If you’ve noticed that police forces are becoming increasingly militarized lately, it’s not just your imagination. In the past two decades, SWAT team activity has increased by 1,500%. It’s not that life has gotten that much more dangerous, it’s that authorities have chosen to respond to even innocent situations as if they were in a warzone. The problem is not contained to urban areas, either. A full 80% of towns with 25,000 to 50,000 residents now have their own SWAT teams, up from just 13% in the 1980s.
The Baltimore Sun did an analysis of SWAT deployment in Maryland and found the militarized team was sent out nearly five times each day. Only 6% of SWAT-involved incidents were for extreme emergency situations (bank robberies, barricades, hostage holding) – most were for search warrants or apprehending suspects involved in trivial matters like misdemeanors.
This shift toward a heavy reliance on SWAT teams does not fulfill the mission of “protecting and serving.” If anything, the violent tactics put everyone – including bystanders – in more danger. Let’s not understate the psychology of the situation either – when you dress police in war gear, they’re going to feel like soldiers out for a kill, not officers of peace.
Here are five examples when the SWAT team was wholly unnecessary:
1. Slaying a Marine for Unsubstantiated Drug Suspicions
U.S. Marine Jose Guerena awoke one morning to hear noise outside of his house; believing he was being robbed, he hid his wife and kid in the closet and grabbed a gun for defense. It turns out, however, a SWAT team had gathered to search Guerena’s house for drugs due to having a family member involved in illicit activities. Notably, police acknowledged that no evidence was ever found to connect Guerena to selling drugs – including in the two-year police investigation leading up to the raid.
Within ten seconds of entering the house, the SWAT team shot at Guerena 71 times, hitting him a fatal 22 times. Though SWAT officials would later attempt to claim Guerena shot first, evidence proved that he never fired his rifle. Ultimately, the government admitted it was wrong and agreed to pay $3.4 million, but the payout was not accompanied by job terminations or policy changes, of course.
2. Killing a Baby Deer
When authorities learned that a young deer, Giggles, was being nursed back to health at a no-kill animal shelter in Wisconsin, a heavily armed SWAT team busted into the shelter. Apparently, state law prevents people from keeping wildlife, and the SWAT team took their job very seriously… by euthanizing Giggles, who would have otherwise been sent to a wildlife sanctuary the next day. In trying to justify the excessive force, a spokesperson compared the deer raid to a “drug bust.”
3. Copyright Infringement
When Atlanta police thought that DJ Drama might be involved in illegal music piracy, they didn’t hesitate to bring out the big guns – literally. A SWAT team raided DJ Drama’s studio as he worked at the request of the RIAA. Yes, even copyright law is pursued with militarized police now.
Authorities later attempted to justify their extreme response by explaining that “bootleggers” generally keep drugs and weapons on hand. Granted, nothing of the sort was found in the studio, but you can never be too careful when it comes to potential copyright infringement.
4. Incorrect Drug Bust Ends with Dead Dogs
When police intercepted a large package containing marijuana, they decided to let the package ship and catch the purchaser in the act. Seeing a package addressed to his wife, Cheye Calvo brought it into his house and promptly watched as a SWAT team raided his home and shot his two dogs.
Later, it would be revealed that a drug dealing FedEx employee was putting unsuspecting parties’ addresses on drug shipments to more easily transport the goods. Although the Calvo family had no involvement in the drug transaction, because the police chose to employ unnecessary tactics to pursue a non-violent situation without even having the basic facts straight, the Calvos were forced to watch both of their beloved canines die on the ground.
5. SWAT Officer Dies
These scenarios are dangerous for SWAT members, too. After police were tipped off that Ryan Frederick was growing drugs in his garage, a Virginia SWAT team raided his home. Hearing people breaking down his door, Frederick fired a shot at what he believed to be an intruder. It turned out that Frederick was growing tree saplings in his garage, not marijuana, and had police knocked on the door and entered with a warrant in a normal fashion, the misunderstanding could have been resolved peacefully. Instead, the officer died and now Frederick is serving ten years in prison for manslaughter… even though the police should probably take more responsibility in this mistake.