Bill Calls for More Scrutiny Of SWAT Teams by Police
Thursday, February 5, 2009; Page B02
Upset about the shooting death of two dogs during a botched police raid at the home of a Prince George's County mayor, some Maryland lawmakers have proposed a bill to require state police departments to better monitor their use of special tactical SWAT teams.
Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo visited Annapolis yesterday to urge passage of the measure, which would require every police department that operates a SWAT team to submit a monthly public report on its activities, including where and when it was deployed and whether an operation resulted in arrests, evidence seizures or injuries.
Calvo said he thinks police forces are using SWAT teams, tactical units usually equipped with heavy-duty weapons, more often for ordinary police work.
Members of the Prince George's Sheriff's Office SWAT team killed Calvo's black Labradors in July after officers broke down his door and raided his home in search of a drug-filled package that had been addressed to Calvo's wife. Law enforcement officials have since acknowledged that Calvo and his wife, Trinity Tomsic, were victims of a smuggling scheme that used FedEx drivers to ship drugs and that they knew nothing about the box intercepted by police. The case attracted national outrage.
Calvo has questioned whether the heavily armed team was needed in his case. With simple investigation, he says, police could have learned that Calvo was a well-respected small-town mayor with no criminal record who was unlikely to respond violently to a knock at his door by police officers.
Prince George's police have said they deployed their team to serve search warrants last year more than 400 times, including the majority of warrants served by the department's narcotics unit.
"This bill is an important first step that doesn't restrict their use. It merely brings transparency," Calvo said. "Hopefully, it will ensure that the people who fund and authorize these SWAT teams have the information they need to set good public policy."
The bill is being sponsored by Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) and Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George's). In a letter to colleagues, Muse wrote that it was intended to "shine some light on paramilitary police operations that take place in our communities, and perhaps inform the broader worthwhile conversation on these issues."