Maryland Bill Would Bring Transparency to Use of SWAT Teams

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo, who last summer was subjected to a particularly violent mistaken drug raid in which police shot and killed his two black labs, is helping push a new bill in the Maryland legislature that would require every SWAT team in the state to provide to the public “a monthly public report on its activities, including where and when it was deployed and whether an operation resulted in arrests, evidence seizures or injuries.”

This is a terrific first step, and the Maryland legislature needs to pass it. Part of the problem I’ve encountered reporting on this issue is that police departments tend to to be stingy with this sort of information. Even when it’s available, it’s often collected in ways that aren’t usable. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to file open records request for copies search warrants, evidence return sheets, and any other documentation of SWAT-related drug raids in several major cities. In addition to being quoted prohibitive copying and labor fees, I’ve also learned that search warrants and evidence return sheets are usually kept in separate places, making it arduous to match them up once a case has been resolved. In cases where a raid resulted in no charges, the warrants are actually often thrown out. Of course, those are the very cases we want to know about.

The bill Calvo’s pushing would begin to make data about SWAT teams available, so we can assess how often they’re used, in what situations they’re used, and, when they’re used in drug raids, how often they actually find not only illicit drugs, but the high-power weapons proponents say make these sorts of tactics necessary. In the few places this sort of analysis has been done, the results have been less than convincing.

Calvo’s bill would also show how many often Maryland’s SWAT teams hit the wrong home.

It’ll be interesting to see how the state’s police organizations react. Commenters to the Washington Post article who appear to be police officers seem to be miffed at even this small bit of transparency.

Digg it |  reddit |  del.icio.us |  Fark

38 Responses to “Maryland Bill Would Bring Transparency to Use of SWAT Teams”

  1. #1 |  Dennis H. | 

    We need more politicians like Maryland Bill.

  2. #2 |  Marty | 

    I’m glad for Mayor Calvo’s continued efforts regarding SWAT deployments. It looks like he’s putting a lot of courage and effort into changing things for the better.

    My favorite quote in the comments about the article:

    ‘To all of the LEOs and their sycophants commenting in opposition to the bill here: If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to woory about. Right?’

  3. #3 |  Aresen | 

    Commenters to the Washington Post article who appear to be police officers seem to be miffed at even this small bit of transparency.

    It does not surprise me that a group with power does not want to be accountable.

    What will disappoint (but not surprise) me will be the politicians and so-called “tough on crime” types who will buy into the spurious reasons which will no doubt be put out to oppose transparency.

  4. #4 |  Dermanus | 

    It’s too bad it took a personal vendetta to get this going, but at least it’s happening.

  5. #5 |  Aresen | 

    @Marty # 2

    I’d forgotten about that “If you haven’t done anything wrong…” phrase.

    It feels so good to throw it back in the faces of the “tough on crime” crowd.

  6. #6 |  Cynical In CA | 

    “The bill Calvo’s pushing would begin to make data about SWAT teams available …”

    Sure it will! I have an important announcement — I am the proud, but cash-strapped owner of a certain bridge that spans the East River …

    “It’ll be interesting to see how the state’s police organizations react.”

    Police spokesman (Jack Crimmins comes to mind): “This legislation will jeopardize the lives of police officers!”

    Seriously. Enough already.

  7. #7 |  Bob | 

    The Lima, Ohio article further points out this need, two quotes:

    “The paper found that in one-third of the 198 raids the SWAT team conducted from 2001 to 2008, no contraband was found.”

    and

    Lima police apparently aren’t as concerned. When told of the Lima News investigation, police spokesman Kevin Martin said, “That means 68 percent of the time, we’re getting guns or drugs off the street. We’re not looking at it as a win-loss record like a football team does.”

    Oh really? And what percentage of the 68% are for misdemeanor amounts of drugs, or for otherwise legal firearms?

    It needs to be broken down much more. This bill is a good baby step in that direction.

  8. #8 |  z | 

    I agree with Cynacal #6, the bill, even if passed will not be worth the paper it’s printed on. Another law for police to ignore at will.

  9. #9 |  Aresen | 

    @Z # 8

    You may well be right.

    But having at least a requirement for modest accountability is better than no accountability at all.

    It’s a start.

  10. #10 |  Highway | 

    Will this law be ignored by police? Yeah. Will this law be not nearly as helpful as it should be? Yeah.

