Are SWAT Teams Overused?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It is wrong to conclude that the use of a SWAT team was to blame for the shooting death of Salvatore J. Culosi Jr. ["Overkill: The Latest Trend in Policing," Close to Home, Feb. 5]. Serving an arrest warrant is dangerous because it occurs on the home turf of someone who may be facing a long prison term, particularly in the case of drug offenders. Often, the presence of a SWAT team during warrant service prevents violence through professional tactics and a credible threat of force.

In his 1998 paper "A Multi-Method Study of Special Weapons and Tactics Teams," criminology professor David A. Klinger looked at 12 years of data on multiple SWAT teams. The most common reason for calling out SWAT teams was warrant service; the teams reported serving 34,271 warrants. During the period the teams reported 462 shootings for all SWAT activities; 139 of these shootings occurred during warrant-related service. In other words, SWAT teams used deadly force during warrant service only 0.4 percent of the time.

In recent decades, while the use of SWAT teams has gone up, police officers' use of deadly force has declined. According to criminology professor Darrell Ross, the annual average number of lethal police shootings is down 33 percent since 1968. These facts suggest that policing trends of all kinds are working to prevent the unnecessary use of force.




The first rule of gun safety is not "Never chamber a round unless you intend to fire" [letters, Feb. 6] but "keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire."

Modern semiautomatic handguns carried by most police forces are designed to be carried with "one in the pipe." Racking the slide to chamber a round requires precious time and two free hands -- neither of which can be counted on in a life-or-death situation.

Salvatore J. Culosi Jr.'s tragic death probably was the result of a finger being on the trigger when it should not have been. Unfortunately, Mr. Culosi, who had not been proved guilty of a crime, paid for that with his life.



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