Coming Soon: Using Tanks to Collect on Parking Tickets!
Video of a February SWAT raid in Columbia was recently released and has been causing something of an uproar. The article accompanied by the video on the Columbia Daily Tribune‘s website currently has over 450 comments, most of them disapproving of the police officers’ tactics, which included shooting suspect Jonathan Whitworth’s two dogs while his wife and young son were present. I doubt many people would complain if the police employed such aggressive tactics in response to a hostage situation or a bank robbery, but all the police had to show for the violence was a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and paraphernalia.
Regardless of your opinions about marijuana, I think we can all agree that it is an inappropriate use of force to call out the SWAT team for misdemeanor offenses. Granted, the police argue that they suspected Whitworth was selling marijuana, and it is certainly possible that they were right but happened to raid his house when he was essentially sold out. However, the fact that the police department’s intelligence indicated that Whitworth’s son was not present when, in fact, he lived there suggests that they did not really do their homework on the case.
This case highlights the need for greater information about the use of SWAT raids in Missouri, but it is hardly an isolated incident. Cheye Calvo is the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md., and in 2008 the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department deployed a SWAT team to his house after a package containing drugs meant for someone else was delivered to his house. In that case, as well, the officers shot and killed Calvo’s dogs, two Labrador retrievers. (They always seem to shoot the dogs.) Calvo fought back and was instrumental in passing a law in Maryland that requires all police departments in the state to report when and why they deploy SWAT teams. The results so far in Maryland have not been encouraging:
Over the last six months of 2009, SWAT teams were deployed 804 times in the state of Maryland, or about 4.5 times per day. In Prince George’s County alone, with its 850,000 residents, a SWAT team was deployed about once per day. According to a Baltimore Sun analysis, 94 percent of the state’s SWAT deployments were used to serve search or arrest warrants, leaving just 6 percent in response to the kinds of barricades, bank robberies, hostage takings, and emergency situations for which SWAT teams were originally intended.
If Missouri police uses SWAT forces for similar purposes, we have a right to know and a duty to do something about it.