    But the important thing I see is (at least) two legislators standing up and sponsoring this bill. Finally. It’s sorta annoying that it’s Calvo that’s doing all the pushing, because the elected guys in the state house should be doing more of that, more of getting out there, telling people why they put this bill in.

    But finally. I have to get letters off to those two to thank them, and another to tell my Delegate and Senator to support this bill.

  11. #11 |  Ben G. | 

    All the cops will have to do is re-define what is a “raid” and what isn’t.

    “No no no, that party of armed men crashing through your door wasn’t a raid. It was a high risk community outreach encounter.”

  12. #12 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    Cheye Calvo for governor? senate? I’d love for someone who has suffered at the hands of government authority to be in charge of said government.

  13. #13 |  Chris in AL | 

    If Cheye Calvo had not been targeted and inconvenienced by SWAT actions, he would not give a rat’s ass about what these clowns do, or how many other innocent peon’s they did it to.

  14. #14 |  David | 

    All the cops will have to do is re-define what is a “raid” and what isn’t.

    Much the same way they do with “no knock” vs. “knock and announce”, they’ll have all the trappings of a SWAT raid with some superficial change and just classify it differently.

  15. #15 |  Aresen | 

    “If Cheye Calvo had not been targeted and inconvenienced by SWAT actions, he would not give a rat’s ass about what these clowns do, or how many other innocent peon’s they did it to.”

    QF(Probable)T.

  16. #16 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “This is a terrific first step, and the Maryland legislature needs to pass it.”

    Absolutely. After that, they should get to work on mandating that all SWAT raids be videotaped. Then they can limit the kind of offenses/situations that merit a SWAT raid until they push SWAT teams to become what they once were: EMERGENCY response units.

  17. #17 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Chris in AL: “If Cheye Calvo had not been targeted and inconvenienced by SWAT actions, he would not give a rat’s ass about what these clowns do, or how many other innocent peon’s they did it to.”

    Chris, do you have any evidence to suggest that Calvo was a big proponent of SWAT before his house was hit? Was Calvo a big “tough on crime” politician before the incident? Evidence please.

  18. #18 |  perlhaqr | 

    If Cheye Calvo had not been targeted and inconvenienced by SWAT actions, he would not give a rat’s ass about what these clowns do, or how many other innocent peon’s they did it to.

    So? He does now, and he’s in a position to do something about it.

    re: The Bill In Question

    This is the bloody computer age. Records retrieval should be nearly free at this point. They’ve got a fucking database for everything under the sun about us, surely the code that runs one of those can be relatively easily re-purposed to this task. (In fact, as a software engineer, I know for a fact that it can.)

  19. #19 |  fwb | 

    Even better would be to outlaw all nightime raids, all no knock raids, require that an officer be assaulted and injured first BEFORE shootin dogs.

    It was widely recognized in the 19th century that many of the warrants in use today were unconstitutional, violating the 4th amendment. AND since the suspect is only a suspect, the government has an obligation NOT to cause any undue harm to the suspect’s reputation, property, or person until conviction occurs, meaning the warrant should be served with a minimum of fanfare. See Cooley on the Constitution for more.

    Dominus providebit!

  20. #20 |  Mrs. C | 

    It doesn’t matter…if Mr. Calvo…was a proponent…of SWAT…prior to his incident…because if SWAT teams….were used…in the way…they were intended to be used…there would be no issue.

    It is when they are recklessly given free reign…in situations where they most certainly…should not be used…that these over the top…excessive force tragedies occur.

    I visit my son…at his resting place…thanks to them…so I also know…pain…grief…and…injustice.

    I understand the disbelief…and frustration…at what can be gotten away with…by them.

    I admire Mr. Calvo…he is…a very decent human being…and knowing better now…what can happen…he is…taking the steps…to be a part of the solution. He has integrity. It is not easy to go up against law enforcement.

    I pray that…Mr. Calvo is successful…in his endeavor…it is a start.

    http://www.justiceforsal.com

  21. #21 |  supercat | 

    //Much the same way they do with “no knock” vs. “knock and announce”, they’ll have all the trappings of a SWAT raid with some superficial change and just classify it differently.//

    IMHO, real SWAT teams pose less of a danger to people’s security than the use of semi-dynamic entry by non-SWAT teams. Legislators need to spell out, in plain terms, that

    (1) Cops have a duty to minimize damage or risk to persons and property. While some damage or risk may be necessary or unavoidable, cops must offer a clear and logical justification for any significant damage or risk they impose.

