violent crime is *way* down. Officer involved shootings are, too. The North Hollywood shootout is memorable simply because events like that are so rare.Report

      • And the police are also increasingly trying to incorporate non-lethal tactics.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

          Generally (probably surprising to some), I’m suspect I’m not a fan of non-lethal equipment. This opinion is subject to revision.

          Submission by physical force, without the use of a weapon, requires a certain amount of risk on the part of an officer. Use of a firearm as deadly force should be severely limited. I understand that there is a gap in the middle.

          It is my current understanding that a multitude of options leads to more cases of inappropriate use than not.

          If I cop feels severely threatened by a suspect, they should pull their gun. If they don’t, they should physically restrain them and cuff ’em and take ’em to the hoosegow. Giving cops the opportunity to use a billy club or a taser or a can of pepper spray or a gun is indeed giving them many options. I’m not certain that it is giving them *better* options, in practice. More study required.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            I was more suspicious of tasers until recently. At least a couple of studies have come out suggesting that in the end, they do reduce injuries by keeping the engagement more limited. Here’s some info on one by USC and another by Wake Forest (that is less about overall injuries and more about the comparative safety of them, which when you think about the alternatives makes them look not-bad in comparison).

            So, until someone can show me a contradicting study on field use, I’m tentatively sold on them.Report

          • I have only found one example so far but fatal shootings by the police are down quite a bit in NYC. Tasers? Could be.Report

  8. Avatar James K says:

    I’m a big fan of Sir Robert Peel’s principles of ethical policing. I think a lot of what goes wrong with policing (particularly in the US) is the abandonment of these principles. Numbers 4, 6 and 7 seem especially apt to this discussion.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      James K:

      You know, I’d like to think that most of these types of issues can be explained with a purely institutional analysis. And riffing off of Mark Thompson’s earlier post about UK soccer teams, I’d like to be able to say (in some kind of clear way) that the tension is between institutional practices and basic cultural norms. Often those are at odds, of course, and for a long enough time (or maybe we weren’t paying attention back in the day) cultural norms constrained the excesses of institutional decision-making.

      I mean, look at Peel’s principle #4: “The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”

      The way I look at things, if I’m reading the principle correctly, the degree of physical force deemed necessary in any particular situation is a result of lack of cooperation by the the public. But – and here’s the thing – it’s not the public that determines what constitutes ‘cooperation’ or the resulting ‘necessity’ for physical force, it’s the institution granted police powers which makes that call. And that institution will over time increasingly make that decision unilaterally, without consideration of the basic norms and principles upon which people choose to act. Sometimes the basic norms which police will view as ‘non-cooperation’ are even codified, like the right to peacefully gather to exercise first amendment speech.

      So an institutional analysis might say two things: that institutional decision-making can and over time will tend towards an increasingly narrow (read: anti-cultural) conception of the institutions own purpose, and that institutional decision-making will be primarily concerned with increasing or extending the unilateral power of the institution to act as it sees fit.

      So the issue isn’t so much the centralization of police power (it’s by definition centralized) but the persistent breakdown of other norms and competing institutions to act as a check on police power. It’s the who guards the guardians problem kicked up a notch.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        I think you’re right Stillwater. Power is corrosive to people’s moral judgement unless it is accompanied by accountability.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        I think what Peel is saying is that the more police use physical force in individual situations, the more the public will distrust the police and refuse to assist them. It’s a warning to police that their judgement regarding the appropriate use of force is, in the long term, not what matters to public perception.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    A California state SWAT team that could have occupied and held Enron headquarters back in in 2000.

    Yeas, I know it’s a bad idea. For lots of reasons.


  10. Avatar Joecitizen says:

    The concept of local citizen soldiers is lost in this day and age. The only ones that served to any degree of prevention on 911.

    Why is “doing it your damn self” such a foreign concept to people?Report

  11. Avatar Joecitizen says:

    Like i said, lost. Typical knee jerks.Report

  12. Avatar Joecitizen says:

    It so much better to fly a bunch of guys in on a slow flying bullet magnet, and drop them into a community were they don’t know the locals from the targets.Report

  13. Avatar greginak says:

    “slow flying bullet magnet”

    If the bad guys have AA weapons then SWAT isn’t really the answer. They could just as easily have AT weapons to scratch the APC’s. Then what, call in some mortars or .50’s to suppress the bad guys so SWAT can move in.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      If the criminals have enough firepower to necessitate the use of an APC then you need to call in the army, because you have officially lost control of the situation. Besides which, armoured vehicles are of little use in urban warfare. They can be defeated with very simple legionary in dense terrain.Report

  14. Avatar Joecitizen says:

    The Martin Bryant scenario shows it may be best not to wait for the police.Report

  15. @ Pat Cahalan

    And also, with 24/7 surveillance crime rates will drop

    “Turns out, this doesn’t work out that way (there is actually a lot of research on this, I can give you some cites if you like). Pervasive cameras have only a transitory and marginal effect on crime rates.”

