SWAT Reform


In 2008 police in Prince George's County, Maryland, conducted a violent drug raid on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. They didn't find any drugs, but they shot and killed Calvo's two Labrador retrievers and held him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.

Calvo has since become an outspoken advocate for SWAT reform. His efforts per- suaded the Maryland legislature to pass the country's first law requiring all of the state's police departments to issue a biannual report on how often and for what purpose they use SWAT teams. In January, Calvo announced that he had settled the lawsuit he filed against Prince George's County after the raid. The deal included changes in the way the county uses and oversees its SWAT teams.

Here are Calvo's three recommendations for SWAT reform:

1 Think first. SWAT should be deployed only in emergencies, or after a thorough investigation and when a suspect poses a specific risk to the safety of others. It should not be routine.

2 Teach judgment. Written policies and protocols are critical, but officers must understand why, not just what. Training should emphasize sound judgment and restraint.  Experience matters—and there is no place in police work for an MP-5 submachine gun.

3 Civilian oversight. Law enforcement can't police itself. Public reporting and independent oversight (with investigatory powers to uncover problems and connect the dots) will help check overdeployment and abuse.