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Time to limit the use of SWAT teams

By Scott Tibbs, October 12, 2011

Imagine this scenario: Agents of the state storm a home in the middle of the night. They toss a flash bang grenade in through the window, and break into the home holding the family at gunpoint with assault rifles. In the confusion of the raid, a seven year old girl is shot and killed. Is this the Soviet Union in 1955?

No, this is the United States of America in 2010.

Welcome to the consequences of the increasing militarization of aw enforcement. Instead of going to the home and serving a warrant for the arrest of a murder suspect, Detroit police conduct a raid on the home in the middle of the night. The suspect is brought in, but an innocent child is killed in the process.

Did the Detroit police have raid the home, complete with a dangerous flash bang grenade, or could they have simply served a warrant for the arrest of Chauncey Owens? Was it necessary to burst in with overwhelming force? Most importantly, will there be a review of how often paramilitary force is used by law enforcement?

This isn't the first outrage resulting from the increasing use of overwhelming, military-style tactics by law enforcement. The mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland was held at gunpoint for hours by a SWAT team that shot and killed his two dogs. An Atlanta SWAT team gunned down a 92-year-old woman in her own home and then planted drugs to cover up the botched raid. Cory Maye spent time on death row for killing a police officer during what turned out to be a completely unnecessary SWAT raid on his home, but was released this year.

Many conservatives were horrified by the government's use of force to bring down the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. The sight of tanks breaking into the compound - which was soon engulfed by a fire that destroyed the compound and killed 76 people - was seen as an overreach of federal power. But why do so many conservatives not object to overwhelming force used by local law enforcement?

If we conservatives believe in limited government and individual liberty, it is time to start placing limits on what law enforcement is permitted to do and restrict the use of SWAT raids. There is a time and place for the use of SWAT teams, but it should be clear to everyone that they are being overused, and that overuse results in unnecessarily confrontational situations as well as tragic and preventable deaths.