Recently, the Libertas Institute had a fascinating interview with former Utah SWAT commander Christopher Gebhardt.  Read the Full Interview Here:  Former SWAT Commander Speaks Out on Police Militarization, the War on Drugs, and Civil Liberties

Below are some excerpts:

“What I saw in Utah wasn’t malfeasance…but rather a culture that marginalized the suspects.  for example, a feeling that “we are dealing with dirtbags…” even though those dirtbags have rights.  That culture extended beyond just offenders…and became a pervasive culture that lead to officers doing things that may be bordering or even actual violations…”

“…this is not just a Utah issue.  You can find examples all across the nation of this mentality…There is something we call badge heaviness which is a feeling you can get when you wield authority that you have to keep in check.  You cannot let the badge on your chest and the authority that you wield lead to an inflation of your ego that you take advantage of when dealing with your fellow citizens…Officers should be thinking how they can help a person – this is an entirely different viewpoint where even if someone is a dirtbag you still treat them with respect.  This respect is regardless of how…they are toward you.  If you still treat them with respect it goes a long way and it opens doors.”

Recently, there has been a lot more concern and coverage of the increase in the police militarization, specifically the increase in SWAT raids and no-knock warrants (increased from 3,000 to 50,000 per year over the last 25 years).  Wrongful raids have led to the deaths of at least 40 innocent people and countless dollars of property damage, not to mention psychological damage of those whose homes are raided.

No-knock warrants allow the police to enter a residence without knocking and announcing who they are.

Examples of SWAT controversies:

  • In 2006, Kathryn Johnson, an elderly Georgian woman was shot by three undercover officers in her home after she fired a shot into the ceiling believing that they were intruders.
  • Two former LAPD officers and 13 others pled guilty to running a fake no-knock raid ring to steal from unsuspecting residents.  Radley Balko, of Reason Magazine, commented:  “So not only can you not be sure the people banging down your door at night are the police, not only can you not be sure they’re the police even if they say they’re the police, you can’t even be sure it’s safe to let them in even if they are the police.”
  • U.S. Marine Jose Guerena was shot 21 times by a SWAT team executing a no-knock warrant.  He retrieved his legal rifle to respond to a sudden home invasion and the SWAT team opened fire on him without announcing they were police.  Initially police lied and said he fired at them, but later retracted those statements because it was discovered his gun still had the safety on.  The police also refused to allow paramedics to save Guerena for more than 1 hour leaving him to bleed to death in his own home.

“I think the issue is that we have pushed the acceptable threshold down so far that even a 1% chance that a suspect might use a gun results in a decision to use SWAT-type force…why take a person like that…in their home? In Utah, it would be hard to find a home without a gun…why not call a…suspect in for an interview?  If they refuse…wait for them to leave…arrest them in a less dangerous place than their residence…If you get someone off site it is a little more neutral.  It is a bona fide police tactic to separate someone from their home…”

“If there is…someone suspected of homicide or aggravated assault…[or] we have a history of this person acting violent, then…I think entry into the home…in the middle of the night is going to be safer…But, there are also other techniques we can use like taking them down on the road.  I would prefer that less violent method because it prevents [people] from being subject to the violence of a SWAT entry.”

“Such entries can be very scary…I have held numerous kids after charging through the door…you never want to see that.  We’ve actually scheduled a SWAT warrant in the middle of the day because there were so many kids in the household and we knew they would all be in school.  That is the right way to think about it rather than defaulting…”

“Some officers may argue that we need to serve an arrest warrant at a specific time because that is when…[there is] a shipment of drugs…I think that’s the wrong reason…You should serve a warrant primarily to seize a person, not property.  Your case should be good by that point because [you are supposed to already] have probable cause that a crime has been committed…So then you should be going after the person in the safest manner possible…Let them flush drugs as long as…innocents are not being harmed…get the bull horn and announce this is the police…come out and turn the lights on…”

“What I think is severely lacking is an appropriate emphasis on de-escalation tactics in law enforcement.  We train a lot on what to do when a situation goes bad.  We train a lot on when to shoot…where to shoot.  We train a lot on less lethal technologies…Officers are required to get taser training…firearm certification, baton certification, but you are not required to be a de-escalation specialist…”

“Officers are often faced with the challenge to get someone to stop what they are doing or change…their behavior.  That can be a difficult task.  It goes back to what I said earlier about badge heaviness.  Sometimes it just takes an extra minute with somebody.  If you are dealing with an individual and trying to get them to see your way, it may take 5 or 10 minutes longer.  But as an officer, what do you lose in that?  You gain the person’s compliance by talking with them and not using force – this is what de-escalation is about.”

“If I had it my way, If I could rewrite everything, I would prohibit forced entry with certain exceptions…hostage situations and active gunmen…to serve a search or arrest warrant it would be absolutely…surround and call out – the safest mechanism.  Now, other might argue that that gives the suspect the opportunity to barricade themselves…that is a rare occurrence…”

The concern about an individual fortifying themselves…is actually a rare case.  The majority of cases end with a suspect coming out peacefully…”


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