Maryland Bill Would Bring Transparency to Use of SWAT Teams

Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo, who last summer was subjected to a particularly violent mistaken drug raid in which police shot and killed his two black labs, is helping push a new bill in the Maryland legislature that would require every SWAT team in the state to provide to the public "a monthly public report on its activities, including where and when it was deployed and whether an operation resulted in arrests, evidence seizures or injuries."

This is a terrific first step, and the Maryland legislature needs to pass it. Part of the problem I've encountered reporting on this issue is that police departments tend to to be stingy with this sort of information. Even when it's available, it's often collected in ways that aren't usable. Over the last few years, I've tried to file open records request for copies search warrants, evidence return sheets, and any other documentation of SWAT-related drug raids in several major cities. In addition to being quoted prohibitive copying and labor fees, I've also learned that search warrants and evidence return sheets are usually kept in separate places, making it arduous to match them up once a case has been resolved. In cases where a raid resulted in no charges, the warrants are actually often thrown out. Of course, those are the very cases we want to know about.

The bill Calvo's pushing would begin to make data about SWAT teams available, so we can assess how often they're used, in what situations they're used, and, when they're used in drug raids, how often they actually find not only illicit drugs, but the high-power weapons proponents say make these sorts of tactics necessary. In the few places this sort of analysis has been done, the results have been less than convincing.

Calvo's bill would also show how many often Maryland's SWAT teams hit the wrong home.

It'll be interesting to see how the state's police organizations react. Commenters to the Washington Post article who appear to be police officers seem to be miffed at even this small bit of transparency.

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  • ||

    Has Calvo filed suit for actual and punitive damages? How about suing the agency and the individuals for violation of civil rights? Calvo seems to be the first case with participants who can't simply be denigrated for living in a crime ridden hood, or having crooked relatives, or whatever passes for circumstances tending to absolve the aggressors of their actions.

    And enough of these 'only ones' claiming no foul since 'all department procedures were followed'...

  • ||

    "a new bill in the Maryland legislature that would require every SWAT team in the state to provide to the public "a monthly public report on its activities, including where and when it was deployed and whether an operation resulted in arrests, evidence seizures or injuries."

    Wouldn't that instead induce the SWAT teams to more harshly twist evidence and testimonies into supporting wrongful arrests and indictments whenever something goes wrong ?

    I mean: which is easier: bringing some pot to plant on every raid "just in case", or checking up on everything + ensuring you got correct info + assessing threats calmly and rationnally during action ?

  • ||

    This is a victory, rare and sweeter on a Friday. Cheers Balko.

  • ||

    Never. Going. To. Pass.

    If I'm wrong, I will cheer. But the police have incredible pull with the legislature.

  • dhex||

    this is great news. on the chance it succeeds this becomes an amazing potential wedge issue for yanking back some of the militarized overreach.

  • ||

    Wouldn't that instead induce the SWAT teams to more harshly twist evidence and testimonies into supporting wrongful arrests and indictments whenever something goes wrong ?

    I believe it would. However, as long as there are Balkos, this will be a good thing on balance. Information, secrecy vs. transparency, this is where corruption is allowed to fester, and the best tool for combating it.

  • ||

    "I mean: which is easier: bringing some pot to plant on every raid "just in case", or checking up on everything + ensuring you got correct info + assessing threats calmly and rationnally during action ?"

    We really need everyone at every level to check each other instead of being in cahoots. How we do that, I have no idea.

    Society is not one screwed-up mentality. It's a collection of competing screwed-up mentalities. So much compromise over the years has gotten us to the point where every asshole with an agenda gets their way on some issue as long as everyone gets there way on some issue. Except us. We're not effective enough assholes apparently.

  • ||

    Wow, some of the Post commenters were actually thoughtful and logical. Rather suprising and happily so.

    I know it is only a television show (and therefore full of crap) but, everytime The Closer and her "Priority Homicide" team (dude, leave me alone, my wife loves it) go anywhere ther is one character whose only real job is to start a video and NOT TURN IT OFF the entire time. With mini-cams and wireless transmitters... just put one on every officer, better if it doesn't even have an on/off switch that specific officer could use as if it was all controlled remotely. With all the armor and guns and flash-bangs, etc, these big strapping men (read: adreneline junkies) should be able to handle a few extra ounces, no?

  • ||

    ther=there

  • ||

    Oh man, cop stories always bring out those assholes who support the cops no matter what, and use the same arguments every time. Here are two, cleaned up:

    -Everyone who complains about the cops would call them in 2 seconds if something went wrong.

    -It's easy to criticize them from your computer, you don't do anything like busting into dangerous places, you don't know what it's like.

