SWAT gone Wild: SWAT and the Drug War

SWAT

Stanley-Jones was shot in the head during a raid at her home.
Stanley-Jones was shot in the head during a raid at her home. | Source
Cheye Calvo and his wife mourning their beloved pets.
Cheye Calvo and his wife mourning their beloved pets. | Source
SWAT in action.
SWAT in action. | Source

The Drug War Gone Wild

It’s summer time and that means I’m back blogging. My goal this year is to blog for 365 days. These blogs, I hope, will take the form of writing, videos, and photos. Wish me luck and I hope to hear from you!

One of the things that I love about being a teacher and taking off for the summer is the ability to catch up on some of the issues that confront us on a daily basis. Today, I am watching the SWAT franchise of shows on cable. The first show was about the city of Detroit and the second show was shot in Dallas. As I watch this, it is curious to me how many times these people are deployed for drug warrants.

Research shows that SWAT teams in the Baltimore area are deployed 4.5 times a day and that only 6% of those are for violent offenders, barricades, bank robberies, and hostage situations. 94% of these deployments are for drug warrants and misdemeanor warrants and most did not involve weapons or violent offenders.

Cheye Calvo, the Mayor of Berwyn Heights in the Baltimore area found out the hard way what one of these visits can be like. A ring of marijuana dealers had hatched a scheme where they would send pounds of pot to unsuspecting people and then pick them when they were delivered. One such package was sent to the Mayor’s wife.

The police tracked the package from Arizona and pounced on the Calvo’s mother-in-law as she picked the package up. The SWAT team shot Calvo’s two Labrador Retrievers and held he and his mother-in-law in handcuffs for hours.

About six years ago, I was driving home from Riverside and a I noticed a Riverside Sheriff’s car ahead of me. There was another car directly in front of me. I was behind the cop, but in the opposite lane and they looked at me. The driver pulled over to the median of the street, waited until I passed, and then pulled in behind me. I wrote extensively about the stop here, but it turned out that I was being profiled for a fugitive warrant arrest by members of the Riverside County SWAT team. The members that stopped me with their hands on their weapons were from Indio, which is 65 miles from Moreno Valley. I mention this because I was later told by his supervisor who he was and what he was doing.

There are two issues here. One is the need to continue to drive the failed policies behind the war on drugs and the other is the need to protect the public from dangerous criminals. The question we should be asking is do we need to be using special tactical units to serve warrants on drug dealers? Yes, some drug dealers are violent but statistics show that most are non-violent offenders. This year alone, we have spent over almost $19 billion dollars on the drug war. Multiply that by the number of years that we have been fighting this war and it will blow your mind.

There are reasons to have SWAT units. They should be trained and used for violent criminals, but we are using them to take down non-violent criminals. One episode I watched showed the team whiffing on several searches. In another episode, the team performed as it was designed to take down a suspected murderer who had vowed never to go back to prison.

However, more often SWAT teams end up arresting people for non-violent crimes. There are times when they have ended up at the wrong address and people have been killed and property destroyed. Just a few weeks ago that same Detroit SWAT team accidentally shot 7-year-old girl in a raid that was successful in bringing down an alleged murderer. SWAT is a necessity but using a highly volatile tactical team in serving regular and misdemeanor warrants is dangerous and inefficient.

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