Officer safety is usually cited as the main justification for the mass proliferation of SWAT teams over the last 30 years. Police say forced entry, flash grenades, and other paramilitary tactics are the only way offers can protect themselves while serving warrants on dangerous people like suspected pot dealers, poker players, optometrists who wager on football games, frail 69-year-old men suspected of selling painkillers, and women suspected of committing fraud on their student loan applications—to give just a few examples.
But what happens when police need to apprehend a genuinely dangerous person? We see this over and over: They don’t always send the SWAT team. And when they do, like they did in Columbine, the SWAT team sometimes waits outside until the shooting is over. So this week we had Whitey Bulger. He’s a suspect in at least 19 murders. He had 20 guns in his home when police apprehended him. So how did they do it? Once again, they didn’t send a SWAT team barreling into his home. Instead, they lured him out with a phone call, then arrested him peacefully.
Perhaps if they thought he had some pot in the house, it might have gone down differently.