NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 29, 2008

In January 2007, a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team in Lima, Ohio shot and killed a woman and injured a 1-year-old boy during a drug raid.  A subsequent investigation revealed that the officer heard shots outside, mistook the noise for hostile gunfire, panicked and fired blindly into the room. 

As reckless and violent as the raid was, the police did find a substantial supply of illegal drugs inside the house, and the suspect later pleaded guilty to felony drug distribution.  So, death is just collateral damage, says Reason:

A subsequent investigation showed that despite the inherent danger and small margin for error, SWAT raids conducted by the Lima Police Department frequently turned up no drugs or weapons at all. 

Researchers found that in one-third of the 198 raids the SWAT team conducted from 2001 to 2008, no contraband was found.

That means that police are getting guns or drugs off the street 68 percent of the time.

Similar reviews in other cities have produced similar results, says Reason:

  • A surprisingly high percentage of raids produce neither drugs nor weapons, and the weapons that are found tend to be small, concealable handguns, with few raids resulting in felony convictions.
  • A Denver Post investigation found that in 80 percent of no-knock raids conducted in Denver in 1999, police assertions that there would be weapons turned out to be wrong.
  • A separate investigation by the Rocky Mountain News found that of the 146 no-knock warrants served in Denver in 1999, 49 resulted in criminal charges, and only 2 resulted in prison time.
  • Media investigations produced similar results after high-profile mistaken raids in New York City in 2003, in Atlanta in 2007 and in Orlando and Palm Beach, Florida, in 1998.

Source: Radley Balko, "Death by SWAT," Reason, January 2009.

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