Reason Writers Around Town: Radley Balko on Disbanding SWAT Teams for the Washington Times

Writing in the Washington Times, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko says smaller cities and towns facing budget crunches should consider disbanding the local SWAT team. They'll save money on equipment upkeep, training, and overtime; return to a less aggressive, more community-oriented form of policing; and the odds are slim to none that they'll face the sort of emergency situation for which SWAT teams were originally intended.

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  • Naga Sadow||

    But Radley! Who's gonna shoot all those puppies? You? I think not.

  • Hope Nott||

    But Radley! Who's gonna shoot all those puppies and teabaggers? You? I think not.

    FTFY

  • ||

    LOL, Most small town local "SWAT" Teams are jokes anyways. No loss there.

    Lou
    www.fbi-logs.hk.tc

  • Naga Sadow||

    Oh anon bot . . . how I love thee.

  • ||

    Yeah the SWAT team at Columbine was real effective.

    I remember a few months ago when that nut started shooting up a nursing home in NC. No SWAT team, just one cop who went in by himself and took the shooter out. Good work.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    The SWAT Team at Columbine was effective to the extent that the shooters killed themselves knowing that they would not be able to get out of the situation alive.

  • ||

    Killed themselves and how many other people while the SWAT team dithered?

  • kinnath||

    Scotch, do you just walk up and piss on people's shoes for no good reaon?

  • Scott Hamilton||

    Nein. It's just that the sight of automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and polished boots gives me a stiffy.

  • bmp1701||

    Really? They killed themselves because of SWAT? They were fruitcakes trying to go out in a blaze of glory; Suicide was pretty much inevitable. Second, SWAT was totally unnecessary to intimidate. The presence of dozens of regular cops, all of whom would be armed with rifles or shotguns, was enough to guarantee that the shooters wouldn't get out alive. The unique feature of SWAT teams is that, in theory, their heavier armor and weapons should allow them to charge into exceptionally dangerous situations. In case you didn't notice, the SWAT team at Colombine did nothing of the sort.

  • Byron||

    The SWAT Team at Columbine was effective to the extent that the shooters killed themselves knowing that they would not be able to get out of the situation alive.


    Since when is summary execution the role of LEOs, SWAT or otherwise? If the Columbine shooters had surrendered themselves, unarmed, they damn well should not have been executed in place. I know you don't like the Constitution much, but this statement is ridiculous.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    I actually agree with most of what Mr. Balko wrote until the very last sentence:

    "And though there always will be crime, it seems unlikely that should they do away with SWAT, towns like Eufaula will suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by school shootings, bank robberies and terrorist attacks."

    He's probably right about Eufaula but if I was the leader of a heavily armed gang knowing that the police do not have a SWAT team in a certain area does make that area's banks a much more attractive target.

    SWAT teams cause their share of problems as Mr. Balko documents but they do signal to prospective criminals that the police are not going to be easy to outmuscle.

  • ||

    Uhm, Scotch, in places outside your imagination the majority of bank robberies are committed in urban environments and the majority of those are non-violent, one or two person jobs.
    "Heavily armed gangs" account for, what, 1% or less of real bank robberies?
    Besides, most cops these days have access to assault rifles, so I don't think anyone's operating under the assumption they can out-muscle the police.

  • WTF||

    Scotch's ability to reason and think critically and analytically (to the extent it exists at all) functions at about the 8th-grade level.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    "Heavily armed gangs" account for, what, 1% or less of real bank robberies?

    That's probably true, but in part it's because they know that they would pretty quickly be confronted by a SWAT team. We want bank robberies to be mostly limited to small-time crooks.

    Like I said, I agree with Mr. Balko that SWAT teams are often misused. But to get rid of them altogether elminates a powerful deterrant against crime.

  • CaptainSmartass||

    I posit that gangs are dissuaded from committing crimes by this Anti-gang Rock(tm) I have in my hand. For as long as I've held it, no gangs have broken into my home. Ergo, it must work!

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    yeah yeah yeah, the magic rock retort...that was clever back in middle school but are you seriously prepared to argue that deterrants do not work?

  • ||

    Hmmmm, now lets see. If I were a member of any semi-intellegent heavily armed gang on a robbery spree which is going to concern me more ?

    A. A heavily armed SWAT team that's almost definitely going to show up late to the party, and outguns me ?

    B. Some group of random redneck civilians that may be armed and I can't predict ?

    Thanks, but I'll keep my crimes more predictable and urban. I would have no wish to deal with unpredictable armed country bumpkins.

  • Scotch Hamilton||

    It's good that you are not the leader of a bank robbing gang, then. You would not succeed with that strategy.

  • bmp1701||

    SWAT takes a while to show up. If you hit hard and fast, you will at most have to deal with the regular cops who will be the first responders. SWAT will only get involved if the crooks stay put and create a hostage situation.

  • ||

    The real reason the police are amassing military hardware is to protect the public pensioners when the shit really hits the fan.

  • Sheriff Jackson||

    Hmm. I bet that if an M113 came crashing through Balko's front door, he'd be less sassy in the future...

  • Warty||

  • cmace||

    Here's my favorite SWAT action. Tibetan monks had their visas revoked and the SWAT in Omaha, NE, busted them.

    http://www.ketv.com/news/7409792/detail.html

  • Bünzli||

    Hey those Buddhists are freakin' dangerous. If you kill them they just keep coming back!

  • ||

    Once again, Dan T dazzles us with his reasoning powers fantasy life.

  • juris imprudent||

    This blog truly does deserve a better class of troll. Isn't there anyway to get Neil back?

  • Jamie||

    I certainly agree with Balko.

    The problem here ends up being the same problem leading to all the stupidity at airports - a bombination of capture (all those DHS jobs lead to real power) and the splinelessness of politicians who don't want to risk being the one who disbanded the SWAT team right before another Columbine. Doesn't matter how likely it is to happen, or even that the SWAT team likely won't make much of a difference. Not disbanding it means they won't have to run against someone who can scream about that they did.

    As for capture, well, point at the politician that's going to take away Sheriff Joe's goon's guns. Granted, a worst-of-the-worst, but illustrative.

  • Jamie||

    a bombination

    Hm, that was a typo for "a combination", but it works surprisingly well.

  • ||

    As a retired cop that started the SWAT unit in my agency and led it for 9-years, I would disagree that these teams need to be disbanded.
    One common thread here seems to relate to their use in drug raids. In some sense I can understand the concern, when the target of the raid is some low-level street dealer (absent credible intel that the target has not been shown to be a violent criminal).
    On the other hand, many of the dealers in my city were also gangmembers and were almost always armed. The 'show of force' presented by the arrival of our unit prevented a violent confrontation (those are the words of the gang members during debriefing).
    The real issue here is deployment, not the fact that many LEA's find these units necessary. We must use them with all consideration when determining the need to use such a unit.
    One alternative is to cross-train other units in basic SWAT tactics for reasons of Officer safety.
    When I worked Narcs assigned to a County-wide task force in the mid-80's, we had no tactics. It was like a raid of banshees and I am amazed we were never hurt and didn't kill anyone else due to our poor approach.
    So there are good things such units can provide, such as paying for fewer cop funerals.

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