SWAT: Time to Rein In Excessive Response

Russ Vaughn
In my new home state of Arkansas -- a beautiful, reasonably inexpensive place to live, which I recommend to all retirees -- we recently had another unfortunate incident that should illustrate that the militarization of local police forces has gone far beyond the needs of the domestic communities those police forces are sworn to protect and serve.

In Pine Bluff, an old, old man, reported to be 107, lost touch with the world in which he had lived so long and became agitated.  The old codger fired a pistol at responding police officers, which immediately earned him a deadly SWAT team visit.

Agreed, any perpetrator firing on arriving officers opens himself up to a world of hurt.  You simply do not fire at men who are formidably armed and authorized to use deadly force under the auspices of their local government.  Responding officers have little to no information upon their immediate arrival on the scene.  Whatever transpires in that period of immediacy is usually accepted as the necessary police response required to suppress an extant threat to the public welfare with whatever amount of immediate force is required.

But what is to be said of a heavily armed and armored tactical squad of large, fierce, armed, and armored men, who storm the small confines of a poor old man, who has endured penurious life for more than a century and whose mental faculties have surely by all that time been diminished, and shoot him dead?  Yes, they used gas, but their version of events is that the gas failed to deter the intransigent old man.  Excuse me, but I was a chemical and biological warfare NCO in the Army, who in years past conducted gas defense training, and I have to tell you: I don't believe that explanation for a single minute.  In the confined space of a small house, the effects of properly deployed CS gas grenades are incapacitating to young, trained, and prepared soldiers in their prime.  To an old man over a hundred years, they would have to be damned near lethal.

The explanation that the centenarian would, after such a gassing assault, be sufficiently capable of presenting a deadly threat to authorities would be laughable were it not so tragic.  There's an old military term, gung-ho, which describes an enthusiasm for the task or mission at hand.  In my six years in the 101st and 82nd Airborne, it was frequently used in a positive manner, to define those dedicated to the success of a mission, but also in a derogatory manner to demean those who were too eager to accomplish the mission at whatever cost.

And there lies the rub: based upon stories that come to us from around our country, there are far too many SWAT units being deployed to deal with situations that truly do not require their gung-ho military capabilities.  It is of a piece with the growing tendency in community governments to over-respond to every minor disturbance, driven no doubt by the legal hyenas always lurking on the tort-defined peripheries of any community incident.  I recently viewed a minor fender-bender in New Mexico, and present were seven emergency vehicles, including multiple fire trucks and ambulances, all with lights flashing and far too many personnel acting importantly and officiously.  Four-lane traffic had to be directed to side roads -- not because of the vehicles involved in the accident, but due to the completely road-covering spread of the various first-responders.

That saddens me, because I'm a believer in effective policing and public safety within our communities.  But I am fed up with this gross overreaction to minor disturbances that were once handled by an officer, or two at most, but that now require a major callout of community first responders.  Every time all those people roll out, it costs the taxpayers and the insurance companies of the citizens involved unbelievable amounts.  Justifications for larger annual budgets are based upon the number of times those units were deployed in the last budget cycle.  Enter into this calculus the self-serving machinations of public service unions, and we are quickly looking at a scam of the taxpayers of major proportions.  Ask yourself this: "How much is it costing me as a taxpayer to have all those unnecessary firemen and EMTs standing around observing the local cops sort out a fender-bender?"

It's the first responder equivalent of superfluous highway workers standing around leaning on their shovels while a few of them actually work.  The term that survives from my youth is "featherbedding," and it is apparently alive and well in public-service employment.  That is maddening enough, but when such employment overkill and the required self-justifications result in the needless killing of a 107-year-old man, they have progressed beyond political corruption to a deadly vindicating of their existence that is unacceptable to the communities they profess to protect.  That is not only sad; in some cases, it should be prosecutable.

And please, spare me, those of you in public employment who would be eager to remind me that I wouldn't be critical of the excessive turnout of first responders if it were my life on the line.  Old, retired businessman and ex-Army NCO that I am, I would be demanding to my last breath:

"Just what the hell is your function here?"

