I used to love watching American and Hong Kong police shows when I was younger. I always found it exciting when the police were carrying out raids with SWAT teams, because of the scale of those raids and the suspense that came with bursting into the houses of armed and dangerous criminals.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I can never see those shows in the same light again. Having watched “Do Not Resist!”, I have become aware about the fundamentally problematic practice of SWAT raids. Not only are they procedurally unsound, they are morally questionable on multiple levels.
Firstly, the SWAT teams operate on the assumption that the inhabitants of the houses they raid are guilty. They are given the license to break forcibly into private citizens’ property, which results in smashed windows and broken doors at the very least, and death at the worst. A NYT article written in March details the trail of destruction left by SWAT teams—a mauled baby who sustained grievous injurious when a flash-bang grenade was thrown into his playpen, a 7-year-old left dead when the raid was conducted at the wrong address, a grandfather killed by accident during the pursuit of another resident… the list goes on and on. The low accuracy rate of such raids (contrabands were found in less than 50% of them) doesn’t even allow one to make the excuse that this collateral damage is part and parcel of good policing and crime control. The low barriers to entry for obtaining a search warrant (‘probable cause’), the lack of pre-raid surveillance and the rushed pre-operation briefings also give the impression that SWAT raids are taken too casually. I could keep on going, but I think you should give the NYT article a read for maximum impact.
Secondly, SWAT raids are typically conducted in low-income neighborhoods that lack the power to protest the violation of their rights. The operation featured in “Do Not Resist” was particularly unsettling. The family whose house was raided was no stranger to SWAT raids. They couldn’t even afford to get their broken front door repaired before the next raid gave them a shattered window. In response to the father’s complaint, the SWAT officer essentially said, “That’s what you get for selling drugs.” There was no grounds for this statement—the raid was a flop. Yet, he got away with it, leaving with a shrug. In the end, the SWAT team took the son away chains for the possession of a miniscule amount of weed. And no one could say anything about it.
Lastly, there is no official data on the use and consequences of SWAT raids. The police still maintain that ‘dynamic entry’ methods prove the most effective, but the public does not have enough hard statistics to dispute this claim convincingly. Despite strong anecdotal evidence on the reprehensible protocol and mind set governing SWAT operations, no concrete action can be taken against them at present.
This is no way to protect the people of America. SWAT raids have to be rethought and reconceptualized at a fundamental level.