Killing of dogs no reason for targeting SWAT teams

February 26, 2010

Once again we are hearing from Mayor Cheye Calvo of Berwyn Heights who seems to be determined to disband SWAT teams throughout Prince George's County and perhaps the entire state ("Numbers paint portrait of SWAT team use," Feb. 26). Mr. Calvo's crusade is the result of one incident in Berwyn Heights in which a SWAT team, in a mistaken drug raid, killed his dogs. If mistakes were made during the operation in Berwyn Heights, then those mistakes were no doubt identified and appropriate training and policy modifications put in place.

Approximately 30 years ago, law enforcement agencies began to be established in reaction to serious challenges facing law enforcement. Police agencies wanted to ensure that the best, most highly trained officers were used for high-risk operations. The goal was not only to enhance officer safety but also to increase the chances that victims and suspects would be recovered with as high a level of safety as possible. That goal has been met thousands of times throughout this state and the nation. SWAT training has become more and more sophisticated and effective. Critical Incident Response teams, including hostage negotiators, work with SWAT to try to ensure the best possible outcomes at high-risk incidents.

Over the years it became apparent that narcotics raids were becoming more and more dangerous for officers. The old practice of a few patrol officers accompanying a few narcotics detectives on raids was not safe. Officers were encountering drug suspects who were heavily armed, often with weapons much more deadly than those carried by patrol officers. They were also encountering vicious dogs at many drug houses. The dogs were placed there by drug suspects for the purpose of hindering the execution of warrants and to hurt police officers, as well as to keep out competing drug dealers. In response to these new threats, law enforcement agencies began to employ SWAT teams on high-risk raids and warrant service operations. Once again, this increased the efficiency of the police operations and enhanced the safety of everyone involved, from citizens to officers to suspects.

The use of SWAT teams has provided law enforcement and the community with a resource that has been invaluable. Prior to this incident in Berwyn Heights, there had been no public outcry for anyone to micro-manage SWAT teams. Every year thousands of barricade and hostage incidents, as well as thousands of warrant raids, are carried out across the nation. Only a tiny percentage of those operations result in serious injuries to suspects, hostages or officers. When that does occur it is almost always as a result of the actions of the suspects which require the officers to use some level of force. SWAT officers are among the most dedicated, professional and highly-trained members of law enforcement, and they face the most dangerous situations regularly. They are not just people who "dress up in military gear and kick in doors." Perhaps if Mayor Calvo had ever had to face such danger he would understand.

Lawrence Schweinsburg, Crofton

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