October 25, 2013 10:59 am -

utah-police-swat-team-war-on-drugsRadley Balko has written a series of articles for the Huffington Post on the poorly conceived “War on Drugs” and the need for reform of both drug laws and law enforcement. The first article focused on a drug raid that broke horribly bad in Utah, Balko’s latest looks at drug enforcement as an underlying factor in the SWATification of local law enforcement:

Former Sheriff William “Dub” Lawrence has watched with dismay as America’s war on drugs has escalated, and SWAT teams have become more aggressive, more militarized, and less focused on resolving disputes peacefully.

“SWAT teams have been infiltrated by bullies with badges and guns who foster a mentality that killing criminals reduces recidivism,” he says. “We’re on the wrong track. I look at what’s happened to law enforcement today, and I’m ashamed and heartbroken by what I see. We’ve lost sight of what’s important. We’ve lost sight of what the job should be about, which is protecting the constitutional rights of the people.”

In 1975, Lawrence started what would become the Davis County, Utah, SWAT team. The elite tactical units were coming into vogue across the country at the time, after they were introduced in Los Angeles in the 1960s, following the Watts riots and a number of mass shooting incidents. … In September 2008… he watched helplessly as the same SWAT team he helped create over 30 years earlier shot and killed Brian Wood, his 36-year-old son-in-law.

Wood had a history of psychological problems, and he had barricaded himself in his truck with a gun following a domestic dispute. After a 12-hour standoff with police, the SWAT team moved in and shot Wood eight times with a stun gun before finally shooting him as he lay on the ground, an outcome Lawrence criticizes as an overreaction.

“I told my family, I said, ‘These guys are well-trained. You can trust them to talk him down,'” Lawrence recalls. “I then had to explain to my daughter why this team I helped create — had just told her to trust — had just killed her husband.”

D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.