    List more!

  • ||

    Except us. We're not effective enough assholes apparently.

    No, but we try.

  • ||

    Amendment #1: every municipality has to post, on its website and in its newsletter, a copy of the "rules of engagement" for whatever SWAT team it employs. Said municipality must then call a public meeting, within 60 days, for public comment on said "rules of engagement."
    Appropriate punishments and legal liability will obtain for violations of said "rules of engagement."

  • ||

    You know, I re-read my post and all I keep thinking is: "Why don't you just put her in charge?"

    Fucking Bill Paxton and my stupid brain.

  • ||

    Digdogger, you forgot:

    -You just hate all cops! (No brush can be fine enough when dealing with our heros in blue.)

    -A citizen must have deserved any negative action that a cop takes, either for what they were doing, what they might have been doing, what they might have been thinking, or for something they might have done in the past.

  • ||

    I mean: which is easier: bringing some pot to plant on every raid "just in case", or checking up on everything + ensuring you got correct info + assessing threats calmly and rationnally during action ? [italics added]



    You're new here, aren't you?
    SWATs already bring drugs to plant on raids.


  • ||

    Because politics involves often unsavory tradeoffs, I would support a bill in congress that mandates this for all police departments that receive any federal dollars or surplus equipment.

    John Conyers, Chairmen House Judiciary Committee.

    Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • waldo||

  • ||

    We need to wake up and start holding these jack booted thugs accountable by hanging them from the light polls.

  • ||

    In the grand scheme of things Waldo, we'd all be better off if someone's kids took one for the team. I mean, if SWAT starts shooting innocent children (preferably white blonde female children with pigtails and perfect teeth who have lots of home video showing how cute they always are and say the darndest things...Oprah, anyone?) in the homes of innocent parents who hold good respectable jobs then perhaps these things would change.

    Like someone said above, not even PETA is touching the dog vs cop angle.

  • ||

    SLD:

    Of course, I don't really want that to happen.

  • ||

    "We need to wake up and start holding these jack booted thugs accountable by hanging them from the light polls."

    It's not very easy to lynch the guys with the assault rifles, tear gas, and armored personnel vehicles.

  • grove city, OH||

    I really like the idea, transparency should always be, within government agencies. It's our taxes that allow them to operate. In the case where they hit the wrong house, this happens all across this great nation. Its very shamefull!
    I would be very pissed if someone shot and killed my dogs. If someone would kill a police dog they would be charged with murdering a police officer and be sentenced to life of death!

  • ||

    When your wife is being raped, don't be pissed because the police take too long to respond because they are afraid of hitting the wrong house.

  • ||

    I won't be crying because my wife will kill any would be rapist. When seconds count, the police are minutes away doing a no-knock raid on innocent people or someone who has committed no real crime.

  • Sal Paradise||

    But we can't tie the hands of law enforcement!

  • ||

    Tired of the crying-

    Are you tired of the losers in blue who can't hack it in the private sector?

  • ||

    A Necessary Carthisis is Nigh at Hand. I would not want to be wearing the uniform of Caesar.

  • Steve||

    If they aren't doing anything wrong, then they have nothing to be afraid of.

    Where have I heard that before?

  • Tired of the Crying||

    Easily the worst arguments I have ever heard. It seems you are the typical simple minded folk who like to sit back and criticize the actions of people who do the dangerous stuff.
    Well, you are still entitled to the protection the police and firefighters provide, so you are welcome.

  • ||

    Hasn't anyone heard about the kids who got arrested for "SWATTING?" This particular dangerous prank, called in many times by the same group of individuals, using VOIP (which cannot be traced immediately). Apparently they were calling 911 stating that they had a gun and were threatening to kill their whole family and the police would respond to an innocent stranger's address in full SWAT mode and tear up the house looking for the man with the knife or gun, which of course was non-existent. When this happens, do you hold the police accountable????? They have to respond quickly to an emergency and if someone has an axe to grind and reports a crime in progress, they don't have the luxury of time to investigate to find out whether the caller is legitimate or if there is in fact a real crime happening. This happens more than most people know....I know because I am a law enforcement PROFESSIONAL (with college degree - and for those earlier disparaging remarks made about people in blue who could not get a job in the private sector, let me fill you in on a little secret, I CHOOSE to be the police even though I can and have worked in private industry and could easily collect a substantially better paycheck. In fact most of my colleagues are educated and I resent the implication that we are all "jack booted thugs."

  • ||

    I don't want help from fascists "Tired of Crying". I am more than cable from defending myself from scum and fires. I am sick of have my wealth stolen from me to pay for these unneeded scumbags.

