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The most recent example of course is the drug raid in Atlanta last fall that killed 92-year old Kathryn Johnston. Ms. Johnston mistook the raiding police officers for criminal intruders. When she met them with a gun, they opened fire and killed her. The police were acting on an uncorroborated tip from a convicted felon.
I’d estimate I find news reports of mistaken raids on Americans homes about once a week. If you’re wondering, yes, there was one just this week. This past Saturday, in Durango, Colorado, police raided the home of 77-year-old Virginia Herrick. Ms. Herrick, who takes oxygen, was forced to the ground and handcuffed at gunpoint while officers ravaged through her home.
They had the wrong address. In just the last month, there have been mistaken raids in New York City; Annapolis, Maryland; Hendersonville, North Carolina; Bonner County, Idaho; and Stockton, California.
In each case, innocent American citizens had the sanctity of their homes invaded by agents of the government behaving more like soldiers at war than peace officers upholding and protecting our constitutional rights.
800 times per week in this country, a SWAT team breaks open an American’s door, and invades his home. Few turn up any weapons at all, much less high-power weapons. Less than half end with felony charges for the suspects. And only a small percentage end up doing significant time in prison.
Mr. Chairman, I ask that the Congress consider ending the federal incentives that are driving this trend, and that the Congress reign in the copious use of SWAT teams and among federal police agencies.
There are appropriate uses for these kinds of tactics. But the bulk of the dramatic rise in paramilitary police operations is attributable to inappropriate use of SWAT teams for routine warrant service.
It’s time we stopped the war talk, the military tactics, and the military gear. America’s domestic police departments should be populated by peace officers, not the troops of an occupying military force.
Radley Balko is a senior editor for reason. He gave this testimony before the House Subcommittee on Crime on June 21, 2007.
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