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Re-Tasking SWAT to something more useful

PencilPaperWe are blessed in Montgomery County for a variety of reasons. There is a high quality of living, plenty of parks, great schools, and many different venues for entertainment. There are great restaurants and a variety of life others across the country envy. We live a life many consider idyllic in a relatively crime-free county as well.

For that the Montgomery County Police and Chief Tom Manger deserve credit and thanks. The county police, now housed at the former National Geographic Headquarters, do an excellent job in serving and protecting the county with more than 1200 officers and the latest in technology.

 But the department’s success may also be its undoing. With so many officers in a county relatively crime free, there is little need for some of the divisions a large metropolitan police department routinely has in its entourage. With just a dozen or so murders a year, for example, the homicide department does not need as much manpower as a similar size city with a larger homicide rate.

The same goes for the SWAT team. The Special Weapons and Tactical Unit, once the subject of romance in prime time television, is a unit originally designed to take down some of the most hardened and dangerous criminals. The Montgomery County Police have a very good SWAT team, but in a complacent, well educated and affluent community, there appears to be little need for SWAT.

So, how do you keep a SWAT team around when you don’t have Hollywood-type dangerous bad guys running around threatening to kill people and cause unrestricted mayhem? In Montgomery County we’ve apparently expanded the role of the team and it now includes the duty of serving warrants.

Some of the people who’ve had the pleasure of meeting the county’s SWAT team at the crack of dawn and with the assistance of flash/bang grenades are not your typical, run of the mill repeat offender.

One woman we spoke with, a newlywed with a high security clearance had never been in trouble with law. Your average, law abiding citizen when she saw the police gathering outside of her house she offered to let them in with a key. They didn’t take her up on the offer.

Another, middle-aged man who also has a top security clearance job working with Homeland Security has also never been in trouble with law and was never charged with a crime though he says SWAT visited him in Damascus twice. He said he is now more afraid of the police than criminals.

Civil Libertarians will rant and rave that we now live in a police state. The police, despite all their best efforts to the contrary, have really painted themselves in a corner in this issue.  While the “mission creep” taking place is obviously more a matter of trying to find something to do with the high priced SWAT team than it is an effort to exert total police control over the county, the result is still the same.

There are otherwise law-abiding citizens who were thrown to the ground, cuffed and terrorized by police officers who are trained to deal with the most dangerous criminals, not your average non-violent criminal suspect.

The police will be angry about our story on this issue, and civil libertarians will claim we haven’t gone far enough. But the facts are what they are. The SWAT team, by statistics supplied by the police themselves, has expanded its duties to include serving warrants on non-violent criminals.

Those people are now fearful of the police and what they can and will do to suspects in Montgomery County. It isn’t a good move for the police and it sends a very bad signal to the taxpayers who continue to pay the bill for the police department.

Far from justifying SWAT’s existence the police run the risk of showing the county in the starkest terms why SWAT isn’t needed and should be defunded. That would be a mistake as well.

There are still reasons for SWAT, but not serving your average warrant by kicking down doors, using flash/bangs and scaring otherwise non-violent alleged offenders.  Find something else for these well-trained officers to do. That makes more sense.

What doesn’t make sense is spreading ill will for an otherwise stellar department.

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