Paramilitary police: An abuse of power?

Paramilitary is defined by the Collins dictionary as “denoting or relating to a force with military structure conducting armed operations.” In my opinion, this word is synonymous with the definition of today’s law enforcement.

The police and SWAT can abuse their powers, and many times these enforcers operate outside of the law. Often those sworn to protect us and our freedoms will make mistakes or conduct themselves in less than ethical ways, which can cost human lives. They lack accountability for their wrongs, often receiving no penalty for misdeeds that would send an average citizen to jail.

SWAT team. Photo from Hellinahandbasket.net.

Our SWAT officers are heavily armed with automatic weapons and tactical gear provided through taxpayer dollars. They are our protectors, the ones who we rely on to enforce our laws and keep our communities safe. However, these greatly prepared officers do not always conduct themselves in honorable ways. The abuse of such power ultimately leads to unsatisfactory thoughts of the current system. These “enforcers” oftentimes may use force that is greater than what is required or necessary to resolve a potentially dangerous situation.

For example, in Utah in 2010, a raid was conducted at the house of Todd Blair, due to suspicion of meth distribution. Based on video footage of the raid, SWAT officers shot and killed Blair within a second upon entering his house. At the time of the shooting, Blair was approximately 15 feet from the officers, turned away from the door, and holding a small metal pole — not a pending threat.

The SWAT officer’s instant reaction to shoot first and ask questions later was incomprehensible. Blair’s death was unwarranted and their abuse of power was quite evident in the video. It is possible that the officers felt threatened, but that is an aspect of the job which any SWAT officer should understand and be able to manage wisely. The taking of human life should be a last resort. The resolution of their feeling of “being threatened” by killing without substantial cause should not be acceptable.

The police may also act in this manner. On Memorial Day of 2010, there was a car chase in Miami. The suspect came to a stop and parked the car. Soon after, a dozen police officers surrounded the vehicle and fired shots at the man, claiming that the suspect had a pistol. A bystander was recording the incident and once the police officers realized this, he was immediately asked to stop recording. The bystander walked to his vehicle while continuing to record and then tried to leave the scene. Two police officers stopped the bystander, holding him at gunpoint until he surrendered the video. The police officer took the phone that recorded the incident and smashed it on the ground, then proceeded to handcuff the bystander. Unknowingly to the officers, the bystander removed the memory card from the phone before it was confiscated.

Abuse of power? Police shooting pepper spray into eyes of sitting citizens. Photo from Shack Attack.

The video eventually was released to the public, but there were no repercussions for the officers. Their blatant abuse of power was obvious in the video. These officers were allowed to shoot the suspect, order a citizen to stop recording, and seize and destroy a law-abiding citizen’s property at gunpoint without suffering any consequences. Because of such unfortunate occurrences, our society must reform how laws are enforced.

Another problem with law enforcement is they do not always conduct enough research before acting. There are numerous instances when homes of the innocent are raided in error. Typically, owners of the property are reimbursed for any damages sustained due to the raid, but these payments do not always fully cover the damage or replace the irreplaceable.

Emotional trauma and killing of pets have also occurred just because there was not enough of an investigation performed prior to the raid. These families should never have to be at risk of a raid because of an officer’s incompetent behavior.

An example of the lack of thorough research performed by law enforcement was when a mayor’s house was raided because a questionable package was delivered to his home. Had proper research been conducted prior to the raid, they would have realized that the package was delivered to the wrong address. Their time and energy would have been better spent identifying the correct suspect instead of invading the home of an innocent man.

In another situation, a SWAT officer was struggling with an old woman and accidentally discharged his firearm, killing a child asleep on the couch. This raid was meant for another house, but the officers did not properly plan out the raid, which ended in the death of a 7-year-old girl.

A similar incident occurred when SWAT was raiding what they suspected was a drug dealer’s apartment. The apartment owner grabbed his empty gun to scare off what he thought was a burglar. When SWAT kicked down the door they immediately shot and killed the older man. He was just trying to defend his property.

Not all cops have abusive intentions. Photo from PoliceMag.

Not all police and SWAT officers are like this. Many start out with good intentions — they want to help others. Some lose their way, but others are able to cling tightly to their beliefs and ethics. These are the protectors who are penalized because of the actions of the corrupt. They are the good cops.

The police and SWAT are necessary to assist in law enforcement, but there needs to be a system of checks in place to ensure that their power does not limit the freedoms of law-abiding citizens. Instead of sending a militarized group into a house due to an anonymous tip that there may be drugs, why not just send a few officers to check the place with a warrant? It may add to the level of danger an officer is in, but these are houses that do not have any history of drugs or violence. SWAT should be used for known dangerous criminals and high-risk situations, not small time raids that end up with nothing but damaged property or even the death of innocent bystanders.

While I do not like the current system, we need it. Without law enforcement, the country would be in chaos. However, it would not hurt to alter the current system and do things a little bit differently, however. If not, I fear that eventually we will live in a police state, where our freedoms and rights no longer carry meaning, and our choices are no longer our own.

After reading many articles and watching numerous videos, I believe that the United States desperately needs major reform in law enforcement.

I cannot elaborate exactly how the process of change should occur, but I know it will require the thoughts of dedicated, honest and knowledgeable individuals. However, I do know that change should involve more restrictions on what law enforcement can and cannot do because of how many innocents suffer annually.

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