  • ||

    We know all about jack booted thugs like you GG. Does any one remember the place in Texas were they sent in armed personnel carriers and full military style SWAT teams? They kidnapped all the children and arrested the adults. And this was from a prank phone call from a woman in Colorado.

    How many kittens have you stomped to death GG?

  • ron19d@yahoo.com||

    Bill, you Sir are an idiot and I hope that nothing ever does happen to your family. You would most likely compound the problem, possibly even hurt a family member yourself.

    Do you honesly believe all law enforcement personnel are facists? Wow, I guess I will never stop being surprised by what goes on in other peoples heads.

  • Dave||

    Tired of the Crying... the Cops do a dangerous job, of that there is no doubt. They go in scared and amped and ready for anything. Again, no argument.

    But what, exactly is your argument against accountability? Regardless of the danger you are putting yourself into, there must be records kept of where you went and what happened.
    Honestly, the danger doesn't even factor into what is, essentially, simple records management. This is standard paperwork for most cops already, for the most part.

    What could the argument be against keeping records of what you have done at work?

    Most companies keep fairly careful records of what their employees do and what they surf (on the net) for, for example, in case they get up to something they shouldn't.
    Why not SWAT?

    How can they be 'above' that sort of thing?

  • JVoss||

    I'm more in the middle of this issue. I was in the military and I have family that are in law enforcement. I have quite a few friends in law enforcement also. I do see a rising problem with the use of swat teams. Some departments are using them in cases where they are not needed and some seem not to be taking enough steps to ensure that they have good information prior to raiding a home.

    If the police are not doing anything wrong then having this information available is not going to hurt them. If they are then I guess they would want to stop it. These are not secret missions for the CIA in Afghanistan. These are raids on American's homes. They should be carefully documented and archived. For the protection of everyone.

  • libertarian democrat||

    I must say, there are many great, well meaning police officers.

    There are also far too many who are either incompetent or immoral.

    But the most depressing thing is that every time you hear about reform that would lower the chances of bothering or arresting innocents (such as the recent story on increasing accuracy in forensic labs), there are police groups protesting it.

    It's just mind blowing how any of the good cops can put up with that shit. And it makes them all look bad.

  • Dave||

    Honestly, people.

    Can this be kept somewhere above the third grade level?

    Cops are not all 'jack-booted thugs' any more than people who are interested in civil rights are all 'tree-hugging hippies'.

    You were all born, theoretically, with some kind of Centralized Nervous System. Let's use it, shall we? Starting at the top.

    Again, the article is calling for records-keeping and accountability, not a halt to all SWAT raids. Do what you feel you have to, follow intelligent procedure (change those that don't fit in that category), and do your job. Then finish your reports and hand them in.

    Where is the issue?

  • ||

    Please show (with facts) ron19d@yahoo.com, how I'm an idiot? I have successfully defended my family a few times from scumbags while I had to wait almost a hour both times waiting on the JBT to file a report after the fact. Same with the fire department. Fire was out by the time they decided to show up. Any one who supports theft is a fascist.

  • ||

    """"Never. Going. To. Pass.""""

    Sure it can with the right deal sweetener. If the legislature gives the right concessions to law enforcement. Something like, we can collect stats as longs as thoses stats can't be used against law enforcement.

    How bad do you want it passed?

    We rarely win, even when it appears we did.

    Without a sweetener, I don't think it would pass.

  • JVoss||

    Just to be clear. I beleive the highest majority of Police Officers to be honest. I beleive in the need for SWAT teams. I also beleive that most SWAT teams operate in an acceptable manner. I do not beleive they are all "Jack Booted" thugs, as Mr. Bill seems too.
    There simply needs to be well maintened documents when police interact with civilians. Especially in the case of a military style raid on a house.

  • Clay Davis||

    Without a sweetener, I don't think it would pass.

    Sheeeeit! You think I got time to ask a man why he given me money or where he gets his money from, I'll take any mothafucker's money if he given it away!

  • ||

    """Tired of the Crying... the Cops do a dangerous job, of that there is no doubt. They go in scared and amped and ready for anything. Again, no argument.""""

    Actually, a lot more jobs are more dangerous than a cops job. They should stop crying about that.

    I'm not sure how being scared and amped helps job performance.

  • ron19d@yahoo.com||

    I am not trying to suggest that there be zero accountability. That does not mean that everyone needs to know how law enforcement does its business.

    I do not have the answer as to how this problem should be fixed, but if we tie the hands of law enforcement we have noone to blame but ourselves when things go wrong.

    Bill, you said "We know all about jack booted thugs like you GG. Does any one remember the place in Texas were they sent in armed personnel carriers and full military style SWAT teams? They kidnapped all the children and arrested the adults. And this was from a prank phone call from a woman in Colorado.

