What is perhaps even more troubling is that these incidents parallel the evolution of local police departments into veritable paramilitary units. I first wrote about this in an article back in 1995, in which I warned about the dangers if “peace officers” became indistinguishable from the military, as they are in most tyrannical dictatorships.
It started in the 1960s with the development of special units within the police departments of major cities, in part as a response to a number of high-profile police shootouts, as well as to the social unrest of the times. In fact, one of the very first SWAT operations involved the Black Panthers.
But today, it seems that even tiny rural towns are developing their own SWAT teams, complete with paramilitary gear unthinkable in frontier days. Imagine if Wyatt Earp had asked the town council for several Gatling guns to “protect” Tombstone.
The first SWAT teams appeared in California, probably the most well-known being the Los Angeles unit. What is particularly interesting is that the acronym originally meant “Special Weapons Assault Team” but, in an early example of “political correctness,” was changed because the public reacted negatively to the term.
SWAT teams were originally envisioned as a law enforcement “scalpel” to be used only in very limited circumstances (like hostage situations or active shooter scenarios). But there are now 50,000 SWAT operations each year, ranging from investigation of white collar fraud to raiding poker games, and too often, resulting in the shooting of unarmed participants. (Suggestion: Do a web search for “SWAT excessive force.”)
Not surprisingly, a number of these incidents have resulted in lawsuits, some with multi-million dollar awards. This is understandable, because unless the subject of a warrant is a known—or at the very least, a suspected violent offender—the use of such force is problematic to most civilian juries.
These events have also brought together groups as diverse as the CATO Institute, a conservative libertarian think-tank, and the ultra-liberal ACLU. It seems that most people, regardless of their political persuasion, are not overjoyed at the prospect of having a team of heavily armed, helmeted guys in flak vests smashing in their doors, especially when it might happen for no other reason than they happened to own a gun.
But a recent incident in Iowa should send chills down the spines of legal carry permit holders. In this case, a warrant regarding credit card fraud was served by a SWAT team. Yet, authorities have no problem with it:
“Ankeny police are defending the raid, saying they needed to use that approach to protect officers’ safety. Ankeny police Capt. Makai Echer said officers knew at least one person in the house had a permit to carry a firearm.” [Emphasis ours.]
I know, such cases are invariably more complicated than early press reports indicate, and this is not a knock on all cops. But even my law enforcement friends agree that when merely “having guns in the house” or having a legal permit is considered sufficient grounds for a SWAT raid, we clearly have a problem.
We should all be very concerned.