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Your Views: SWAT raid was tragic example of police overkill

POSTED: June 13, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Reading Bimbo Brewer’s letter, I agree there’s no way to minimize the tragedy in which a child was critically injured by a flash-bang device used in a no-knock drug raid on a Habersham county home.

However, my opinion is the sheriff does hold a significant measure of responsibility. He makes policy and procedure decisions. His decision to allow use of use no-knock raids and SWAT tactics against unwarned civilians in the middle of the night primarily to prevent drugs from being flushed down the toilet or other destruction of evidence has resulted in a severe injury to an innocent child.

The 3 a.m. raid on the home was ill-conceived. Surveillance was not done. They didn’t know if their suspect was home. In fact, the suspect was absent and innocent people were there. Officers found no drugs, weapons or bundles of cash, and did not find the suspect, but they certainly caused horrific injury to that baby. The child was initially diagnosed with a 50 percent chance of survival.

It’s shameful that Mr. Brewer would shift blame for the child’s injuries to what he calls our “illegal drug society.”

I remember other incidents. Jonathan Ayers (pastor of a church) was shot and killed in Toccoa when undercover officers fired on him during a botched drug raid. Then there was the killing of 92-year-old Atlanta resident Kathryn Johnston in a no-knock drug raid. I barely remember the story of Dillard Free, killed in 1988 when police used similar tactics to raid his home on Christmas Eve. He was 84 years old and innocent. Police were directed to the wrong address.

This happens over and over again and we learn nothing. In 1981, there were 3,000 SWAT raids in the U.S. In 2005, there were 50,000. The term for this escalation is mission creep. If your favorite tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.

Using SWAT raids to prevent tampering or destruction of evidence makes prosecution and conviction easier. It advances careers that are based on conviction rates. It also boosts profits for suppliers of specialty equipment.

But the cost to society is too high. It’s not enough to call these incidents botched raids and tell citizens we promise to do better. This has to end.

State law should limit no-knock raids and use of SWAT teams or tactics to cases where a suspect is holding hostages, has already fired a weapon at police during the same period of contact, or when a suspect is reasonably believed to pose an imminent threat of violence to others.

I expect a financial settlement will be paid to relatives of the child injured in the Habersham County raid, but this incident should also end careers of people in command and policy positions. That is an unavoidable cost for any office where one bears the burden of authority and command responsibility.

Please pray for the child, and pray citizens will demand an end to the inappropriate and unjustified use of SWAT raids.

Bruce Vandiver
Lula


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