In response to an article I wrote last month about Police Shootings that Make You Go Hmmmm…, a commenter named Erick writes:
I’ve been on the Chicago Police SWAT team now without incident for over a year. SWAT teams don’t just take random phone calls from anonymous callers, gear up and go smashing in peoples doors. If this were the only criteria people would call in false claims on their neighbor for not picking up their dog crap. Furthermore, SWAT officers are hand selected from a pool of numerous candidates each of whom are vigorously tested and backgrounds checked.
First of all, thank you Erick for taking the time to respond to a blow-hard like me. I don’t know a lot about police procedures, organization, and tactics, but here in the blogosphere we don’t let things like that that stop us from offering our opinion.
Second, I’m not surprised you haven’t seen any ugly incidents. You’re on the Chicago SWAT team. I can’t find much about the Chicago SWAT team online (which is probably a good thing) but I assume that a city the size of Chicago—and which is a known terrorist target—has a very professional SWAT team. [Update: Not quite. See Erick’s comment on this post.] Of the nearly 300 botched raids listed on the CATO raid map, only two of them—both wrong-house raids in which no one was seriously hurt—were in Chicago, and according to the source newspaper articles, neither of these involved the SWAT team.
Not all SWAT teams are as good as you are seeing here in Chicago. The town of Anderson, South Carolina has a SWAT team despite a population of only 25,000. [Update: Kelly in the comments says the SWAT team is associated with the much larger Anderson County.] They probably got federal anti-terror or anti-drug money for that. I’m sure the Anderson police are a fine bunch of people, but they’re just not going to be as highly trained as Chicago’s SWAT team.
I don’t blame the officers for this. The weapons and training are provided free by the federal government to police departments meeting certain broad criteria. If I were a cop, I’d sure take advantage of a government-funded opportunity to get that kind of equipment. Some of that equipment could be very useful. It would also be very, very cool.
Lots of cops apparently think the same way, because in some small towns, every single officer is on the SWAT team and has an M-16 fully-automatic assault rifle available to him.
Third, you say that “SWAT teams don’t just take random phone calls from anonymous callers, gear up and go smashing in peoples doors.” No, but in some places SWAT teams gear up and go smashing in peoples doors based on a request from another police unit (narcotics, vice) that does take tips from anonymous informants, confidential informants, or arrested criminals trying to make a deal. All of those people can sometimes make stuff up.
Erick had more to say, and so do I, but that’s all I have time for right now.
Update: Part 2 is now up.