Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Government secrecy v. transparency in re: SWAT raids

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Radley Balko has a good column today on transparency for the use of military force against citizens, aka SWAT raids. He writes:

Maryland was the first state in the country to pass a SWAT transparency bill. The bill came in 2011 after a botched SWAT raid on the home of Cheye Calvo, who happens to be the mayor of the town of Berwyn Heights. (Amazing how quickly the political class gets interested in an issue once that issue hits a member of the political class.) The law required every police agency in the state that has a SWAT team to report how often it used the team, for what purpose, what was found, and whether any shots were fired.

Thanks to the bill, we eventually learned that there are about 4.5 SWAT raids per day in Maryland alone, and that the vast majority of them are for what the FBI classifies as “misdemeanors and non-serious felonies” — meaning low-level drug crimes. The law put no restrictions at all on the use of SWAT teams. It only required transparency about the frequency of their use. Yet it was still opposed by every police group in the state.

But the law also included a sunset provision, and it eventually expired.Since then, Utah passed a similar bill and is currently the only state in the country that requires regular reporting on the use of SWAT teams.

But the Maryland legislature is considering a new bill, and this one would require the reporting of even more information. The website Maryland Legislative Watch lays out some of the new provisions:

  • The number of times the SWAT team was activated and deployed by the agency in the previous six months;
  • The name of the county and/or municipality and zip code of the location where the team was deployed for each activation;
  • The reason for each activation and deployment, as specified;
  • The legal authority, including type of warrant, if any, for each activation and deployment; and
  • The result of each activation and deployment, including
    (1) the age, gender, and race of any individual encountered;
    (2) the number of arrests made, if any, and for what charges;
    (3) a list of any controlled substances, weapons, contraband, or evidence of crime found;
    (4) whether the SWAT team was deployed to the correct address;
    (5) whether the SWAT team announced its presence and requested entry;
    (6) whether a forcible entry was made and in what manner;
    (7) whether a weapon was discharged by a SWAT team member;
    (8) whether a civilian used or threatened to use a weapon against a law enforcement officer; and
    (9) whether a person or domestic animal was injured or killed by a SWAT team member.

Regardless of how you feel about SWAT teams, they are an incredibly violent and potentially dangerous use of government force. At the very least, we should have as much information as possible about how often they’re used, why they’re used, against whom they’re used and what happens during and after their use.

Read the Maryland House bill here, and the state Senate bill here.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2015 at 4:58 pm

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