One of the consequences of the inner city violence that Peter mentions in the previous piece was the rise of the SWAT team.
The country’s first official SWAT team started in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13% of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80%.
I’ll have to update this later, but perhaps just the article is enough to start a discussion on this important topic.
A number of federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the Department of the Interior. In 2011, the Department of Education’s SWAT team bungled a raid on a woman who was initially reported to be under investigation for not paying her student loans, though the agency later said she was suspected of defrauding the federal student loan program.
The details of the case aside, the story generated headlines because of the revelation that the Department of Education had such a unit. None of these federal departments has responded to my requests for information about why they consider such high-powered military-style teams necessary.
Update: In the discussion below, the conversation begins with a reference to Second Amendment rights and gun ownership as a remedy for the citizenry to fight back against armed departments of government. . Of course, that was the vision of the Founders, that we should be able to defend ourselves against a government that had run out of control. But now, we will be taking up small arms to defend ourselves against heavily armed, well-trained, units who have no fear of a mass attack on our poker games.
The past decade also has seen an alarming degree of mission creep for U.S. SWAT teams. When the craze for poker kicked into high gear, a number of police departments responded by deploying SWAT teams to raid games in garages, basements and VFW halls where illegal gambling was suspected. According to news reports and conversations with poker organizations, there have been dozens of these raids, in cities such as Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., and Dallas.
If they think you have a semi-automatic assault rifle in your residence, won’t they have to come more heavily armed to defend themselves against you defending yourself? One of the comments below says, “There have always been too many ‘cop conservatives’ around.” But when did we start thinking of Arne Duncan and the Department of Education as conservative? They’ve got a SWAT team to collect delinquent student loans? Couldn’t they just arrange for assistance with the local cops and use the local SWAT teams? According to Mr. Balko, “In 2011 alone, a Pentagon program for bolstering the capabilities of local law enforcement gave away $500 million of equipment, an all-time high.” Give those local guys something to do and let them help out with the delinquent student loan problem. But here, too, the Consumer Products Safety Commission is not exactly a bastion of conservatism, is it? They’ve got a SWAT team. Arm the bureaucratic government agencies and like all bureaucrats, they have to use those SWAT teams to justify their having them on budgetary grounds.
These are not a bunch of crazed conservatives in government trying to gain control of the populace. This a bunch of “liberals” who are frightened of an armed populace and convinced that conservative Americans “clinging to their guns” are a danger to the public order. Fish and Wildlife never knows when it is going to have to bust some guy fishing who packs heat while using an illegal lure in a national park. No agent should be put at risk, so he needs a SWAT team in enough proximity to effect the bust safely. Or there is the case of the War on Drugs incident, in Ogden Utah, that Mr. Balko cites, wherein the local narcotics strike force thought they really were at war.
Read the whole thing and maybe even buy the book as a matter of self-defense.