Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The SWAT Debate

I meant to link to this the other day, but the incredible Radley Balko has a bit of a back in forth going with the conservative blog Mansized Target over the use of force in the service of drug warrants. Balko's post follows up the excellent work he's continued to do on these sorts of raids and responds to Chris Roach of Mansized Target's accusations that the supposed following of prefered libertarian procedures led to the death of an FBI agent in a recent Pittsburgh raid. Roach's post is here.

Radley makes the point that in reality, there is very little difference between a knock and announce raid and a no knock raid and that the Pittsburgh case seems to be another example of police tactics that escalate violence. I think the real point that the law and order side of this debate tends to miss is that in the end, this isn't about the individual circumstances where these raids go right or wrong, it's about the circumstances under which such tactics should be used in the first place. Libertarians like Balko and those like me who agree with him take the view that the use of overwhelming military style force should be rare and should be reserved for those offenders who have a documented violent history. The law and order crowd offers no plan for when such force should be used, only offering complete deference to the discretion of the police.

It's one thing for police to have discretion, but it's another for them to be given no guidance whatsoever. That police should have complete discretion over the use of force is an inherently undemocratic argument to make, one that erodes the notion that the police exist to protect and serve the community. Citizens should have a voice in the sort of policing that's done in their communities and to suggest otherwise reeks of fascism.

As I said above, is it too much to ask that police make a documented showing that an individual or a situation may prove violent before sending in the SWAT team?


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