Thursday, March 4, 2010

SWAT Teams: Non-Proportional Response

This one requires some back story (story here, and it's a disturbing read, though I suggest you do so).  The short version is below:

In 2008, a drug dog at the post office sniffed out some marijuana in a box addressed to the residence of one Cheye Calvo.  The police delivered the box to the doorstep, then waited until Cheye, coming back from walking his two dogs, found the package and brought it into the house.  A SWAT team followed after him, kicking in his front door, shooting his two black labs dead (one as it ran away), and leaving him and his wife handcuffed on the floor for hours while they trashed his house looking for illegal substances.  After destroying his home and killing his pets, the police left with one piece of evidence:  the very box of marijuana they had placed on his doorstep in the first place.

You see, Calvo was the mayor of the town.  Additionally, the police had long been aware that drug dealers were shipping their drugs through the post office to unwitting homeowners, hoping to snatch the package off their doorstep before the residents were aware it had ever been there.  And if that wasn't bad enough, not only did the police apparently do no research before strapping on their automatic weapons and kicking in Calvo's door, but they outright lied afterwards about what had happened in an attempt to save face (Luckily for Calvo, a local police officer had arrived on the scene to see what all the fuss was about, and stuck around just to make sure the truth wasn't lost in the shuffle). The sheriff has since refused to admit that any mistake was made, or that any policy corrections needed to take place.

In the wake of this incident, Calvo used his story, over the strenuous objections of law enforcement, to get a bill passed that would force the police to release statistics detailing how many times the SWAT team was used, and in what capacity.  Think the misuse of the SWAT team in Calvo's case was an isolated incident?  Think again. The first results were released earlier this week.

The SWAT teams of Maryland were sent out an average of 4.5 times a day (806 raids in 6 months). While SWAT teams were originally created to deal with high risk situations such as bank robberies and hostage taking,  94% of those 806 raids were used to serve simple search and arrest warrants.  When did heavily-armed, no-knock raids become so pervasive in our society, especially for minor criminal offenses such as suspected drug possession?

The notion of "better that ten guilty men go free, than one innocent suffer" is quickly being replaced by "better that a few innocent people and their pets are shot dead, than a stoner is allowed to flush his stash before the police can nab him".

Scary stuff.

More Related Reading Here:
1. The Agitator: Ex-Cop Chides Calvo for Questioning the Cops Who Nearly Killed Him
2. Reason: SWAT Team Endangers Child, Parents Charged With Child Endangerment
3. Cato: Wrong Door

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