For your convenience, here are the links to the first three articles in this series:
For those having difficulty believing Connecticut police officers would serve illegal warrants against citizens in the process of enforcing the state’s unconstitutional gun and magazine bans, consider this from Bob Owens at Bearing Arms:
Over the weekend we discussed the story of a Branford, Connecticut Police Officer expressing his desire to kick in the doors of citizens that will not comply with the state’s blatantly unconstitutional assault weapons ban.
That officer, Joe Peterson, is now under internal investigation by the Brandford Police Department and is on leave.
The Branford Police Department is–as it should–apparently taking the threat made by Peterson seriously. Considering the tension this issue is generating around the nation, that’s a smart–and professional–thing to do:
Branford Police have launched an Internal Investigation into the allegations that an officer made written comments during a Facebook conversation that has alarmed citizens after the comment was posted publicly on the Internet. The comment was made between the complainant and the officer, while off duty, during a fervent debate between the two over current and proposed gun laws.
The officer in question is Joe Peterson, who engaged in a heated debate on Facebook regarding gun control with a series of Facebook ‘friends.’
Branford police noted that the comments were made by Peterson while he was off-duty, and he has been out on an extended Workers Compensation Leave.
Chief Kevin Halloran confirmed the allegation and said, “We treat every complaint to our agency concerning our officers with the utmost of seriousness. This, like any other allegation will be thoroughly investigated and if any law, departmental rule or regulation has been violated the officer will be held accountable.
It is possible this is nothing more–on an individual basis–than a badge-heavy, off-duty officer letting his temper get away from him. Have no doubt, however, that there are many Connecticut police officers that share his desire, even though many would never publically say it. It also now appears that Peterson is under guard due to many credible death threats.
I certainly don’t agree–in any way–with threatening police officers with death, but the threats do serve to emphasize the seriousness with which Connecticut citizens–and many other Americans–take the unconstitutional and threatening behavior of Connecticut politicians and police officers that would violate their oaths of office, particularly those that make their aggressive desires public.
SWAT AND THE MILITARIZATION OF THE POLICE:
Over the last three decades, SWAT teams have become more and more common in law enforcement organizations (LEOs), large and small, across the nation. In many cases, teams are established to meet real or perceived needs. In some, they are a matter of institutional prestige, a sort of law enforcement “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.” This trend has, unfortunately, sometimes produced teams in search of missions rather than teams who respond to a predictable number of legitimate missions.
It has also diverted attention away from the original, valid purpose of SWAT teams. They exist because day-to-day patrol forces are generally not prepared, in training, experience, or equipment, to deal with more complex tactical situations. The classic SWAT callout is a barricaded hostage taker who will usually be talked out by a skilled negotiator without a shot being fired. The most likely alternative is ending the situation by means of a single shot fired by a police marksman. A less common alternative is a “dynamic entry” by a heavily armed and armored entry team. In such cases, the likelihood of suspects or police officers being injured or killed is dramatically increased. The real problem is that such tactics also greatly increase the probability of innocents being injured or killed. The Cato Institute has published a map of botched SWAT actions —available here— that illustrates the problem. By all means, take the link and avail yourself of the interactive features of the updated map.
There are situations that require equipment, knowledge, training, and abilities that a patrol force simply does not have. Throwing unprepared, untrained officers into such situations virtually guarantees that they — and others — will be unnecessarily injured or killed. A SWAT team arriving to serve a warrant or to deal with any situation, by its very nature, always represents a substantial escalation in force and danger, not only for citizens, but for the police. Police supervisors and administrators must be experienced and smart enough to know when they can’t handle a situation and when they must back away and try more subtle tactics rather than charging blindly ahead. They must resist the often overpowering police tendency to “do something,” regardless of the potential consequences.
Traditionally, SWAT teams were used only for the most demanding and dangerous situations: very high risk warrants–usually involving known and violent drug criminals–and hostage situations. But as teams became more and more common, and even small agencies began to establish them, they were given tasks that had traditionally been handled by a detective or two and a few patrol officers.
In the past, a detective needing to serve a search warrant to look for stolen property–for example–particularly if he had no real reason to expect a violent response, would enlist a few patrol officers, carefully choose the time most advantageous to him, and while one officer watched the people present, would use the other officer or two to search. Now, entire SWAT teams are commonly thrown into situations that would have been easily and inexpensively handled by experienced detectives and patrol officers.
