Magazine | November 17, 2014, Issue


The Inherent Danger of SWAT Teams

Regarding Jay Nordlinger’s piece “A Job Like No Other” (September 22): I certainly sympathize with the police in general. It’s a necessary and difficult job. The problem is that, owing in part to the “war on drugs,” many police departments have become “militarized,” by which I mean not that they use military equipment (in itself questionable) so much as that they use military tactics. Take SWAT teams, for example. There certainly are times when a SWAT-team approach — entering a home unannounced, often in the small hours of the morning, with guns drawn and killing pet dogs as a matter of course — is justified and necessary. But as in the old saw that “when you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” some police departments are making far too much use of SWAT tactics; we read about SWAT teams’ being used as process servers, and of raids (sometimes with fatal results) on the wrong address. These stories are far more common than they should be. The prank (or payback?) tactic of “SWATting” someone — making an anonymous 911 call that sends a SWAT team to the victim’s address, resulting in unannounced, forceful entry and potential danger to innocent people from tense police and frightened residents — makes matters worse. Unfortunately, some police departments react with SWAT tactics before checking to see whether those tactics are justified or making sure that they have the correct address, etc.

Good, careful police work would make many SWAT raids unnecessary. In my opinion, the risks of accidental and collateral damage are too great to recommend the current frequent use of SWAT tactics. The bad publicity generated from this approach to law enforcement does not improve the public’s opinion of the police.

Brooks Lyman

West Groton, Mass.

Corrections: In “Forget the Alamo” (October 20), William Barret Travis’s name was misspelled as “William Barrett Travis.” In “The Week” (November 3) Wendy Davis was said to be in a “Texas Senate race,” when in fact she is running for governor of Texas.

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