    How many kittens have you stomped to death GG"?

    If that kind of rediculous talk does not qualify you as a card carrying idiot, I don't know what does.

    And as for you "successfully defending" your family a few times. Where the hell do you live that you are constantly under siege from scumbags? Just curious, as it has not really relevant to the discussion.

  • ||

    If they aren't doing anything wrong, then they have nothing to be afraid of.

    Where have I heard that before?


    From my post* at WaPo?
    It's fun to rub the cop fellators' noses in that one, isn't it?

    * cvddgcg. AFAIK, They just use your address there on posts.

  • ||

    The problem is not that all cops are bad,...

    Its that the "good" cops allways protect and defend the bad cops even to the point of breaking the law to do so.


    If the "Good" cops would not cheat to help the bads.. and when they were convicted would be first in line to call for their complete and total punishment then we would actually have good cops.

    But too many I know. (and I know alot), dont see any friendlys.. if there is a run in with a cop vs a private cit.. the cit is wrong and the cop is right.. even if the law has to be broken and lies must be told to make it so.

  • ||

    Not all anything is X. That's a fallacy called generalization. So I agree not all cops are jackbooted thugs. Just as not all people accused of crimes actually commited the crime. But if cops are going to treat the accused as if they are guilty, why should anybody cut them some slack. Both sides are guilty of using the generalization fallacy. It's not productive either way.

  • zoltan||

    Well, I really hope they document all those cases where they break into the wrong house or shoot innocents!! I mean, I will definitely want to see some documentation about the one-year-old's hand they shot off. And some pictures, yeah some pictures for my buddies down at the station.

  • ||

    Obligatory refutation of the danger of being a cop.

    The 10 most dangerous jobs
    Occupation Fatalities per 100,000
    Timber cutters 117.8
    Fishers 71.1
    Pilots and navigators 69.8
    Structural metal workers 58.2
    Drivers-sales workers 37.9
    Roofers 37
    Electrical power installers 32.5
    Farm occupations 28
    Construction laborers 27.7
    Truck drivers 25

  • ||

    """but if we tie the hands of law enforcement we have noone to blame but ourselves when things go wrong."""

    If we tie their hands, Donuts shops will go out of buisness.

    Kidding aside, who do we blame if things go wrong because we didn't tie their hands? We are not allowed to blame those who did the wrong, they have immunity.

  • ||

    Calec, to roughly quote Frank Serpico, nothing will change until the day comes when the bad cop fears the good cop and not the other way around.

  • ||

    Or business.

  • ron19d@yahoo.com||

    If I go through a door on a raid and squeeze the trigger, I had better be able to explain why I felt my life was in enough danger to justify deadly force.

    Hold the person who does wrong accountable. The fact that occasionally the wrong house is going be be targeted, or the wrong person will be detained is never going to go away.

  • ||

    I'm curious to know what some of the JBTs and the JBT supporters think of this situation:

    The SWAT team does a no-knock 4am raid on my house because they received an anonymous tip from a retard who gave them the wrong address. I shoot (thinking criminals were breaking in) and kill three JBTs before being shot myself. I some how survive. Do I deserve to be arrested, kidnapped, and imprisoned?

  • ron19d@yahoo.com||

    I think you should just move to Montana and wait for your turn to have a stand-off.

    Seriously.

    No you should not be arrested. Where do you get the kidnapped thing though? That is why I am really disagreeing with you Bill. The extreme twist you are putting on this is making it very difficult to discuss this rationally.

  • Jessie||

    End the drug war ... that would effectively end unconstitutional searches and seizures by law enforcement, as well as unfortunate cases of mistaken identities.

  • ||

    I know that this is hard for some to grasp but being taken away against your will is kidnapping.

  • ron19d@yahoo.com||

    Alright, I think I am going to leave it at that then. You all have a good weekend, and I honestly hope that none of our families ever get put into this position.

    Bill, good luck thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps if I had a more personal experience with this I would feel differently about it. Take care.

  • ||

    Let's put the blame where it belongs. The problem is not the cops who do the raids. The problem is the cops (and judges) who order no-knock raids when there is no emergency.

    The cops who shot Chalvo's dogs probably could have done better but they were put in a difficult situation by there "superiors". The cops were luck they were not shot as in the Frederick's case.

  • ||

    Excellent, I am thrilled to hear about this. After I heard the situation surrounding what happened to that man, I was expecting some new reforms. I'm not particularly an animal person, but that was disgusting, and since that time I have seen many police officers state that killing pets is basically glossed over by departments as a side effect or even encouraged.