A poorly chosen, poorly trained, and underequipped SWAT team is in many ways even more dangerous than patrol officers who have gotten in over their heads. SWAT teams will commonly be used in situations that are even more inherently dangerous than those faced by cops out of their depth — situations that require a very high level of training and skill. All too often, SWAT teams do not have either.
The Jose Guerena Case: How Not To Do It
Perhaps the best example of how not to do a SWAT mission is the Jose Guerena Case in Tucson. On the morning of May 5, 2011, a joint SWAT team with officers from four local agencies, performed a drug raid at the home of Jose Guerena, a two combat tour Marine veteran. Guerena was then working in a local copper mine.
My first article in what would become a series that continues to this day includes a link to the 54-second police video of the botched raid, during which officers smashed in Guerena’s front door and unleashed a barrage of 71 rounds, 22 of which hit Guerena. The rest perforated his home from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. The hapless officers also managed to shoot up the door, door frame and wall surrounding the front door in which they were actually standing. During the fusillade, their shield man somehow ended up on his ass on the ground, facing outward to the street. It is a miracle that they did not shoot themselves or Guerena’s wife and son. They denied Guerena medical attention for more than an hour, ensuring that he bled out and died. There would be no one to contest their version of events.
Guerena–knowing only that his wife had seen armed men in his yard–was holding a scoped AR-15. The officers–who almost certainly could not see Guerena (read the series) initially claimed he fired at them, and several claimed to have seen muzzle flashes, but when they discovered he never took his weapon off safe, their stories rapidly changed and continued to change until the settlement.
If you want to better understand better how SWAT teams should and should not operate, and what happens when they make deadly mistakes, read all of the articles in the Guerena case archive. The most recent has a somewhat happy ending: Vanessa—Jose’s wife–won a $3.4 million dollar settlement.
Better yet: the warrant for the search was invalid and dishonest and has been sealed by the judge that signed it. Despite the case being long over and settled, it remains under seal. Awakened from a sound sleep and wearing only boxer briefs, Jose–who had no criminal record–did not fire a single shot at the officers, and not so much as a marijuana seed–or any other evidence of a crime–was found in his home. Sadly, the Guerena case is far from a rare example of SWAT incompetence.
It is a tragic and maddening example of SWAT overkill. In that case, a few officers could have merely stopped and spoken with Guerena as he left or arrived at his home, competently served the warrant, and no one would have been hurt. Instead, they chose to escalate what could have been routinely handled by a few competent officers into the disastrous murder of an innocent man.
It will be no surprise to learn that the local agencies investigated themselves and discovered that not only did they make no mistakes, but were shining examples of SWAT glory from one of the finest SWAT teams in the nation. If so, God help us all.
SWAT teams present enormous problems for police administrators. They are, particularly for smaller police departments, very expensive, not only in terms of dollar outlay for necessary equipment, which can easily exceed $20,000 per operator, but in terms of consumables, such as ammunition, and man-hour replacement. Training costs are also very high, and often continually incurred. As a result, many teams are badly under-trained and lack proficiency in essential individual and team skills.
To learn and maintain necessary skills, SWAT teams must regularly practice together. Forming a team from the ranks of a single LEO usually requires assigning officers from most bureaus; several detectives, several supervisors, patrol officers, etc. When the team trains, those officers aren’t available for their regular duties, and many have to be replaced, often by calling in other officers at overtime rates to work extra shifts. Patrol officers already do more than their share of this sort of thing without SWAT contributing to the problem. This not only strains already tight manpower budgets, but contributes to illness and stress among those who have to fill in and, as a result, lose sleep and time with their families.
Few LEOs have in their ranks officers with the experience and knowledge necessary to properly train a SWAT team, which includes not only the function and command of the entire team, but the specialized individual skills necessary for each officer. This means that outside instructors must either be frequently brought in to instruct the team, or that the entire team must be sent to highly specialized–and highly expensive–facilities. In either case, this is a very expensive proposition — again, not only for the high dollar costs involved, but the time that officers will be away from their duties.
One of the largest expenses is ammunition. A thousand rounds of .223 rifle ammunition commonly costs, even with police discount pricing, $500 or more, and handgun ammunition is only slightly less expensive when it’s available at all. Match quality rifle ammunition for marksmen is amazingly expensive. The problem is that a properly trained and maintained SWAT team can — and should — go through far more ammunition than the rest of the LEO combined. A 100 man LEO might shoot 5,000 rounds a year in qualifying its officers. A 20 man SWAT team can easily shoot that much in a single day of training if for no other reason than that their minimum qualification standards must be much higher and more exacting than those required of a regular police force.
