The American Police State
Radley Balko reports on a new ACLU report on SWAT teams.
62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs. …
In other words, where violent, volatile SWAT tactics were once used only in limited situations where someone was in the process of or about to commit a violent crime — where the police were using violence only to defuse an already violent situation — SWAT teams today are overwhelmingly used to investigate people who are still only suspected of committing nonviolent consensual crimes.
As Balko noted in his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, once SWAT teams were created, they needed to be justified by use. The lack of actual SWAT-worthy situations was conveniently circumvented by the war on drugs.
SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
For all the talk about affirmative action, poverty, etc., I think the war on drugs is the greatest civil rights issue of our era.
The report also finds almost no outside oversight on the use of SWAT tactics… The decision to send the SWAT team is often made by the SWAT commander or by fairly low-ranking officials within a police agency. Consequently, factors such as using the minimum amount of force necessary or the civil rights of the people who may be affected by the raid often aren’t taken into consideration.
That’s surprising, from an administrative procedure perspective, but it explains a lot about how SWAT teams actually operate.
But here’s the part that disturbs me most. A SWAT team arguing that it doesn’t have to comply with an open records request because it’s a private corporation. Really.
As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments…
Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests. Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.
One of the complaints on my student evaluations was that “Dr. Hanley shouldn’t criticize the police. My uncle is a state patrolman and I found it really offensive.” Maybe that student’s uncle is one of the good guys. I have a former student who’s in the state police, and I think he’s probably one of the good guys. But SWAT teams? They’re not the good guys. Maybe they were once, but now they are enemies of the public.
[Image source: Police State USA]