Small Town SWAT

 

policetanksI was on my way to church a few weeks ago when I noticed that several roads in my town had been blocked off. Turns out there was a 5K race to raise money for something called SRT. I had no idea what that was, but the logo — a gladiator helmet in front of crossed swords — looked pretty cool. When I looked it up, I discovered it stood for the police Special Response Team.

The SRT isn’t so much a team as some officers who volunteered to take extra training, sort of like a SWAT without snipers. They do, however, have all of the helmets, body armor, and assault rifles needed to play soldier. Some of these guys were soldiers once, but they’re not now. Now they are police officers.

All of the training and equipment for the SRT comes from fundraisers. As a taxpayer, I like that. Still, I have to wonder: Is this really needed?

I live in a small town of about 8,000. The Police blotter no longer runs in the local paper, but when it did, it was usually just the same family in it, week after week. One week, the 21-year-old son would be arrested for drunk and disorderly; the next week his dad would be arrested for the same thing; then it would be an arrest warrant for the son after he failed to show up for his court date, and so forth.

In the 10 years I’ve lived here, we’ve had one serious crime. A member of the local mosque killed his wife. Before you start thinking “honor killing,” though, this was more like a low-budget alternative to divorce. The guy had his friend fatally shoot the wife, then shoot him in the leg so he’d look like the victim. The police didn’t buy his story and the case was solved quickly. A young mother murdered while walking down the street is tragic, but this was clearly an isolated incident.

The point is that this is a relatively safe town. My wife and kids walk all over without any fear.

As a resident, I want the police to have all of the tools needed to do their jobs. Someday it could be my family they’re coming to save. But I know that the county has a full SWAT team, complete with an armored urban assault vehicle: If something extraordinary happens, we already have people who can assist. So on the one hand, I don’t think we need an SRT. But if no extra dollars are involved, should I care?

The few officers I know are really good guys. But guys like their toys, and the bigger the better. In the past, I’ve seen a neighbor use a chainsaw to cut up little twigs. Why? Because he has a chainsaw. We had some light dustings of snow this winter: I was able to clear off my driveway with a push broom; my other neighbor pulled out a huge snow blower, because he had a huge snow blower. When I was 10, my Cub Scout pocket knife would have been good enough to whittle a stick, but Dad’s Ka-bar was just sitting there in the garage. (40 years later, I can still see the scar.)

The point is, if you give the guys extra tools and training, they’re going to find an excuse to use them.

Upon further investigation, I found that a while back, they did find an excuse to use their SRT training. The first SRT mission was a sting on a drug dealer. An undercover contact set up a meeting to buy $400 worth of pot, and when the dealer showed up, the SRT guys went into action. After being arrested, the perp said, “That was cool. Like something out of a movie.” His reaction makes it pretty clear, to me at least, that this crime did not require a “special response.”

So, Ricochet, am I right to have apprehensions about the SRT, or is this just the result of hanging out on right-wing web sites, reading stuff like this?

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  1. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @RobertMcReynolds

    You are more than right to have your suspicions on this blatant militarization of the police force.  These guys who are volunteering for this are also former military.  Having been in the military I can tell you that it is really big on what is called collateral duty, which is basically you volunteering for extra duty beyond your normal job.  I can also guess that many of these guys saw action in Iraq and/or possibly Afghanistan which means they spent a good amount of their time kicking in doors in support of JSOC or Delta Force.  They still see themselves in the military, particularly when they are cooted up with M-4s and full “battle rattle.”  This is dangerous in a free society because when your police force is suited up like they are in a war zone, the folks who aren’t in the same suits begin to look like the enemy.  Worry indeed.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Barry Township town hallThis photo was taken on a bicycle ride last fall, one of many in which I was taking photos of town halls.  In this case it’s in Barry Township in Barry County, Michigan, less than 20 miles from where we live.  When we moved to Michigan we almost bought a house here in the village of Delton.

    I had not realized at the time that there was an ongoing controversy over the militarization of the township police.  (Here in Michigan a lot of townships have their own police departments.)

    Radley Balko had written about this for the Washington Post the month before.

    Here is an article that explains in more detail what happened to Jack Nadwornick.

    • #2
  3. Leigh Member
    Leigh
    @Leigh

    Well, if the guy who is being arrested says it is “cool,” the use of force cannot have been too brutally disproportionate.

    Not to say that your concerns are not legitimate.  But it sounds as though your force still has a small-town mindset, whatever tools they have available.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    More like a waste of funds, be they through tax dollars or fundraisers.

    • #4
  5. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Leigh:Well, if the guy who is being arrested says it is “cool,” the use of force cannot have been too brutally disproportionate.

    Not to say that your concerns are not legitimate. But it sounds as though your force still has a small-town mindset, whatever tools they have available.