Why is all of this necessary? SWAT teams, if properly chosen and trained, are expected to be smarter, faster, stronger, and much more capable of exercising rapid and correct judgment under pressure than the average officer. They don’t exist to produce overwhelming volumes of fire. They are not supposed to be poorly trained conscripts, wildly firing their automatic weapons in hopes of hitting something.
Professionals do not expect — or hope — to shoot someone whenever they are called out. True professionals consider having to shoot a failure. They know that sometimes they will have no choice. When they do have to use deadly force, they are expected to use it only when absolutely necessary, and with cool precision, absolute accuracy, and immediate effect. In a situation where an average officer might have no option but to shoot, a SWAT officer is expected to be able to take the extra fractions of a second necessary to consider other options before shooting. They are expected, through experience, planning, and superior execution, to turn every situation to their tactical advantage to absolutely minimize the danger to the public in any situation. Again, this is not always possible, but a properly trained SWAT team will experience far fewer such situations than an under-trained team, or a patrol force. The best and most dangerous — to the bad guys — SWAT weapon is always the flexible brains of the officers.
Remember: Whenever SWAT is called in, the danger for everyone involved–including the officers–is greatly increased.
And therein is another significant problem. SWAT teams are prestige builders for a LEO, not only for administrators, but for officers. In police work, the only way to significantly increase one’s income and prestige is to gain rank, to move away from actual police work into supervision and administration.
There are several alternate routes to prestige and somewhat greater pay, such as becoming a detective, but SWAT assignment is an enormous and shiny prestige badge for any police officer in any assignment or rank, even if there is no additional stipend, which is the case in many agencies. Unfortunately, some officers assigned SWAT duty experience a swelling of the ego far greater than their demonstrated experience and ability. Some begin to believe that since they are assigned to a SWAT team, they must be something special. Sometimes that’s true. Often, it’s not. Refer to the 54 second video of the Guerena raid to refresh your memory, paying particular attention to the special fellow that rushed in at the last minute to fire off “me too” rounds between the heads of his paralyzed compatriots.
There is virtually always an undercurrent of the “bigger and better toys will solve all problems” thinking. Unfortunately, an unjustifiably aggressive attitude, pseudo-military weapons, uniforms and tacticool gadgets cannot substitute for skill, experience and honorable dedication.
Ideally, officers chosen for a SWAT team should be those with the greatest experience in the necessary skills. They should be among the most fit, most intelligent, most capable of learning and most capable of adapting quickly. They should be excellent shots and mentally flexible and stable. A touch of genuine humility can’t hurt either. Daily rank should have no bearing on their assignments. A new police officer with military combat experience may be the best person for a supervisory or even a command position on a SWAT team. The same might be true of an officer who has spent considerable personal time and money building those skills by attending professional schools, particularly when compared with a Lieutenant whose primary qualification is his expert riding of a desk for years.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way things are usually done. Supervisory and command positions are given to people who have those positions in their daily duties. As a result, a substantial number have little or no experience or skill. Few cops have the maturity or self-assurance to take orders from a younger officer, or an officer that will make them look bad by comparison. It’s not unusual to find a young combat veteran, an expert in small unit tactics and weapons, making coffee and sandwich runs for a command center or manning a distant point on a outer perimeter where his most challenging duty is keeping reporters at bay.
It’s not uncommon for officers with reputations for aggression and violence to be given SWAT positions. It’s also not unusual for officers to be given positions as a reward for strict adherence to the party line and performance beyond and above the call of duty in ass-kissing.
I know of a SWAT team that chose its snipers by means of a single qualification using several AR-15s with cheap scopes. They would give a candidate one of the ARs–which were absolutely not sighted in for them–and have them shoot at a target. Several excellent rifle shots only managed to get a few shots on the paper, and that only by treating the rifle as an artillery piece. They fired downrange watching where shots hit the dirt berm near the target–one long, one short, one left, one right, and were thereby eventually able to fire for effect. One of the few chosen was a detective who didn’t own a rifle or a handgun other than his issued weapon. He had no prior shooting skills at all. Fortunately, he was never called on to shoot in anger and eventually lost interest and left the team.
Imagine the spouses of the tellers in a bank where robbery gone bad has turned into a hostage situation. The SWAT team that responds may be seasoned professionals, or ill-trained but well-meaning cops. The officers coming through the front door of the bank with their spiffy MP5 submachine guns may be expert with them, or their last qualification with the weapons may have been more than a year ago, and they may not be sure with which weapon they qualified, therefore, they may have no real idea where its bullets will strike if they pull the trigger. They may be good shots with their CAR-15s, but in the heat of the moment, forget that at close range, their weapons will shoot 3” or so below the high sightline. That’s only one of the great dangers of occasional training.