    (2) Upon the request of a person being prosecuted or sued by the state, jurors shall be instructed to determine whether a cops’ judgment regarding ‘necessary’ damage was reasonable. More precisely, they shall determine whether a reasonable person in the cops’ situation could have believed his actions would minimize risk and harm to persons and property. Searches that are not conducted in reasonable fashion shall be construed as unreasonable, and jurors shall be instructed not to construe any evidence resulting from them in any manner adverse to the person whose property was unreasonably searched.

    (3) A cop or other state agent whose conduct in a search or seizure demonstrates wanton disregard for the duties in (1) shall be deemed to be a rogue cop acting without authority. Free people shall have the same right to resist the actions of a rogue cop as they would have to resist similar actions by any other typical person. If a typical person who performs a certain action would thereby forfeit the right of self-defense, a rogue cop who does likewise would similarly forfeit such right.

    (4) If a person claims to have acted in self-defense against a rogue cop, the claim shall be accepted if either: (a) the cop was demonstrating wanton disregard for his duties in (1), or (b) the person could not have reasonably believed that the cop was not demonstrating wanton disregard for such duties.

    (5) Rogue cops should be prosecuted for any actions which would not be legal if they were not cops.

    (6) Cops who force entry into a dwelling without having first either made a bona fide effort to be admitted or establishing a solid reason not to make such effort shall be presumed to be acting with wanton disregard for their duties.

    A bit long-winded perhaps, but the basic notion should be that if people want to be treated like peace officers, they need to act like peace officers.

  22. #22 |  supercat | 

    What will disappoint (but not surprise) me will be the politicians and so-called “tough on crime” types who will buy into the spurious reasons which will no doubt be put out to oppose transparency…

    I wish people who favor law and order could somehow be made to realize that the totalitarian anarchists who infest government support neither law nor order. The totalitarian anarchists view violent criminals as friends and allies, at least as long as the criminals choose their targets properly. After all, if there weren’t any crime, the totalitarian anarchists wouldn’t be able to argue for increased powers to “fight” it.

  23. #23 |  Aresen | 

    As a certified Ouija Board Operator and Astrologer, I demand recognition of my capacities as a Forensic Scientist. ;)

  24. #24 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    #20 Mrs. C:
    Thank you for contributing, and I’m so sorry for your loss. It shouldn’t be this way, and if people like you who have been vicitimized, and people like me who know the system, work together, I know we can prevail. Let’s do it for Sal, and all the others who have paid the price for heavy-handed and incompetent government policies.

  25. #25 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #9 | Aresen | February 6th, 2009 at 2:43 pm
    “@Z # 8 You may well be right. But having at least a requirement for modest accountability is better than no accountability at all.”

    Please permit me to disagree, Aresen.

    There already is a moral requirement for modest accountability without the need for a legal requirement.

    A legal requirement for modest accountability ignored is worse than no accountability because it destroys respect for and substance of law. It fosters chaos.

    The root problem is not that there is no requirement for accountability, it is that individuals delegate to and accept State responsibility for holding its own agents accountable. This is an obvious paradox.

    It must be individuals who accept responsibility for accountability of State agents, most effectively by eliminating them peacefully.

    The means of this elimination is by refusing to cooperate with the State and instead cooperating, without force, with one another.

  26. #26 |  Whim | 

    The Bane of Police Misconduct:

    The Cell Phone Camera.

    Why ELSE do the police now want Cell Phone JAMMERS??

  27. #27 |  Ultrasaur Verifiable Records | 

    […] to Radly Balko, apparently SWAT Teams keep poor records: “In cases where a raid resulted in no charges, the […]

  28. #28 |  Mike T | 

    What will disappoint (but not surprise) me will be the politicians and so-called “tough on crime” types who will buy into the spurious reasons which will no doubt be put out to oppose transparency.

    Tough on crime and law-and-order are usually code phrases for “the ends justify the means if it leaves me feeling safe.” To those of us who are actually conservative on justice and the rule of law, they are cretins who would gladly sacrifice the rule of law and the pursuit of justice to feel safe.

  29. #29 |  Mike T | 

    It must be individuals who accept responsibility for accountability of State agents, most effectively by eliminating them peacefully.