  • ||

    " The fact that occasionally the wrong house is going be be targeted, or the wrong person will be detained is never going to go away."

    The end result of a system of social control of individual citizens that is rotten at its core and has done nothing but bleed our treasury and corrupt our values.

    At the time of Nixon's Operation Intercept there were already dealers in bed with the cops in little towns in the midwest. If some bozo was undercutting prices the competition would call the cops and, bingo, a bust. The caller would then jack up the price owing to the increased `difficulties' and the lower availability.

    If anyone thinks that the executors of the drug laws in this nation serve as any more than the final link in this manufacturing/agriculture subsidy program they are dreaming.

    Someone's dogs, grandmother has to die? Well gotta keep those prices high for the boys who produce heroin for $.06 per dose. Gotta play the seizure angle and grab some more loot.

    I like the cops, but in this matter they are simply our corrupt agents. Until we put the onus back on the individual (better a thousand dead junkies by their own hand than one innocent)and quit forcing the constabulary into the role of inquisitors, the idiocy will continue unabated.

    Legalize everything but antibiotics and let the devil take the hindmost (draconian penalties for anyone who, under the influence, interferes with the life or liberty of another citizen).

  • lunchstealer||

    Is it just me, or does WaPo have their comments system all backwardsy?

  • Other Matt||

    Not going to pass. Too many people believe the State is the only one to have guns, and their actions are above reproach regardless of what those actions are.

  • Other Matt||

    Clarification: "People"=State legislature people, not us serfs and commoners.

  • wow||

    look at all those police tears. nom nom nom.


    We need full transparency and disclosure.

  • wow||

    also, fuck the police.

    smoke weed every day.

  • oat willie||

    wow | February 6, 2009, 6:19pm | #

    look at all those police tears. nom nom nom.


    We need full transparency and disclosure.
    wow | February 6, 2009, 6:20pm | #

    also, fuck the police.

    smoke weed every day.


    LMAO

  • ||

    Hasn't anyone heard about the kids who got arrested for "SWATTING?" This particular dangerous prank, called in many times by the same group of individuals, using VOIP (which cannot be traced immediately). Apparently they were calling 911 stating that they had a gun and were threatening to kill their whole family and the police would respond to an innocent stranger's address in full SWAT mode and tear up the house looking for the man with the knife or gun, which of course was non-existent. When this happens, do you hold the police accountable????? They have to respond quickly to an emergency and if someone has an axe to grind and reports a crime in progress, they don't have the luxury of time to investigate to find out whether the caller is legitimate or if there is in fact a real crime happening. This happens more than most people know....

    If/when that happens; we know that the blame for the cops going to a house where no crime was occurring lies with the prank callers, not the cops.

    Such incidents are not an argument against having the information out there about what percentage of the time SWAT teams show up at the wrong house, and so forth. We could simply include the percentage of times when it was the result of a false/mistaken tip or something like that.

  • ||

    Never pass because the Rockefeller's don't make money$ off of it, PERIOD!!

    Personally, I think best is make yourself.
    http://www.ratical.org/renewables/TherapHoil.html
    Rick Simpson Story, Part I;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjhT9282-Tw
    Part II;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysdaDhM9rfA
    Part III;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGhpVzN0ik8
    Part IV;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9NN98CuFGA
    Part V;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zn6XIG_oxUM
    Part VI;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4Lqug_vaqo
    Part VII;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa2iCx3ZLgQ

  • Rick H.||

    Is it just me, or does WaPo have their comments system all backwardsy?

    It's not just you. This is the fucked-up way many forums and blogs format their comments sections, and it's completely retarded.

    I'm convinced programmers who do this are either illiterate or have never actually read a thread or online conversation in their lives.

  • The Medic||

    I only call the highway patrol these days. Usually for intolerant road raged Seattleites that can't drive.

    The last time I called the cops for anything was in Nov 07. We got hit with a huge snow storm in Seattle WA, 700,000 people went with out power. And DT Seattle was the only area to have any gas. All other stations didn't have power.

    Long of the short of it, FIGHTS, physical fights where breaking out because some people wanted to cut the lines and not wait until it was time for them to get gas.

    I was on the phone trying to call the cops, while a large man held a violent man on the ground. he had tried to run a woman and her child over because they blocked him from cutting the next family.

    He tried to run them over, so a HUGE guy pulled him out of the car and held him on the ground.


    You want to tell me what Seattle's finest told me?

    "It's not our problem" and hung up on me.

    I don't call the cops for anything anymore.
    If I can't handle it, my 12ga can.

    I don't hate cops, just most of them.

    The Medic

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