Well-meaning administrators, looking for ways to build and maintain morale, might consider establishing a SWAT team, often without truly considering the real costs. And once a team is established, properly trained or not, there is enormous institutional and political pressure to keep it and use it. Politicians who are funding a team may demand to know why it’s not being used more often without really understanding why such a team exists and under what circumstances it should be used.
One way to better manage costs is to establish multi-LEO teams, taking officers from each LEO. In the Guerena shooting, the team was comprised of officers from four separate LEOs. This can reduce the overall costs to each agency, but usually causes many other problems. Who will command the team? Who will have the most prestigious assignments (officers generally consider those to be snipers and the entry team)? Who will get the best equipment? How will the schedules of multiple LEOs be reconciled for training? Whose use of force policies and procedures will prevail? How will costs be split when lawsuits are filed? How will officers be chosen for the team? Who is responsible for discipline? These and many more issues can prevent a team from functioning properly and can even tear it apart.
There is also a problem of a lack of familiarity among officers. If the SWAT commander is from the Smithville PD, and detectives from the Jones County Sheriff’s Office come to him with a hot mission, can he trust them? He doesn’t know them or their reputations, but will feel great pressure to take them at their word. Perhaps he shouldn’t, but he has no real way of knowing.
On the state level, which is the most likely scenario for Connecticut and similar states, SWAT teams are often comprised of officers from around the state. In some cases, most officers are assigned in or close to a central location to make callouts and training easier to accomplish, but since they could travel throughout the state, callout response is often anything but rapid. School attacks, for instance, are virtually always over long before any SWAT team can mobilize, arrive, plan and act.
However, in cases of raids, this is generally not an issue. Once the team is assembled, it can travel as a group to its designated targets, which is the most likely scenario in Connecticut. A CSP SWAT team would likely plan multiple raids in various cities, hitting as many as possible before moving on to other communities.
Some pundits have suggested that if and when Connecticut authorities begin to raid individual homes, they’ll be too smart to use SWAT teams, preferring instead to use smart tactics like I’ve explained here. A few professional officers handling things would help to eliminate danger and defuse hot tempers, they suggest.
Unfortunately, I suspect those authorities are not nearly smart enough and that there are more than enough aggressive officers willing and anxious to stage SWAT raids. Combine that with a majority of politicians outraged that mere citizens would dare defy their commands, and there may be no cooler heads to prevail. Consider the comments of Governor Dannel Malloy at a recent town hall meeting who, smirking, told a citizen “I think you have a point of view,” adding that his point of view “doesn’t reflect reality.”
Malloy told a constituent who asked about the constitutionality of the gun registration law, ‘One court has already decided… courts are where the constitutionality of these things are decided.’
‘You’ve thrown that term around,’ Malloy said with a smirk, speaking of the term ‘constitutional.’ ‘It’s gone to the court, and guess what? You lost.
That doesn’t sound like a man whose primary concern is upholding his oath of office or looking out for the welfare of any citizen that happens to disagree with him about trivial matters like the Constitution.
The powder keg will not explode at the first SWAT gun raid. Perhaps not even the tenth. It will not explode at the first death of a citizen, perhaps not the tenth, and the more raids that are completed without serious resistance or injury to SWAT team members, the bolder they will become, the more invincible they–and their political masters–will feel.
Americans are slow to anger, but once awakened, their wrath is terrible, and most SWAT teams will be no match for them. This is so partly because few teams are truly as capable and proficient as they imagine themselves to be. But more importantly, as I’ve noted earlier in this series, the only reason the police can function and survive is that most people, most of the time, are willing to obey the law and honor the social contract. The ranks of the police are everywhere pitifully small. To do their jobs, they rely on the good will and cooperation of citizens. Without that willing cooperation, they don’t stand a chance.
Citizens that have lost loved ones in paramilitary police raids will not react kindly, nor will the police be their only targets. Such bereaved, enraged citizens won’t be alone.
The primary question remaining is whether Connecticut politicians and police are smart enough to understand that there truly are lines they dare not cross.
We shall know soon enough.
The final article in this series, to be posted on or about Saturday, 03-29-14, will deal with law relating to use of force, search warrants, and similar matters. I hope to see you there.