In 2010, a Special Weapons and Tactics team in Detroit went looking for a man who was a suspect in a case involving a teenager who was murdered. According to the Lansing State Journal, law enforcement invaded the suspect’s home, throwing a flash-bang grenade and firing a shot in the process. The bullet fatally struck a 7-year-old girl in the head. Law enforcement say the girl’s grandmother reached for the officer’s gun, but the woman said she was trying to grab the girl to get her out of harm’s way.
There are plenty of places here in Minnesota and across the country in which a militarized police force has invaded people’s homes, creating unnecessary war-like situations and harming or even killing innocent bystanders.
Giving law enforcement weapons
The American Civil Liberties Union released a report stating that this phenomenon is largely due to federal programs that enable police departments and other agencies to use aggressive weaponry. The Star Tribune reported that the U.S. Department of Defense has donated $4.3 billion worth of surplus military equipment to police departments across the country. For example, Minnesota agencies have received the following items:
- A mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle
- An armored truck
- A grenade launcher
- Night vision goggles
As the ACLU points out, having the equipment leads to more law enforcement officers using it for ordinary activities that typically would not merit such weaponry. In fact, researchers with the University of Eastern Kentucky note that in 1980, there were 3,000 SWAT-style raids across the country. In 2011, there were between 70,000 and 80,000. During these raids, the ACLU reports that SWAT teams use devices such as battering rams and flash-bang grenades when serving a search warrant after someone has merely been accused of committing a crime.
The real consequences
As more and more local agencies receive military-grade tools, the number of military-style raids on people’s homes has increased. What should be a routine investigation can quickly turn someone’s home into a war zone. The ACLU points out one situation in which a 26-year-old woman was killed and her 1-year-old wounded when a SWAT team opened fire in her home because the woman’s boyfriend was wanted on suspicion of dealing drugs.
Adding to the problem is that the ACLU reports that in the majority of cases in which SWAT teams are deployed, it is unclear whether or not drugs or weapons are in the home they are searching. According to the study, members of law enforcement were only correct about the presence of either weapons or drugs one-third of the time.
Anyone with questions regarding an arrest or excessive and unnecessary police force should consult with a defense attorney.