A Perverse Incentive

A Question was asked by a reader:

1500 SWAT raids a day…. Has the Drug War completely corrupted our legal system?

It depends on what you mean by corrupted. It is certainly corrosive to the souls of the police, and their relationship with the public they are, and must be, inextricably a part of.

I was watching the history channel, or discovery channel or some such, and they were talking about SWAT training. They mentioned 5 towns in rural Illinois I just happen to know about, as all having full time SWAT teams, equipped with fully automatic weapons, and full ninja gear etc…

As I said, I know these towns. None of them are bigger than 30,000 people. None of them have a real crime problem. The only crime issue they have is meth labs; but no more than anywhere else in the American midwest these days.

But all five towns have full time SWAT teams; and those teams existence has to be justified somehow.

Last I checked, more than 60% of all departments now had at least part time swat teams or something similar (ESU, high risk warrant squad etc…); now really, is there a need for even HALF of these teams, for a quarter of them?

I understand the need for officer safety; and how the movement of meth into rural America has changed the risks and difficulties of law enforcement for a large portion of the country; but is there any reason on this earth why a town of 24,000 people, where the only real violent crime is domestic; should have a five man full time SWAT team?

Of course not. Most of those SWAT teams didn’t exist before 1994; which coincidentally is when federal funding, and equipment purchase programs were ramped up for SWAT type teams, so that local law enforcement organizations could better fight “the war on drugs”.

Of course most place dont NEED a SWAT team, but almost any law enforcement organization could use more money, more training, more equipment etc… The incentive was there for federal funding to be spent, and federal equipment to be acquired; and where there’s financial incentive, there will be a means created to fulfill that incentive.

Now that they are there, they need to justify their continued existence; so what used to be a normal warrant service all of a sudden ends up with 5 guys with machine guns and balaclavas busting a 90 year old womans door down in the middle of the night.

And this sort of thing is 1500 times a day all over this country. Now of course, most of those SWAT raids are on genuine bad guys (drug dealers mostly, who aren’t exactly boy scouts); but some of them most definitely are not necessary, or worth the higher risk of injury or death to the general public… in fact Id wager a guess a hell of a lot of them are not.

Of course the police will say it’s all about officer safety; but in reality more officers are shot on raids than in standard warrant service (and we’re going to get into a correlation vs. causation issue here)… oh and the number of officers shot in any other circumstances are dwarfed by officers being shot in domestic disturbances, and traffic stops (especially felony traffic stops, which are in fact how most criminals end up getting arrested).

So, in the name of oficer safety; and of course in preventing the evidence from being flushed down the toilet; purse snatchers, and 90 year old women with joints, end up getting killed.

This is properly decried wherever it happens; but police being what they are, the blue wall goes up, defending policy and officer actions; and gets higher, and tighter; separating the police from the public they serve, ever more, with every raid.

Corruption? Not the way most people mean it. Just the perverse incentive toward the militarization of the police, and their estrangement from the public

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra