Earlier this week, the Washington Post’s Radley Balko reported on recent stats from Utah concerning the use of SWAT teams to make arrests within that state. Utah had previously gained notoriety for it’s frequent and unnecessary use of SWAT teams.
(It should be noted that 26% of the state’s police departments refused to provide data regarding the use of SWAT teams and no knock warrants. So the numbers listed below do not actually fully represent statewide totals. However, as noted in the article Utah is the only state in the country which – sorta – requires police departments to disclose such information.)
In terms of frequency, Utah made a slight step in the right direction by reducing the amount of times SWAT teams were used when 2015 is compared to 2014. However, in relation to the purpose for the use of a SWAT team, there is very little to cheer about. Overwhelmingly, SWAT teams were used for victimless and more often than not non-violent drug crimes.
In addition, a substantial majority of those drug raids involved the use of no-knock warrants. Meanwhile, police used no knock warrants for less than 40% of the arrests involving people accused of violent crimes.
Via the Washington Post:
…what we learned for 2015:
- Overall use of SWAT teams in Utah dropped 18 percent from 2014.
- Of the 457 SWAT deployments, 281 involved forcible entry into a private residence.
- About three out of four forcible entries were for drug-related offenses.
SWAT teams were originally intended as a response to active shooters, hostage takings, armed robberies, and other violent crimes-in-progress. So that nearly 75 percent of forced entries were for drug crimes is troubling. The raw data shows that just nine of the 457 SWAT deployments and forced entries were for incidents that could be described as a violent crime in progress. Another six were to arrest warrants for violent felons, and another 26 were to serve warrants against people suspected of committing a violent crime against another person. All told then, just 41 of the 457 SWAT incidents and forced entries in Utah in 2015 were for incidents in which a suspect presented an imminent threat to the safety of someone else — or just under 9 percent.
Interestingly, of the 26 incidents in which the SWAT team was sent after a suspect was suspected of a violent crime, police obtained a no-knock warrant 10 times, well less than half. By my calculations, about 60 percent of the warrants for drug crimes were no-knock warrants. Which means that Utah police were significantly more likely to give you a chance to come to the door and peacefully submit to a search or arrest if you were suspected of a violent crime than if you were suspected of a drug crime.
Suspects brandished weapons in just 3 percent of the 457 SWAT deployments, and actually fired a gun in just two incidents total, or less than half of 1 percent. Depending on your perspective, there are a couple of ways to look at this figure. It could mean that aggressive SWAT and door-breaking tactics are overwhelmingly being deployed against nonviolent people, or that the aggressive tactics are allowing police to apprehend violent suspects before they can reach for a weapon. I suspect it’s mostly the former. Just 6 percent of the warrants obtained for SWAT deployments and forced entries in the state last year involved a violent crime.
I think from those numbers that it’s pretty clear where the priorities of the police lie and, more importantly (for them), where the money is. We can’t really expect them to be bothered with actual violent criminals when there’s money to be made through asset seizures and drug forfeiture. The myth that the police are there to protect you is a poorly constructed and easily debunked sham.
And if things are this out of proportion within a rural and relatively low population state such as Utah, it’s not exactly hard to figure out that they are as bad, if not even worse, nationwide.