May 12, 2008
Today, police departments across the United States more closely resemble an occupying army than they do public servants responding to calls for help. Police officers can now be seen wearing helmets and body armor and carrying AR-15’s, just to deliver simple warrants. The militarization of our police departments not only gives the appearance of a military dictatorship but places the public at great risk.
No less than 70 percent of U.S. cities now have SWAT teams. In cities with a population of 50,000 or more, 90 percent have SWAT teams.
Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter Kraska told the Washington Post that SWAT teams are currently sent out 40,000 times a year in the U.S. During the 1980’s, SWAT teams were only used 3,000 times a year. Most of the time, SWAT teams are being sent out to simply serve warrants on non-violent drug offenders.
Many municipalities are using Homeland Security grants to even purchase large armored vehicles. The Pittsburgh Police Department now uses their 20-ton armored truck complete with rotating turret and gun ports to deliver many of their warrants. Pittsburgh Police Sgt. Barry Budd recently told the Associate Press: “We live on being prepared for ‘what if’.”
Our police departments now regularly receive free surplus equipment from the U.S. military, which they readily accept. The training being given at many police academies appears to be the type of tactics one would use in Baghdad, rather than Baltimore. It would seem that our police officers are being readied for war, with the American public as the enemy. In the last several years, there has been a transformation from community policing to pre-emptive assaults
On January 24, 2006, Dr. Salvatore Culosi was shot and killed outside his house by a Fairfax County SWAT officer. Police used the SWAT team to serve a documents search warrant, after Dr. Culosi came under suspicion for taking sports bets. The investigation began after Fairfax Detective David Baucom solicited a bet with Dr. Culosi at a local sports bar.
Dr. Culosi was standing outside his home while talking with Det. Baucom, when SWAT Officer Deval Bullock quickly approached with his gun drawn and fatally shot Dr. Culosi in the chest. Court documents report that Culosi never made any threatening movements and made no attempt to run as he watched the SWAT team move in around him.
Dr. Culosi had no history of violence nor any criminal history whatsoever. He operated two successful optometry clinics at Wal-Marts in Manassas and Warrenton, Va. His parents have filed a $12 million lawsuit against the county of Fairfax, Va.
On the night of January 17, 2008, a police SWAT team surrounded Ryan Frederick´s home in Chesapeake, Va. The police were there to serve a drug warrant based on a tip from a criminal informant.
As usual, 28 year-old Ryan Frederick had gone to sleep early in order to leave the house before dawn for his job with a soda distributor. He awoke to a commotion of screams and the distinct sound of someone breaking down his front door.
Frederick´s house had been broken into a few days earlier, being a slight man of only a little over 100 pounds, Frederick feared for his safety. After the break-in, he purchased a gun.
Understandably frightened, Frederick grabbed his gun and when he got to the front of his house, he saw a man trying to crawl through the bottom portion of his door. Terrified that the intruders had returned, he fired.
The man he shot was not an aggressive burglar, nor a drug-crazed murderer, he was Det. Jarrod Shivers. The police detective and military veteran died almost immediately. Frederick was charged with first-degree murder and now sits in a jail cell awaiting trial.
As for the marijuana-growing operation for which police were looking, nothing was found. Only a very small amount of marijuana was discovered on the Frederick property, only enough to charge him with misdemeanor possession. Frederick has admitted that he uses marijuana occasionally but has never been involved with producing nor selling the drug.
Ryan Frederick has no prior history of violence, nor any criminal history whatsoever. He took care of his grandmother until her death two years ago, had a full-time job, and recently became engaged. In his spare time, he worked in his yard and tended to his Koi pond…Not quite the drug kingpin type!
However, based solely on the word of an informant, police obtained a warrant and stormed into this man´s house in the dark of night. The information turned out to be false, a police officer and father of three is dead, and a decent young man´s life is now over.
When Ryan Frederick awoke to the sounds of his home being invaded, he did what many of us would do. He acted reasonably when he grabbed his gun to defend himself and fired at a man who he believed was breaking into his home to do him harm.
Had the police simply went to his home during the daytime and knocked on his door, they could have questioned Frederick and found their information to be groundless. A little traditional police work could have saved the life of a police officer and the Shivers and Frederick families would have remained whole.
The Ryan Frederick story is truly frightening because this same scenario could play itself out in your home or mine. In the age of militarized police departments, we are all in danger.
Here are a few more recent victims of our militarized police departments:
Cheryl Lynn Noel, a mom who was shot by police for picking up her legally registered handgun. She went for her gun to defend herself after a SWAT team in the middle of the night, broke into her Baltimore, MD home. Police stormed her house that night because they claim to have found marijuana seeds in the family’s trash can.
Rev. Acelyne Williams, 75 of Boston, died of a heart attack as a SWAT team broke into his home. Police actually had the wrong address.
92 year old Kathryn Johnston who was so fearful that she never left her home and would only open her door after friends who placed her groceries on the front porch had left, was killed by an Atlanta SWAT team last year. An erroneous tip from an informant was enough for the Atlanta Police Department to invade her home. Police have since admitted to lying to obtain a search warrant and to planting drugs in her home after killing her.
In 2006, a 52 member SWAT team stormed into a Denver home in search of a friendly small-stakes poker game. The same thing happened a few months later when SWAT and K-9 units barged in on a charity poker game in Baltimore.
When someone straps on body armor and large caliber weapons, their adrenalin levels begin to surge. As they arrive at the scene, those levels increase. When these now militarized police officers actually break into a dark home and begin shouting at terrified citizens, severe injury and death is likely to occur. It is beyond reason to employ these tactics on anyone other than hardened, violent criminals.
SWAT teams were created in the wake of the 1966 University of Texas sniper shooting spree by ex-marine Charles Whitman. Police did not have the firepower to reach Whitman, who was perched atop the 27-story clock tower. Civilians with hunting rifles came to the scene and joined with police in the effort to stop Whitman. Eventually, police officers and a well-armed citizen scaled the stairs of the tower and killed Whitman, but not before he killed 17 people and injured another 31. As a result of the incident, police departments began to assemble small teams of highly trained officers with equipment specific to sniper shootings, hostage situations, bank robberies, etc.
SWAT teams were designed to deal with very violent individuals who represent a clear and present threat to the public. However, they are now being used to execute warrants on non-violent offenders and even those who have no prior criminal history at all. Turning our neighborhood cops into shock troops will do nothing but erode public confidence in the police and endanger the lives of innocent Americans.
Recently, Boston´s new police commissioner William Fitchet announced that the department´s Street Crimes Unit will begin wearing military-style black uniforms, to instill a sense of “fear.” At last week´s city council meeting, police Sgt. John Delaney told council members that the black uniforms would send the message that officers were serious.
Did someone declare martial law?
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