See the comment here.
I didn’t know who Peter Kraska was, so I did a quick Google search and came up with a bunch of articles by him and about him. This article both cites him and cites facts against him, and seems to encapsulate this argument pretty well.
Saying that “there have been many more mishaps involving doctors, pilots, architects, and the U.S. military that led to the deaths of innocent people” is a red herring. My argument isn’t about whether SWAT teams are relatively more or less dangerous to the population than other groups of people – it’s about their effectiveness and use relative to “normal” police officers. A more effective statement would be a comparison to beat cops, I think.
It’s true that my initial post was spurred by a TV show, and it’s an excellent point to compare a show about SWAT to news coverage of Iraq. Certainly, I don’t have all-encompassing knowledge of SWAT operations – my views are only colored by what information I can receive. But it’s not just from TV that my concern arises – it’s also comes from publications like S.W.A.T. Magazine, which have some kind of strange aura about them that’s hard for me to describe. S.W.A.T. in particular has a peculiar, arrogant, “us-vs.-them” style to it that really turned me off (and this coming from a guy who reads a lot of gun magazines, which are as a rule pedantic and arrogant in tone anyway). Certainly, that magazine can’t claim to speak for all SWAT officers, so it’s not as if it’s the “official journal of SWAT,” but one hast to think that it has some kernel of truth to it.
My only experience with a live, in-the-flesh SWAT officer was one of my instructors at WLC last fall – he was on a number of tactical teams, both as a civilian and in the military. He was friendly enough (and a good instructor), but he certainly displayed the attitude described above – this attitude of “I could break your arm in 0.5 seconds if I wanted to, but you’re not even worth my time so I’ll just laugh at your stupid jokes.”
To close, let me say that I’m not arguing against the existence or usefulness of SWAT teams in general. I think that SWAT serves a very useful and necessary function within the modern police force, and I totally agree that SWAT regularly handles situations that regular patrol officers can’t. My concern is along the lines of “when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail” – when a police force spends a large amount of money on constructing a state-of-the-art SWAT team, it needs to be used to be justified (at least in the management’s view). Thus, you get a full tactical team taking down one lousy guy with ten pounds of weed.
I was going to make some statements about the need for a departmental ROE/SOP for when to deploy a SWAT team, but I realized I was about to veer into areas of police policy of which I know nothing so I’m going to stop now.
I guess my point is this: let’s all think long and hard about when to send in SWAT, because once you start sending them out on “mundane” missions (if there is such a thing in police work), it’s hard to roll them back – the classic definition of “mission creep.”