We live in interesting times. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I’m sure this will be an incomplete and probably unsatisfying posting of thoughts but I’ve gotta start someplace.
Here’s the news report that finally set me off today.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced the state’s largest undercover food stamp fraud bust and the arrests of three individuals involved on Thursday.
K & S convenience store employees Kameel Sweiss, 51, Ameer Sweis, 22, Faday Sweiss, 33, were arrested Wednesday for allegedly illegally conducting an enterprise, fraudulent schemes and artifices, money laundering, unlawful use of food stamps and computer tampering.
According to Horne, Wednesday morning SWAT units of the Phoenix Police Department entered the K & S convenience store to execute search warrants and seized $32,876 in cash, a key to a private bank vault holding $550,480 in cash, bank records, accounts, food stamp cards, business ledgers and three vehicles.
Let me be real clear here, I’m pleased these folks were arrested and I hope they go away for a long time. I find it somewhat interesting that the feds weren’t involved since the SNAP program that these guys were apparently busy defrauding belongs to them. I have about 1,000 words of snarky commentary on that, but I’ll spare you.
Here’s the part that disturbs the dickens out of me: “…SWAT units of the Phoenix Police Department entered the K & S convenience store…”
SWAT units – unitS, plural – were sent out to serve search warrants in a convenience store against three people who apparently do not have a violent criminal history. SWAT units.
I read frequent articles where people are concerned about the federal government mobilizing the US military against US civilians. In the world of things I think could happen, this one is in book 39, page 4,023. In other words, not gonna happen.
On the other hand, something that I have no doubt COULD happen is that local police could be mobilized against US civilians for any number of nationalized reasons. I’m no conspiracy theorist, pretty much every conspiracy out there is just too far “out there” to have any ring of probability, but the federal government using local police as a nationalized force to enforce the law hits too close to home.
Localities have, with the help of the federal government, been building a militarized police force for the last 30 years. Between the confiscation rules that local departments take advantage of to raise huge amounts of money and the availability of military equipment – armored personnel carriers, weapons, etc – that the feds make available at bargain basement prices, we have militarized forces in our midst and Posse Comitatus doesn’t apply.
SWAT units started out after some highly publicized shoot outs where police were seriously outgunned by bad guys. Metro police departments put together the original teams to respond to heavily armed suspects and they’ve grown from there. Today, even small cities have their own SWAT units and deployment of SWAT has escalated from responding to heavily armed suspects to serving search warrants and the “War on Drugs” is a major contributor to expanded use of SWAT.
In a 2006 Cato white paper they note that SWAT is deployed 40,000 times per year. You can bet your last dollar that they are deployed significantly more seven years later. Here’s the heart of the matter from their executive summary.
These increasingly frequent raids … are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.
We’re talking SWAT units with no-knock warrants and too often the warrants are for the wrong address or the people requesting the warrants, and those approving them, haven’t done their homework. The Cato paper is a long read, but if you’re interested in paramilitary policing, it’s a good primer.
It seems to me that “the thin blue line” is rapidly becoming history along with “To Protect and Serve”. Beat cops are a distant memory for people old enough for social security, our sons – 28 & 31 – have never seen one. I’m not at all happy about the current state of “community policing” that local departments practice. I can remember when the police were the good guys, and I’m not so sure anymore. I understand they have a difficult job, etc, etc, but frankly departments are not doing much to inspire trust in the community.
I know I’m painting with a broad brush and I’m certainly being unfair to lots of good cops, but until I see some dramatic change in the way police departments do business I’m ok with my broad brush.