SWAT teams arose as a result of the violence and civil unrest which began during the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965. The LAPD formed the first SWAT Team in 1969 and a SWAT Team was first deployed against a cell of the militant Black Panthers in 1969. Initially there were relatively few SWAT Teams but their numbers have multiplied partly as a tool for the War on Drugs and then for the War on Terror. In the 1970’s there were less than a thousand such units in the U.S. but now 80% of U.S. cities with more than 25,000 people have a SWAT Team. This explosion in paramilitary police has seen the number of SWAT Team raids in America increase from a few thousand in the 1980’s to approximately 50,000 during 2005.
Police SWAT Teams have raided poker games in garages, basements and VFW halls where illegal gambling was suspected. There have been dozens of these raids reported in many American cities. A SWAT Team was deployed to the office of an optometrist in Fairfax, Va. whose only crime was discussing some bets with friends in a bar on college football games. This raid resulted in the death of the optometrist as he was “accidentally shot in the heart” by a SWAT Team member. There are at least 50 documented cases where innocent people were killed during raids to enforce warrants for drugs or gambling. These victims include Kathrine Johnston a 92 year old lady killed by an Atlanta narcotics team member following a bad tip from an informant; Eurie Stamps killed in a 2011 raid at his home in Framingham, Mass., when a team member said his gun “mistakenly discharged.” Mr. Stamps wasn’t even a suspect in the investigation. Alberto Sepulveda, an 11- year old boy was accidentally shot by a California SWAT Team during a 2000 drug raid.
This alarming increase in the use of special police teams as modern day vice units is based on the false belief that increased use of force and violence against citizens is justified no matter what the alleged law violation. The leaders of our police forces and local governments must recognize that SWAT Teams and continued militarization of police will continue to be a serious problem in society. Not only is the over use of police paramilitary teams dangerous to the targeted citizen it is also dangerous to the police. There are documented incidents where police officers were mistaken as assailants and fired on. In the case of Matthew David Stewart which occurred on Jan. 4, 2012 in Ogden, Utah at 8:40 p.m. 12 officers from a local narcotics strike team raided Stewart’s home. Mr. Stewart fired 31 rounds and claimed the police did not properly announce themselves before using a battering ram to knock down his door while the police fired more than 250 rounds. Six officers were wounded and one was killed in the firefight. Mr. Stewart was charged with Capital murder but hanged himself in jail after his Motion to Suppress the Search Warrant was denied. The strike force was acting on a tip that Mr. Stewart had marijuana growing in his basement. The police found 16 small marijuana plants after the raid was concluded. Mr. Stewart a U.S. military veteran had no prior criminal record. Further, there was no evidence Mr. Stewart had ever sold marijuana but rather was self-medicating since he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says: “He who throws the first blow has run out of good ideas.” These words should be written into the manuals of every SWAT Team in America. Local governments and police chiefs should recognize that unnecessary and unreasonable use of force by warrior cops causes violence to and from our citizens.