Last night I went to a Reason happy hour and got to meet Radley Balko, who has just published a study on the overuse of SWAT teams. Small towns with a few thousand people will have a SWAT team and an armored personnel carrier…and use them to do early-morning no-knock raids on nonviolent drug suspects–when they hit the right apartment.
SWAT teams were originated in Los Angeles by the (in)famous police chief Darryl Gates. They were conceived for situations where criminals or terrorists had large arsenals, had barricaded themselves, or had hostages.
So it was timely that this morning I read about Canada having re-evaluated their use of SWAT for the purpose it was originally intended in this CNN piece on the Montreal college shootings:
Police credited aggressive new procedures with stopping the gunman, who died in a shootout with police.
Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme said the lessons learned from other mass shootings had taught police to try to stop such assaults as quickly as possible.
“Before our technique was to establish a perimeter around the place and wait for the SWAT team. Now the first police officers go right inside. The way they acted saved lives,” he said.
So, while US small towns are sending in SWAT teams to bust teenagers who score a little weed, Canada is backing off them for their original intended purpose.
Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the whole SWAT concept.