On Tuesday, May 11, the Kansas City Star published an editorial that was headlined in their print edition as "SWAT team raids go wrong too often." The leader of one of our tactical teams, Sergeant Charles "Chip" Huth, (who also provides extensive leadership training to our officers and has his own blog with Officer Jack Colwell at http://unleashingrespect.blogspot.com/) felt compelled to respond. His guest blog is below:
Please permit me to respond to The Kansas City Star's editorial titled, "SWAT team raids go wrong too often." I have the honor of leading one of the high-risk warrant teams for the Kansas City Police Department. The members who serve on the team are consummate professionals who demonstrate regard for each and every citizen they serve.
The editorial in question raises some points that are worth consideration. The title of the article asserts that the risk of utilizing SWAT team tactics outweigh the benefit; however, the statistical data to support a statement like that simply don't exist. The truth is citizens are safer and high-risk situations are resolved with a lower occurrence of force application when a professional SWAT team conducts the operation. The article mentions three instances where Kansas City Missouri Police made "mistakes" during high-risk warrant service. Aside from the fact the department has served thousands of high-risk warrants in the past 20 years with no negative outcomes, in each of the three instances mentioned there were extenuating circumstances that are not reflected in the editorial.
The courts understand the need for police to strike a balance between governmental interest in crime suppression and infringement on a person's constitutionally protected rights. The courts have consistently reaffirmed that the police don't have to be right, they just have to be "reasonable." The Kansas City Police Department only deploys SWAT teams on warrants where the evidence suggests a heightened sense of jeopardy, such as the suspected presence of weapons, or subject(s) in the residence who have a violent criminal history. In most of those cases, the presence of the SWAT team decimates a suspect's will to violently resist.
The basic mission of law enforcement is to build partnership with the community, and leverage that partnership to help instill safety, security and prosperity. Every contact we have with a citizen is an opportunity to build or destroy a relationship. In working to build those relationships, we must be process-focused, because we ultimately have little control over the outcome. There are simply too many variables.
It is easy to find anecdotal evidence to support a claim of over-aggressive policing because as long as there is a human element in the process, there will always be an opportunity for errors. This does not negate the reality that properly trained SWAT teams provide a critical service to the community. The image of heavy-handed SWAT teams with automatic weapons storming people's homes and terrorizing children is an allegory. It doesn't represent the reality of what goes on in our community's most troubled neighborhoods. We take great care in doing our homework prior to a raid, and adjust our tactics if there are children or elderly people present at the scene of a warrant. We also knock on the door and give the occupants an opportunity to open it for us in approximately 95% of the warrant service operations.
I think the best barometer for measuring police service is the opinions of our customers. I welcome the opportunity to have an independent observer poll citizens at the scene of search warrants concerning the level of police service they received. We are accountable to all our citizens, even the ones we arrest. We take great care in explaining our actions to every person at the scene of a search warrant service. The police department has been very transparent regarding our SWAT team's service to the public. Those in the media that have accompanied us on operations have observed true professionals who treat the citizens they contact with respect and dignity. This philosophy is one of the reasons our team has not had a single community complaint in nearly three years.
The men and women of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department welcome the opportunity to be held to a higher standard. We are up to the challenge. We readily admit we will make mistakes, but we promise to approach each mistake as an opportunity to learn and become better at helping to protect our community. We knew the job was tough when we accepted it, and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve. There are many real problems affecting our community that need to be addressed, and our SWAT teams are not currently among them. Unfortunately, there are also many misinformed opinions that work to distract us from the hard work of making our community a safer place to live and work.
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