More on the Columbia SWAT Raid
The SWAT raid on Jonathan Whitworth’s Columbia home — which ended with both of his dogs shot, one dead, and Whitworth pleading guilty to a misdemeanor paraphernalia charge — is generating a great deal of interest both in Missouri and nationally. The best national coverage of the story that I’ve seen so far is Andrew Napolitano’s discussion with Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid and local talk radio host Mike Ferguson. I highly encourage you to watch it:
I certainly agree with McDavid that it is inappropriate to use SWAT teams for nonviolent crimes — but, unfortunately, that is not one of the reforms already implemented by the Columbia Police Department. That said, the department is moving in the right direction, even if not quickly enough for my taste. New regulations for SWAT raids include: an order that search warrants be served within a “reasonable” period (usually eight hours) after they are issued; eliminating the power for the SWAT commander or narcotics sergeant to order such a raid, instead requiring a department captain’s order; and, continual surveillance of the area to be searched before the raid to ensure that the intelligence is correct and that, say, the suspect’s young child is not in the home.
I think there are three major policies missing from these reforms. First, there should be a public record of every instance in which a SWAT team is used, and for what purpose. Without such a record, it will be impossible for the public to hold the police department accountable for any departures from the other policies. (I contacted the Columbia Police Department earlier today to ask whether such a record exists, or whether it will be required in the future, but have not heard back from them yet.) Second, there is no change to the department’s policy on using lethal force against animals. They could consider using non-lethal methods of subduing an animal, such as pepper spray. At the very least, though, a more thorough definition of “aggressive” behavior seems warranted. Finally, the use of SWAT-style raids should be legally confined to violent situations. Unless officers can prove that there is a high probability that the suspect is armed and likely to resist, a SWAT raid designed to confuse and terrify is more likely to lead to violence than prevent it.
It is again worth mentioning that events like this are hardly isolated incidents. Just last month, a police officer in Bellefontaine Neighbors in North Saint Louis County shot and killed a dog under the false impression that it was a different dog that had been reported to be vicious and on the loose. The state of Missouri should institute stricter guidelines for both SWAT teams and the use of lethal force (even against domestic animals) in order to avoid tragedies like these in the future.