    Yeah, that was more a show of force than a use of force. In that case they used their new tools responsibly, but the fact that they felt the need to use them at all is what could create a potential for misuse.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    We have every right to be concerned, alarmed even.

    I believe there are secondary elements at play here. The emphasis on “safety” everywhere, the idea that police keep us safe, and the idea that police should be as safe as possible when carrying out their duties. When taken to extremes, civilians begin to lose respect for police. A) they seem afraid B) are they really heroes hiding behind all that armor?

    Vance Richards:

    Upon further investigation, I found that a while back, they did find an excuse to use their SRT training. The first SRT mission was a sting on a drug dealer. An undercover contact set up a meeting to buy $400 worth of pot, and when the dealer showed up, the SRT guys went into action. After being arrested, the perp said, “That was cool. Like something out of a movie.” His reaction makes it pretty clear, to me at least, that this crime did not require a “special response.”

    And I’m sure all the potheads in town were deprived of their fixes, and the price of an ounce went through the roof.

    The dealer who said it was “cool” was no doubt sampling product at the time.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Why not hold fund raisers to arm the citizenry? I’d prefer the criminals be more afraid of the guy they want to rob than the cop in a station miles away. Leave the police to investigate and arrest only those stupid enough to transgress against an armed and vigilant civil society.

    • #7
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I’ve mentioned it before, but I hypothesize that much of the animosity towards police departments having this sort of large, heavy-duty vehicles stems less from their capabilities and more from their colour schemes.

    A “military-grade” vehicle that looks menacing in black or olive looks like a very sensible off-road search and rescue asset if painted yellow and red.

    Off Road Emergency Vehicle

    175094_orig

    This next one’s from Iceland. I’ve never heard any complaints about the “militarization” of small-town Iceland.

    iceland-search-rescue-truck

    I personally like the British method where police uniforms and police vehicles feature bright, easy-to-see colours.  After all, if you need the help of a police officer wouldn’t you want to be able to pick them out easily from a crowd?

    (However, I do not endorse the purchase of freakin’ Jaguars as police cruisers, as in the next photo. Yeesh!)

    jaguar-xf-police-car_100311279_l

    Heck, even a simple return to the old “boys in blue” paradigm could be a step in the right direction. This is what the SWAT van looked like in my old home town (population less than 100,000).

    14676288998_ac0f63b0ff_b

    The point being that even though my small suburban hometown had a heavily-armed SWAT team, nobody ever thought it was overkill or frightening, and we had a really positive attitude towards our hometown coppers, even when they were busting us (um, I mean, busting other kids, uh, yeah…) for teenaged bush parties.

    • #8
  9. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Perhaps it is the last lingering revolutionary spirit in us, but we see these not as a shield to protect us from the bad but as loose canons that can turn and fire on us at any moment. In the that case it’s better to not have it and need it than to have it and risk putting that power in fallible human hands.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Another thought: Nobody ever got shot when one of our teenaged parties got out of control. I can remember a couple of incidents that were not dissimilar from the pool party in Texas.

    The thing is, when we heard the police siren, we freakin’ scattered!  We didn’t stick around to yell back at the cops and/or pick fights with adults.

    That woulda been really stupid.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    Misthiocracy

    Put some smiley faces on the vehicles. That will really do the trick.

    • #11
  12. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Interesting that they won’t come get your cat out of a tree anymore, either.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tommy De Seno:Interesting that they won’t come get your cat out of a tree anymore, either.

    Yabbut, I’ve always thought of that as a Fire Department responsibility.

    Demarcation is important for unionized jobs.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Franco:Misthiocracy

    Put some smiley faces on the vehicles. That will really do the trick.

    Unless this photo of an LAPD battering ram is photoshopped, it’s been done:

    swattank

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @RobertMcReynolds

    The King Prawn:Perhaps it is the last lingering revolutionary spirit in us, but we see these not as a shield to protect us from the bad but as loose canons that can turn and fire on us at any moment. In the that case it’s better to not have it and need it than to have it and risk putting that power in fallible human hands.

    That and the fact that numerous people have been killed by cops bursting through doors with warrants issued on the wrong person.  It troubles me to no end how comfortable people claiming to be part of the limited government movement are with cops who look like they just did a tour in Fallujah.

    • #15
  16. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Robert McReynolds:

    The King Prawn:Perhaps it is the last lingering revolutionary spirit in us, but we see these not as a shield to protect us from the bad but as loose canons that can turn and fire on us at any moment. In the that case it’s better to not have it and need it than to have it and risk putting that power in fallible human hands.

    That and the fact that numerous people have been killed by cops bursting through doors with warrants issued on the wrong person. It troubles me to no end how comfortable people claiming to be part of the limited government movement are with cops who look like they just did a tour in Fallujah.

    Agreed. That is why in my perfect world we have an armed, civil society. The problem with getting there is that our government has worked tirelessly for decades to make us unarmed and uncivil.

    • #16

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