SWAT Comes to Your Neighborhood

SWAT Comes to Your Neighborhood

It is early morning. As you head into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, you stop to pull a blanket over your son who is sleeping in the living room.

Suddenly, your unlocked front door is kicked down and a dozen masked men in black swarm into the house, screaming and pointing assault rifles threateningly at you. Forced to the ground with a gun to your head, you ask through terrified tears, “who are you?”, but there’s no response. And then you hear a gun fired in the living room. Have terrorists shot your son?

Welcome to Karen Thomas’ nightmare. Although her son was not shot, her loving ten-year-old Labrador retriever was. And who were the masked men? Her local police, sworn to protect her. Eighteen months later, this law-abiding mom and volunteer “Friend of the Howard County Court” is still so scared that she has to leave the room whenever she sees a police officer with a gun.

Unbelievably, Karen’s isn’t an isolated case. Quite a few Marylanders have had similarly scary experiences in the last year:

  • Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo’s two beloved black Labs were shot and he and his family traumatized after a drug smuggling ring stole his wife’s identity and sent a box of marijuana to their Prince George’s County home.
  • Howard County’s Mike Hasenei was knocked to the ground, hit in the face, and handcuffed along with his wife by two dozen SWAT members swarming through his home. His dog was shot dead after running to hide in the bedroom and all three members of the family, including their twelve-year-old daughter, remain deeply upset.
  • Twenty-three-year-old Sylriel Peters was thrown to the floor in her T-shirt and underwear after her front door was broken down at 5:00 a.m. in Montgomery County. With multiple guns pointed at her, she heard her closet and glass shower doors being smashed and her apartment being ransacked. Sylriel feared her mother, sister, and dog had been killed.

What heinous criminal acts were these people suspected of? Karen Thomas’ oldest son later pled guilty to selling one gram – one gram! – of marijuana to an undercover police officer. Mike Hasenei’s home was raided because police were looking for a rifle and ammunition stolen from a police cruiser. And the police in Sylriel Peters’ case were looking for someone who had pawned $500 worth of stolen goods the month before.

No members of any of these families had prior criminal records or a history of violent behavior. If the police had knocked on their doors with a search warrant, the police would have been invited to search the house. Family members wouldn’t have been traumatized, dogs would still be alive, and thousands of dollars worth of personal property wouldn’t have been destroyed.

What is going on?

SWAT teams originally were used only for extremely dangerous missions, such as hostage situations or attempts to arrest major drug dealers known to have high-powered weapons. Over time, however, police have relaxed their standards to where it is now common to use SWAT teams to search the homes of suspected recreational drug users or minor criminals.

As a result, Professor Peter Kraska estimates that SWAT deployments nation-wide have increased from about 2,500 per year in the early 1980s to more than 50,000 in 2005.

Any one of us could be the next victim of an inappropriate SWAT raid. If you have children who could be experimenting with drugs, your family is at particular risk. Only by shining a light on these paramilitary police activities can we expect law enforcement agencies to change their practices and limit the use of SWAT teams to situations where the charges are grave and a violent response can reasonably be anticipated.

Legislation that requires all jurisdictions with SWAT teams to report regularly to civilian authorities on SWAT deployments and their outcomes has passed both Maryland houses and awaits the Governor’s signature. Once it becomes law, Mayor Calvo intends to turn his attention to promoting similar legislation in other states and looking at changes on the federal level that will protect all Americans from these traumatic raids. Learn how you can help at www.protectourliberties.com.

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