Petarra: Mission creep? Beware of SWAT frenzy

Petarra: Mission creep? Beware of SWAT frenzy

December 20th, 2013 by By Dr. Steve Petarra in Opinion Columns

Neighbors look on as Chattanooga SWAT officers converge outside a home on Tremont Street in this file photo.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

The recent SWAT action recounted in the Times Free Press, "SWAT spends 10 hours outside Chattanooga house for suspect who wasn't there," Dec. 12th, is a great opportunity for the community to discuss the recent explosive growth in SWAT type para-military policing in our communities.

To summarize, a domestic violence call was made, there were rumors of a gunshot, SWAT was dispatched and thus began a lengthy police/para-military action.

To the later (not admitted) embarrassment of the police, the suspect who supposedly was seen running into the house with a rifle mysteriously disappeared and was not present in the building.

The TFP reports that he was in touch with his lawyer.

Smart man, because if he was present in the home, it is very possible that his domestic assault, which consisted of a shove, might have easily resulted in his death during a escalated police action.

In the U.S., 80 percent of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people have SWAT teams and there are nearly 100,000 SWAT raids conducted yearly, many to serve search or arrest warrants, often for non-violent offenses.

There are many recorded cases of situations unnecessarily escalated, wrong homes violated and excessive force used.

It is my belief that the militarization of community policing places a barrier between the police and those whom they are pledged to protect.

I also believe that there are many factors beyond the need for increased public safety that are driving this change, two that come to mind are the marketing of military style equipment to police departments and the distribution of surplus assault equipment from the military to local cops.

America needs to re-evaluate what it wants from the police, either a militarized force suffering from a severe case of mission-creep or smart community policing where the citizens are treated with respect and criminal activities are fought with good police and detective work, not flash/bangs, tear gas and high powered rifles.

For further information, I would refer readers to "Rise of the Warrior Cop" by Radley Balko.

- Dr. Steve Petarra is a local physician who lives on Signal Mountain.