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SWAT Teams – Are signs of Bad Government

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Why do so many government agencies need military units whose purpose is to attack the citizens? Mr. Radley Balko has done a excellent job of reporting on the growth of neighborhood SWAT teams and the abuse they heap upon the citizenry. In an article  based on his book “Rise of the Warrior Cop” we are told  “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%.”

The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids.

Why, the people should ask, is the government treating us this way? Perhaps there are good reasons, but the fact that local governments use these type forces against the citizens who pay the bills, the citizens whom they are supposed to serve, tells us more about the direction and attitude of government than the propaganda government feeds us.

Is the government that afraid of the people? Should it be? Are the people that dangerous? In fact it is the exact opposite: government is dangerous to the people. The typical quotes one finds about this are from the founding fathers, but their are others.

Jack Vance, a fantasy writer wrote “The Star King” published in 1964. For me, in was a view into how some people think about government. In it one finds:

“As soon as (the police) slip out from under the firm thumb of a suspicious local tribune, they become arbitrary, merciless, a law unto themselves. They think no more of justice, but only of establishing themselves as a privileged and envied elite. They mistake the attitude of natural caution and uncertainty of the civilian population as admiration and respect, and presently start to swagger back and forth, jingling their weapons in megalomaniac euphoria. People thereupon become not masters, but servants. Such a police force becomes merely an aggregate of uniformed criminals, the more baneful in that their position is unchallenged and sanctioned by law. The police mentality cannot regard a human being in terms other than as an item or object to be processed as expeditiously as possible. Public convenience or dignity means nothing; police prerogatives assume the status of divine law. Submissiveness is demanded. If a police officer kills a citizen, it is a regrettable circumstance: the officer was possibly overzealous. If a citizen kills a police officer all hell breaks loose. The police foam at the mouth. All other business comes to a standstill until the perpetrator of this most dastardly act is found out….”

Is Vance’s description accurate? Unfortunately, too often. When he wrote this in 1964 we had no SWAT teams, but the police would soon have Special Weapons and Tactics teams. What would Vance have to say today if he saw these military units parading as the local police.

To repeat: SWAT teams are not police, they are military units designed to attack the citizenry. Further, as described in the link, they often operate as if the 4th and 5th amendments did not exist.

Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…..

SWAT teams often operate in direct contradiction to this Amendment, as if it didn’t even exist.

Amendment V: ……nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; ….

There is more to both amendments, but it is imperative that the people know that what the government is doing is far beyond the basic beliefs which established the United States. They are far beyond what we should expect of our government. In fact, we find SWAT teams alluded to in the Declaration of Independence. “….But when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ….. He has kept among us, standing armies….He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Powers. …. For protecting them, by a mock Trail, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit upon the inhabitants of these States…”

Certainly this is not an exact description of SWAT teams and their abuses. But the fact is the abuses of SWAT teams are among those which led to declaring independence from Britain.

If government is so afraid of the people that it needs to keep military forces on hand to attack the people, then government no longer represents the people: instead government has become an enemy of the people. A government which needs SWAT teams is not a government of the people, by the people, but a tyranny.

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