In my new home state of Arkansas -- a beautiful, reasonably inexpensive place to live, which I recommend to all retirees -- we recently had another unfortunate incident that should illustrate that the militarization of local police forces has gone far beyond the needs of the domestic communities those police forces are sworn to protect and serve.

In Pine Bluff, an old, old man, reported to be 107, lost touch with the world in which he had lived so long and became agitated.  The old codger fired a pistol at responding police officers, which immediately earned him a deadly SWAT team visit.

Agreed, any perpetrator firing on arriving officers opens himself up to a world of hurt.  You simply do not fire at men who are formidably armed and authorized to use deadly force under the auspices of their local government.  Responding officers have little to no information upon their immediate arrival on the scene.  Whatever transpires in that period of immediacy is usually accepted as the necessary police response required to suppress an extant threat to the public welfare with whatever amount of immediate force is required.

But what is to be said of a heavily armed and armored tactical squad of large, fierce, armed, and armored men, who storm the small confines of a poor old man, who has endured penurious life for more than a century and whose mental faculties have surely by all that time been diminished, and shoot him dead?  Yes, they used gas, but their version of events is that the gas failed to deter the intransigent old man.  Excuse me, but I was a chemical and biological warfare NCO in the Army, who in years past conducted gas defense training, and I have to tell you: I don't believe that explanation for a single minute.  In the confined space of a small house, the effects of properly deployed CS gas grenades are incapacitating to young, trained, and prepared soldiers in their prime.  To an old man over a hundred years, they would have to be damned near lethal.

The explanation that the centenarian would, after such a gassing assault, be sufficiently capable of presenting a deadly threat to authorities would be laughable were it not so tragic.  There's an old military term, gung-ho, which describes an enthusiasm for the task or mission at hand.  In my six years in the 101st and 82nd Airborne, it was frequently used in a positive manner, to define those dedicated to the success of a mission, but also in a derogatory manner to demean those who were too eager to accomplish the mission at whatever cost.

And there lies the rub: based upon stories that come to us from around our country, there are far too many SWAT units being deployed to deal with situations that truly do not require their gung-ho military capabilities.  It is of a piece with the growing tendency in community governments to over-respond to every minor disturbance, driven no doubt by the legal hyenas always lurking on the tort-defined peripheries of any community incident.  I recently viewed a minor fender-bender in New Mexico, and present were seven emergency vehicles, including multiple fire trucks and ambulances, all with lights flashing and far too many personnel acting importantly and officiously.  Four-lane traffic had to be directed to side roads -- not because of the vehicles involved in the accident, but due to the completely road-covering spread of the various first-responders.

That saddens me, because I'm a believer in effective policing and public safety within our communities.  But I am fed up with this gross overreaction to minor disturbances that were once handled by an officer, or two at most, but that now require a major callout of community first responders.  Every time all those people roll out, it costs the taxpayers and the insurance companies of the citizens involved unbelievable amounts.  Justifications for larger annual budgets are based upon the number of times those units were deployed in the last budget cycle.  Enter into this calculus the self-serving machinations of public service unions, and we are quickly looking at a scam of the taxpayers of major proportions.  Ask yourself this: "How much is it costing me as a taxpayer to have all those unnecessary firemen and EMTs standing around observing the local cops sort out a fender-bender?"

It's the first responder equivalent of superfluous highway workers standing around leaning on their shovels while a few of them actually work.  The term that survives from my youth is "featherbedding," and it is apparently alive and well in public-service employment.  That is maddening enough, but when such employment overkill and the required self-justifications result in the needless killing of a 107-year-old man, they have progressed beyond political corruption to a deadly vindicating of their existence that is unacceptable to the communities they profess to protect.  That is not only sad; in some cases, it should be prosecutable.

And please, spare me, those of you in public employment who would be eager to remind me that I wouldn't be critical of the excessive turnout of first responders if it were my life on the line.  Old, retired businessman and ex-Army NCO that I am, I would be demanding to my last breath:

"Just what the hell is your function here?"