The Proliferation (And Unaccountability) of SWAT Teams

Last week, the ACLU released a study on the use of SWAT teams in the US. Radley Balko reported on the study’s key points:

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. And because these raids often involve forced entry into homes, often at night, they’re actually creating violence and confrontation where there was none before.

Don’t expect any accountability on the increased use of SWAT teams, either:

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. The ACLU, for example, found that although some police agencies in the survey were required to write after-action reports or present annual reports on the SWAT team, “internal reviews mostly pertain to proper weapons use and training and not to evaluating important civil rights implications of SWAT use.”

An egregious example of masking SWAT team activities comes from Massachusetts:

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.


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