published Friday, December 20th, 2013

Petarra: Mission creep? Beware of SWAT frenzy

By Dr. Steve Petarra
Neighbors look on as Chattanooga SWAT officers converge outside a home on Tremont Street in this file photo.
Neighbors look on as Chattanooga SWAT officers converge outside a home on Tremont Street in this file photo.
Photo by Maura Friedman /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The recent SWAT action recounted in the Times Free Press, “SWAT spends 10 hours outside Chattanooga house for suspect who wasn’t there,” Dec. 12th, is a great opportunity for the community to discuss the recent explosive growth in SWAT type para-military policing in our communities.

To summarize, a domestic violence call was made, there were rumors of a gunshot, SWAT was dispatched and thus began a lengthy police/para-military action.

To the later (not admitted) embarrassment of the police, the suspect who supposedly was seen running into the house with a rifle mysteriously disappeared and was not present in the building.

The TFP reports that he was in touch with his lawyer.

Smart man, because if he was present in the home, it is very possible that his domestic assault, which consisted of a shove, might have easily resulted in his death during a escalated police action.

In the U.S., 80 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people have SWAT teams and there are nearly 100,000 SWAT raids conducted yearly, many to serve search or arrest warrants, often for non-violent offenses.

There are many recorded cases of situations unnecessarily escalated, wrong homes violated and excessive force used.

It is my belief that the militarization of community policing places a barrier between the police and those whom they are pledged to protect.

I also believe that there are many factors beyond the need for increased public safety that are driving this change, two that come to mind are the marketing of military style equipment to police departments and the distribution of surplus assault equipment from the military to local cops.

America needs to re-evaluate what it wants from the police, either a militarized force suffering from a severe case of mission-creep or smart community policing where the citizens are treated with respect and criminal activities are fought with good police and detective work, not flash/bangs, tear gas and high powered rifles.

For further information, I would refer readers to “Rise of the Warrior Cop” by Radley Balko.

— Dr. Steve Petarra is a local physician who lives on Signal Mountain.

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John_Proctor said...

God bless Radley Balko for the work he is doing to raise awareness of the deadly errors committed because of the increasing militarization in today's American police forces. Read it and his online column, The Agitator, for more information and documentation about this disturbing trend in American policing. Kudos to Dr. Petarra for applying some of Balko's work to Chattanooga.

December 20, 2013 at 12:43 a.m.
TirnaNOG said...

Can others understand what minority communities have been ringing the alarm bells about for decades now? These type military style tactics have been going on in primarily minority and poor minority communities for quite a number of years now. And often with deadly outcomes. In 2010 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones of Detroit was killed during a police raid where a flash-bang grenade was used and the couch she was sleeping on caught fire, catching her on fire and Detroit police shot her in the neck. They were filming a segment for the First 48. A show police allow to tag along and film actual raids and arrest LIVE. Around that same time or perhaps a year or so later, at a local public housing site police are said to have raided a two story apartment when a housing authority cop claimed to have seen a "suspect" at the back door of the apartment. That apartment also caught fire and the children were trapped upstairs. Two of the children immediately were able to get out. One lone child panicked and froze. If not for someone climbing through the upstairs window from a ledge and rescuing her Chattanooga would have had a Detroit style tragedy on their hands too. Instead the incident was covered up. Not a mention from the police or media. Now you know why minorities mistrust police? the mistrust runs deep and for very good reasons. Far too often the media has either been complicit or has gone along with these cover-ups, but these communities are very much aware of these tragedies and near tragedies.

And finally, not to mention the cost in dollars everytime a SWAT goes out, and when that SWAT f**ks up and gets the wrong house or kills a child, the cost to the city is even higher.

December 20, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Doc, I just want to say I'm an old country boy with very little medical learning but I do like to read about "SWAT," because it's an exciting word like "KISS." I am curious about your words,"Beware of SWAT frenzy." What swat frenzy, I must have missed it? You describe a case in which a SWAT and Hostage Negotiation Team stood by a house they were dispatched to long enough to determine everything was OK. No muss, no fuss,no one hurt. What frenzy? The bad actor ends up where he's supposed to be. Sounds like a good practice. Then you drift off into a fantasy that results in someone's death. Next you vomit up some ideas of Radley Balko, a Huffington Post reporter and blogger. His work is considered a joke by most in law enforcement, but for a critical review read Dr. Franklin Zimring, someone who has universal respect. Balko also writes in depth about anal probes, which I think is closer to your chosen career field than swat teams. Why you and the other two responders have such splanchnic reactions anytime you read "SWAT" or "POLICE" is something you need to discuss with another kind of doctor, although every law enforcement agency has an accurate profile of what causes that reaction in particular people. For the edification of all readers, all law enforcement agencies have been paramilitary since they began in China in the 13th century. I know SWAT teams have raided many physicians offices locally and all over the country and solved many crimes dealing with drugs and money. Apparently, some physicians are not being paid enough by the drug companies to peddle those particular products. If you want to be helpful why not do something about the US health care system that is an unmitigated failure at treating chronic illness. I get really anxious when I read that physicians are the 3rd leading cause of death in this country responsible for 210,000 Americans dying each year due to preventable hospital errors and an estimated 440,000 that die from iatrogenic causes. If I needed help, I would prefer police over physician!

December 20, 2013 at 5:45 p.m.
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