You might have noticed your local police force starting to look increasingly militarized, wearing riot-gear like the type Glenn sports in The Walking Dead, and armed with not just weaponry like Rick Grimes‘ but with an attitude as bad as Merle‘s. Don’t worry, it’s part of a nation-wide trend of SWATting local police:
Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, estimates that SWAT teams were deployed about 3,000 times in 1980 but are now used around 50,000 times a year. Some cities use them for routine patrols in high-crime areas. Baltimore and Dallas have used them to break up poker games. In 2010 New Haven, Connecticut sent a SWAT team to a bar suspected of serving under-age drinkers. That same year heavily-armed police raided barber shops around Orlando, Florida; they said they were hunting for guns and drugs but ended up arresting 34 people for “barbering without a licence”. Maricopa County, Arizona sent a SWAT team into the living room of Jesus Llovera, who was suspected of organising cockfights. Police rolled a tank into Mr Llovera’s yard and killed more than 100 of his birds, as well as his dog. According to Mr Kraska, most SWAT deployments are not in response to violent, life-threatening crimes, but to serve drug-related warrants in private homes.
He estimates that 89% of police departments serving American cities with more than 50,000 people had SWAT teams in the late 1990s—almost double the level in the mid-1980s. By 2007 more than 80% of police departments in cities with between 25,000 and 50,000 people had them, up from 20% in the mid-1980s.
Many young men in the US with bullying issues resolve them through alcohol binges, picking street-fights, playing video-games with impressive body-counts, or raping women. Yet others, savvy enough to realize that modern policing offers you a real-life video game with real ninety-seven pounders to be kicked around, sign up for a tour of duty of America’s war zones (its cities), where hostiles (their colored residents) roam (walk), skulk (hang out on corners) and hide (stay indoors).
It’s just like that game Urban SWAT Force: you pick up a signal that crackles over your gleaming black radio, you answer snappily, employing those mnemonics so beloved of military commanders calling in artillery strikes, “Echo Romeo Oscar Yankee! Heading East on Sixteenth!”, you gun the engine, feeling that horsepower spring you forward, even as it pins you in your car seat, propelling you down that blacktop toward the ‘target’ cunningly disguised as a home. Then, time for the crouching attack, the battering ram on the door, the rush inside as stun-grenades go off, deafening everyone but you. Then, finally, the moment you were waiting for: as wailing women and children cower and beg, you open fire, emptying magazines into anything, and I mean anything, that moves: curtains, pets, goldfish, they’re all fair game.
Sometimes grannies bite the dust:
In 2006 Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old woman in Atlanta, mistook the police for robbers and fired a shot from an old pistol. Police shot her five times, killing her. After the shooting they planted marijuana in her home. It later emerged that they had falsified the information used to obtain their no-knock warrant.
It’s a jungle out there. Only the thin blue line protects us.