On March 22nd, The Economist claimed U.S. police are overly militarized, relying too much and too often on raids by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units who were “originally designed to tackle only the most dangerous criminals” but are increasingly employed for a variety of situations.
According to the The Economist, the overuse of these teams creates situations like the one that took place in Los Angeles County where a SWAT team burst into the the home of 80-year old Eugene Mallory and shot him six times with a submachine gun before ever telling him to put down the weapon he was holding.
SWAT members originally said they were acting in self-defense and opened fired after telling the 80-year old engineer to drop his gun, but audio recordings of the raid proved otherwise.
The Economist quotes numbers from Eastern Kentucky University’s Peter Kraska showing that SWAT raids were once a rarity. There “were only about 3,000 in the early 1980s,” but now there are “perhaps 50,000 a year.”
The teams, “whose members wear body armor and are equipped with military-style weapons”–including submachine guns–have been used “to break up illegal poker games… to arrest people suspected of petty fraud… and to crack down on cockfighting.”
Through it all, The Economist stresses that courts have been kind to SWAT teams and tactics–allowing “no knock raids” in which a militarized group of policemen storm a home without warning.
The Economist does not argue for doing away with SWAT teams but for somehow putting them back in the role from which they once operated; deployed only when the suspect involved was “armed and dangerous” or when a simple knock on a door from a policeman would not suffice.
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