Why are SWAT Teams Answering Routine Police Calls?

The SWAT team is the big guns of policing in the United States, reserved for kidnappings, gunmen and other highly dangerous and potential volatile situations. Right?

Wrong, apparently, because in recent years, the use of SWAT teams for routine law enforcement matters has been on the rise, with sometimes fatal consequences. These highly trained police personnel are being sent out on gambling raids, ordered to break up underage parties and even dispatched to handle student loan fraud. Not the best use of taxpayer resources, given the expense of maintaining a SWAT team and sending members out on calls, but more than that, it’s a troubling indicator of something going deeply wrong in America.

In the United States, the police are kept separate from the military for a number of social and political reasons. Paramilitary forces like SWAT teams, developed in 1960s Los Angeles to address considerable social unrest, are intended to be used judiciously, in situations where a threat to civilian wellbeing and social stability is so significant that it justifies the use of considerable force and organized military tactics against members of the civilian community.

Thus, a potential terrorist threat or situations in which people’s lives are endangered by a gunman or another threat of violence is an appropriate use of a SWAT team or similarly-trained arm of a police department.

But what about routine law enforcement situations? These are supposed to be the purview of the police, who are trained in how to handle them, and when to determine if they need more substantial backup. When a police raid includes a SWAT team, the mix can turn explosive and dangerous extremely quickly; and police killings, particularly of young black men, are a problem across the United States thanks to the criminalization of ordinary activities like walking down the street in baggy jeans or even existing while black.

Such activities are also including searches under nebulous circumstances, the use of excessive force, and other abuses of law enforcement power that have a net effect of intimidating civilians. This is a troubling development in a nation that enshrines civil liberties and the ability to live without interference from police forces unless clear evidence of lawbreaking is occurring, and it’s evident that some police forces and their SWAT teams are overstepping boundaries, sometimes with inadequately trained personnel who aren’t prepared to deal with the complexity of a chaotic raid situation.

Absurdly, celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Steven Seagal are being “deputized” onto SWAT teams without any formal training, but it’s not just an honorary position. They’re going out with police officers into situations that involve contact with civilians, despite the fact that they aren’t prepared, and the results might seem comic on the news — Seagal driving a tank into a man’s living room, for example — but they are indicative of a seriously problematic trend in law enforcement, one in which heavily-armed law enforcement are flooding the homes and businesses of people who may not necessarily have committed crimes and don’t pose a significant public safety risk.

The CATO Institute has a grim map of paramilitary incidents like raids that went horribly wrong, and it provides a bleak picture of a United States struggling with deep internal conflicts when it comes to making decisions about policing and civil liberties. Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, a growing chokehold on civil liberties has occurred to the steady beat of a nationalistic drum, and while many of these liberties have slipped away in bits and pieces, creating a subtle slide into a more militaristic nation, civilians are clearly aware of the issue, and they’re not happy with it.

Has policing in the United States evolved to the point of no return, making it impossible to dial it back and put SWAT teams back where they belong? Or can organizers and advocates push for a return to the basics when it comes to policing, paired with more conscientious treatment of civil liberties?

Sign this petition to tell Canadian Police to not to taze first and ask questions later to keep citizens safe.

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Paul Barbara
Paul Barbara4 years ago

'Ummm yeah', Kate S; and if you had a loved one who wasn't in the police force, you might well believe the States was hell-bent on instituting a 'National Security Police State'.
Sure, there are 'crazies' out there, many on prescribed drugs. Why are these drugs prescribed so much, and from such early ages? Because 'Big Pharma' make money out of them, hide their well-known dangerous effects, and buy off the politicians.
Bursting into a house because they had an untidy front garden; bursting into a farm because the farmer was selling unpasteurised milk to people that wanted unpasteurised milk; yep there are some 'crazies' out there, all too many in the government, police and military.
I suggest you search 'Mark Taylor: Columbine and Big Pharma Whistleblower, now drugged and jailed', then do a bit of searching around that issue for yourself.
And Michael Moore, who made a packet out of his film 'Bowling for Colubine' and used Mark Taylor in it, never paid Mark a penny for appearing in it (in quite an important role), nor did he ever lift a finger to help Mark after he was targetted by the police for his whistleblowing.

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago

Ummm yeah I'd surmise that if you had a loved one on a police department, you would not think much that they do is excessive at all in order to protect each individual officer! Most departments don't actually publicize all of the actual events that would make their city look worse than it really is! Sad that crazy people out there who should be medicated and monitored cause disturbances which result in higher response levels.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you S. E. Smith, for Sharing this!

Edo F.
Edo F4 years ago

Welcome to the law of Judge Dredd - soon they'll be able to hand out on the spot judgement as well!

Paul Barbara
Paul Barbara4 years ago

Absolutely agree, Lynda D. Trouble is, no matter how hard protesters try to keep domos peaceful, the authorities often have 'agents provocateurs' who stir up violence, so the police have an excuse to move in aggressively.
For instance, in Canada, at an anti-G8/G20 protest, three police were discovered trying to provoke police intervention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2EQaHwgK10
This happens in the States, and also here in the UK, where I hail from.
A few years back, a Police Inspector was instigating protesters to dismantle police barriers and throw them at police; he was confronted by a young Indian woman, who said 'I know you, you are Inspector (whatever his name was; she had met him at a police function previously); he replied, 'Oh, no. The police would never have someone like me'; he then turned and left the demo. A British MP, George Galloway, brought the issue up in Parliament, but got nowhere.

Lynda Duke
Lynda Duke4 years ago

As I see it, We are FAST becoming a police state - fear mongering making anything a citizen does almost all illegal actions. You can thank you politicians for this....tighter laws and fear of uprisings in protests. WE cannot let this become a police state - but we cannot let them take our rights from us. Make for PEACEFUL Demonstrations, no need for police to protect and defend from violence and destruction. PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS. If we let the young people take on a violent stand towards the police and politicians, then the police and politicians will make protesting even more difficult or impossible to continue. WE NEED PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS - NO VIOLENCE!

Theresa R.
Theresa R4 years ago


Karen E.
Karen E4 years ago


Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Vivianne, you are so right. This started back with Nixon, if not before. J Edgar Hoover knew all the dirty little secrets and used that to gain absolute power for his FBI.