Why Have It If They Can’t Use It?

The regular stream of “isolated incidents” involving SWAT raids on the wrong house took a curious turn.  From Delaware Online, via Radley Balko :

Steve Tuppeny was in the garage of his Middletown home having a smoke at 6:15 a.m., his wife and daughter asleep inside, when the Wilmington SWAT officers made their move.

Dressed in black, several officers rushed Tuppeny, ordered him to lie face down on the ground and handcuffed him. Other SWAT officers smashed the storm door in the front of the Tuppenys’ two-story colonial-style home, then used a battering ram to break through the red front door.

Tuppeny’s wife and 8-year-old daughter had the pleasure of being awoken by men in black with guns, shining flashlights in their faces.  It’s not the sort of wake-up call people who live in lovely, well-cared for homes in Middletown expect.

The raid is described as one of a “wrong house,” but that’s not really accurate. They raided the house they intended to raid.

Police carried out the early morning raid in search of a man whom they called a “person of interest” in a homicide. The man, in a Sept. 19 court appearance, had said he lived at the Tuppenys’ address in the 100 block of Willow Grove Mill Drive. Police had a search warrant authorizing them to obtain a DNA sample.

“The person of interest had resided at the residence and provided court officials with this address within the last month indicating he currently lived there,” Ivey said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “In compliance with standard operating procedure, officers verified that the person of interest was no longer residing at the home and did not search the residence any further.”

The Wilmington police had time to put on their black soldier costumes. They had time to make sure their weapons were loaded. They had time to make sure the battering ram was in their SWATmobile. The only thing they didn’t have time for is to ascertain whether a nice family like the Tupenny’s owned the home rather than a person of interest. 

After all, a person said this was his address, and the few minutes it would take to verify this detail, perhaps even before they obtained a warrant, could have impaired their ability to seize control of the situation.  Mind you, they weren’t there to arrest a potential murderer, a person who they properly feared was about to do harm to others, but to get a DNA swab.

On the other hand, since the person of interest apparently showed up in court as required, they could have gotten the DNA swab on the next court date. But then, there would have been no use for the ninja outfits and assault rifles. 

The aftermath just makes the story increasingly unsavory.

In most wrong house raids, the SWAT team screwed up, but at least had an arguable reason to engage in the use of such extreme force.  Here, there is absolutely nothing to suggest any reason for anything that happened.  At every level, this was a fiasco, a wholesale demonstration of incompetence, needlessness and arrogance.

What its does show, and brutally clearly, is the offshoot of the militarization of American policing.  Give police military weaponry, equipment, uniforms and tactics, and they will use them.  If there is no good cause to call in the SWAT team, then it will be used when it isn’t needed. 

The rationale for giving police such military equipment and weaponry is that it may someday be needed to fend off a terrorist attack.  Because the terrorists have their eye on Wilmington, Delaware. Maybe it could happen.  The problem is that once they’ve got all this cool stuff in hand, there is a compulsion to use it. This is really awesome stuff, if you’re so inclined, and it clearly comports with the First Rule of Policing.

But the scariest line in this story, coming from the mouth of Wilmington police spokesman Officer Mark Ivey, is this:

In compliance with standard operating procedure…

The new normal is to use the greatest show of force available combined with the least amount of thought possible.  It’s just standard operating procedure in Wilmington.  And a lot of other places too.

8 comments on “Why Have It If They Can’t Use It?

  1. Lee Keller King

    This type of thing is very scary and the incidence of such events seems to be increasing.

    There is an old saying: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    Perhaps it is time to “demilitarize” the police? After all, does the Department of Education need a SWAT unit?

  2. SHG

    The argument, which seems to persuade an awful lot of people, is that if the need arises, the government needs to be prepared.  The problem is that the militarization exists for the outlier, the zebra situation, which means that all this cool junk lies fallow otherwise.  That’s where the hammer/nail dilemma comes into the picture.

    The question is whether we would forgive government for not being prepared with a fully militarized police force in Mayberry if the terrorists attacked.  Part of the problem is their inability to control themselves, to not use these awesome weapons when they aren’t needed. The other part of the problem is that we demand they be ready for anything, even if it’s a one in a million chance of it happening.

    When the next Columbine happens, no police department wants to be caught off guard, both for the ability to deal with it and to stay the inevitable criticism if they can’t.  They can’t have it both ways. Neither can we.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    When the next Columbine happens…the presence of all of this hardware won’t change a thing. Much of the carnage in Columbine happened while the officers initially on scene were being forced to wait while higher and higher level supervisors got in on the action. The lack of ability to deal with such a situation stems from not wanting to let street officers make on the spot decisions (like, say, rushing into a school where shots are being fired), not from a lack of military hardware. Better training, and less micro-managing would do far more, for less money and risk, to handle the ‘zebra’ situations.

  4. Jesse

    Despite their assertions that all this SWAT business is neccessary to stave off the next massacre, it’s a virtual certainty that they will be just as impotent, incompetent, and and paralyzed the next time.

  5. SHG

    Probably not, but it’s a great excuse to buy a tank. And seriously, a tank is just awesome. Just in case.

  6. Bruce Coulson

    Well, there is that. What guy doesn’t want to drive a tank and smash things? And if you can do it while someone else is footing the bill…score!

    Still, I’m not sure my tax dollars should be spent on providing thrill rides for the police. Just sayin.

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