Over the last few decades, SWAT teams and paramilitary-style police tactics have proliferated like a wild fire. According to a recent USA Today interview with Peter Kraska, a criminologist whose work focuses on police militarization, SWAT teams were deployed only about 2,000 to 3,000 times per year in the early to mid 80′s. That number has shot up to about 70,000 to 80,000 per year in the present. The main reason for this dramatic increase is the use of SWAT teams for serving routine search or arrest warrants especially for drug suspects. SWAT teams have even been used to investigate suspected underage drinking and unlicensed barber shops.
Despite the fact that SWAT is most frequently used against people accused of nonviolent, victimless crimes, it is typical for police and their supporters to claim that SWAT raids are necessary for officer safety. Police need to kick in the doors of suspected nonviolent “criminals” in the middle of the night to surprise them. Without the element of surprise, the safety of the officers is compromised.
So, when the FBI recently learned the location of the notorious Boston-based gangster James “Whitey” Bulger — a man who has been accused of participating in at least 19 murders and other serious crimes — they used a “no-knock” SWAT-style raid to apprehend him, right?
Wrong. The FBI simply called Bulger on the telephone, told him his storage locker might have been broken into, then arrested him without incident when he left his apartment to check up on it. No flashbangs were detonated. No dogs were shot.
The reason the feds used a ruse to lure Bulger out of his apartment instead of executing a no-knock raid is that doing so would have actually been incredibly stupid and dangerous. As Radley Balko observes in his book Overkill,
… police typically serve [no-knock] warrants just before dawn, or in the hours just before sunrise. They enter the residence unannounced or with very little notice. The subjects of these raids, then, are woken from deep sleep, and their waking thoughts are confronted with the prospect that their homes are being invaded. Their first reaction is almost certainly alarm, fear, and a feeling of peril. Disorienting devices like flashbang grenades only compound the confusion.
It isn’t difficult to see why a gun owner’s first instinct upon waking to a raid would be to disregard whatever the intruders may be screaming at him and reach for a weapon to defend himself. This is particularly true of someone with a history of violence or engaged in a criminal enterprise like drug dealing. But it’s also true of a law-abiding homeowner who legally owns guns for the purpose of defending his home and family.
– Radley Balko, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police in America (2006), Cato Institute, p. 32
Had the feds kicked in Bulger’s door, there’s a good chance he would have grabbed one of the 30 firearms they found in his apartment and shot at them. The feds did the right thing by luring Bulger out of his apartment to arrest him. Why can’t police do the same thing when dealing with people suspected of nonviolent, victimless “crimes” like selling pot? Or better yet, why can’t police just leave people suspected of victimless “crimes” alone since they’re not hurting anyone and focus on apprehending the Whitey Bulgers of the world?
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It’s worth noting that Whitey Bulger was such a successful gangster because he had the help of FBI agents. Bulger spent years as an FBI informant. During this time, the feds overlooked crimes committed by him. When the feds finally decided to arrest him in 1994, retired FBI agent John Connolly tipped Bulger off, allowing him to escape prosecution — until now. As the Associated Press points out, Bulger’s recent arrest opens up the possibility that he will testify against the corrupt FBI agents whom he worked with.