    The means of this elimination is by refusing to cooperate with the State and instead cooperating, without force, with one another.

    It is deeper than that. You must accept a deeper philosophy and understanding of morality than following whatever the law says you ought to do. You must also assert this in defense of your neighbor against the corrupt in the system. That means that if you are selected for a jury in the case of a man like Ryan Frederick, you lie your way onto the jury, play stupid and nullify.

    I can’t speak for the secular Agitator readers, but as a Christian, I could sleep peacefully at night and stand before God feeling justified for doing that. Lying to protect your neighbor from the predation of evil men is always morally justified.

  30. #30 |  Aresen | 

    Mike T @ #26

    You nailed it.

    I think what has been the most disappointing thing for me over the years is how the notion of personal responsibility has been denigrated on both the (conventional) left and right. The conventional left is willing to excuse any failure or evil committed by those they deem “victims”; the conventional right is willing to excuse any failure or evil committed in the name of “morality” or “order.”

    I think there is hope: I look at the fact that a majority of the public apparently opposes both the bailout and the heavy-handed enforcement of the marijuana laws.

    I think the internet has just begun to empower those opposed to such nonsense. In the past, the arguments for freedom were not part of the political discourse and no one challenged the right of those in government to make decisions for us.

    Maybe I am over-optimistic, but giving up is not an option.

  31. #31 |  freedomfan | 

    In cases where a raid resulted in no charges, the warrants are actually often thrown out.

    I hate to point out the obvious, but as someone to whom this was news, this is absolutely outrageous. If I read that correctly, the implication is that there is a deliberate policy of destroying records of law enforcement’s actions in the cases when it is most likely to have screwed up. That’s when records are most important.

    I’m sorry – because I really do like to think that most law enforcement is at least well-intended – but purging, the official documentation of actions known to be embarrassing absolutely reeks of corruption. I would love to hear a LE representative justify this obscene policy.

  32. #32 |  Shay | 

    Police spokesman (Jack Crimmins comes to mind): “This legislation will jeopardize the lives of police officers!”

    ““““““““““““““““
    And as we alll know, the police officers’ lives are much more important and valuable than any of us inconsequential non LE citizens.
    I am glad that MD is making a move on this legislation but after the devastating Ryan Frederick verdict and because of a botched SWAT situation that a loved one of mine has been a victim of, I am losing hope that anything will get better…..I just might want to look for another country to call home. :(

  33. #33 |  ceanf | 

    shay, i am with you on finding another country to call home. and fairly soon if things start rolling down the hill faster. but the problem is, where?

  34. #34 |  supercat | 

    Tough on crime and law-and-order are usually code phrases for “the ends justify the means if it leaves me feeling safe.”

    It’s worse than that. Those are phrases used by totalitarian anarchists to justify policies that favor real criminals and promote chaos (which can then be used as a basis to escalate the policies that are causing problems in the first place).

    Good people should insist upon law and order. Law and order are not served, however, by allowing government agents to flout the law in the name of ‘enforcing’ it.

    It used to be that peace officers and rev’nooers were regarded as having separate jobs. We need to return to those days.

  35. #35 |  Douglas Willinger | 

    Where exactly is Obama on this?

    What about a Presidential directive?

    http://freedomofmedicineanddiet.blogspot.com/2009/02/obama-hopefully-on-police-reckless.html

  36. #36 |  Kevin Carson | 

    “Commenters to the Washington Post article who appear to be police officers seem to be miffed at even this small bit of transparency.”

    What is it the filth and their apologists are always telling us? “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.”

  37. #37 |  Don Tabor | 

    Well, its a start, but keep in mind that these raids are not always carried out by SWAT teams.

    The raid on Ryan Frederick’s was carried out by the Special Investigations (drug) Unit. SWAT was only called out after Frederick was in custody.

    All forced entry search warrants should be fully transparent public record.

  38. #38 |  chance | 

    “They’ve got a fucking database for everything under the sun about us, surely the code that runs one of those can be relatively easily re-purposed to this task. (In fact, as a software engineer, I know for a fact that it can.)”

    The best database(s) in the world is worthless if the people who are supposed to use it are untrained, incompetent, corrupt, or some combination of the three. So while I trust your expertise that it technically can be done, I do not believe it can be done as a practical matter in most government organizations (and that’s even if you assume no active opposition).

Leave a Reply