    I don’t understand that. You are saying that hemet cams on the police would cause incidents of police abuse to decline but putting cameras on every street corner won’t cause the public to behave? That seems to be a conflicting logic.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      Actually, it’s simple. A police cam captures a very specific incident to be reviewed for later analysis. A street corner camera captures everything, usually in poor detail, and has a very limited ability to see, and almost no ability to hear. Studies in the SF showed that when a camera was installed, people who did not want to be seen doing something just moved out of view of the cameras to do it. The more cameras you install, the higher the data load & storage/processing requirements, and without any demonstrable benefit.

      Public cams are not as good or as useful as the police dramas on TV make them out to be (for instance, you can’t just zoom in on a frame and pick out a face with a little bit of help from software, digital images don’t work that way). Go ask the London police how often they prevent a crime using cams, or even find the feed from the cams useful after the fact.Report

      • So then couldn’t corrupt, citizen-beating cops just get around ‘helmet cams’ in much the same way?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          You should give them the chance to get around it.

          “Hey”, you could argue. “We don’t know why his camera went out. We should give him the benefit of the doubt when he says the bitch fell down.”Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          As Jaybird says below, the only way a cop is gonna do something his camera can’t record is to disable or tamper with the camera. If a given cop has a habit of having his camera go out right before a suspect shows up at the hospital, then you have a problem.

          As they say, once is happenstance, twice coincidence…

          third time is enemy actionReport

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        … yet a picture posted on the internet can be identified as to who and where, within an hour or so. [see chris-chan].Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          That is a result of many factors, such as:

          A) portable cameras take stills that have vastly more pixels than the typical urban surveillance camera (USC). This is because a USC has to be able to store the recorded video (22 frames per second) for a sufficiently long enough period of time to be useful for a criminal investigation. If my cellphone can capture an image of 5 MP (a common value these days), the raw image can be upwards of 40 MB, and the compressed image (which causes the loss of data) can still be upwards of 4MB. If an USC had a similar capability, the recorded feed from on 24 hour period (1,900,800 individual frames) would require between 2 & 76 Terrabytes of storage per camera/per day (and we haven’t even talked about data storage redundancy yet). So, USC use a much smaller MP value, and a very high compression ratio, in order to keep the storage requirements reasonable & affordable. This means the USC still image will not show the level of detail the typical cell phone can capture.

          B) I clean the lens of my cell phone camera every few days, same with my DSLR and pocket camera. How often do you think the city gets around to cleaning the lenses, and/or lens protectors on USCs. Trust me, they get dirty, which further degrades image quality.

          And that is just two. Wearable cameras, by the way, would be maintained after every shift, and would have much lower storage requirements.Report

  16. Avatar mclaren says:

    Silly lad. The militarization of police represents merely a small facet of the vast militarization of American society.

    Not only will the use of SWAT teams exponentiate, we can confidently look forward to SWAT teams getting deployed for jaywalking and littering. (“It was necessary for the SWAT sniper to take the jaywalker out,” announced the police spokeman, “The perp was occupying the street in a dangerous manner, presenting a clear and present danger to motorists as well as pedestrians who could have been harmed or even killed drivers swerved to avoid him.”)

    Soon enough we’ll see a gradual transition from unannounced police sobriety checkpoints to unannounced military loyalty checkpoints. The American court system will be streamlined to announce execution dates first, verdicts second, and indictments only afterwards.

    The military-police-terror-surveillance complex now controls most of the American economy and dominates all of American life. The worship of sanctioned military-police murder and the frenzied paranoia for anyone declared “subversive” will only increase from here on, never decrease. Just as the DHS has now become copyright cops for Disney and the Pittsburgh Steelers, children will in the foreseeable future rush forward to denounce their parents to the DHS and a presidential candidate will run proudly on the boast that he tortured to death suspects later proven to be innocent. Crowds will cheer as he announces “I could’ve taken the easy way out…but nothing is more than the safety of my fellow Americans! NOTHING!”

    (Lest this last prediction seem fanciful, consider that Republicans have already run a candidate for congress who boasts of torturing Iraqis.)Report