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February 24, 2010

Tactical raids common in area

Heavily armed tactical police in Prince George's County raid more homes than any other law enforcement agency in the state, according to newly released data from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

In the last six months of 2009, police there conducted 195 tactical entries, 105 involving crime deemed nonserious felonies and misdemeanors. That's compared with 84 such raids in Baltimore (at left, a scene from a barricade in East Baltimore in 2007) over the same time period, 63 in Baltimore County, 16 in Harford, 22 in Carroll and 27 in Howard.

Lawmakers in Annapolis required police accross Maryland to submit the data after a mayor of Berwyn Heights was hancuffed by sheriffs deputies who burst into his home with automatic weapons and shot his two dogs. Drug dealers had sent packages of marijuana to unsuspecting homeowners and waited until postal carriers left them on front porches, with the hopes of intercepting them before the owners came home. Police had intercepted the package sent to Mayor Cheye Calvo's house and suspected he was the actual recipient. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.

But police agencies steadfastly stood by their tactics. Calvo has sued Prince George's County, arguing that police there routinely use SWAT team tactics on even the most routine of raids, and that the raid on his house could've been avoided with a little prior investigation. Calvo told me he believes the numbers given to the state back his claim.

Unfortunately all we have are spreadsheets. There is no narrative, so what we don't know is even on routine raids whether police believe the targets had guns. For those interested in revewing some of the raw data:

Baltimore City; Baltimore County; Anne Arundel County; Howard County; Prince George's County

A Prince George's County police spokeswoman told me that even in cases where minor crimes are alleged, most are for drugs, and police assume there are weapons. That makes a tactical entry necessary.

But the argument still is that police, since the Sept. 11 attacks, have armed themselves like never before and are increasingly using military-style tactics that amount to paramilitary like operations to arrest people wanted on crimes that involve small amounts of drugs. Calvo said police last year raided a house in his neighborhood looking for someone wanted for writing bad checks.

The statistics compiled on police raids give a broad picture of how the tactic is used in Maryland. Of the 806 raids conducted in the six-month period, more than 94 percent stemmed from search or arrest warrants. Most of the others came as the result of a barricade situation.

Police forced their way into 545 houses, seized property in 633 of the raids, made arrests 485 times and discharged their weapons five times. In the six months studied, seven civilians were hurt but none killed, and two animals were injured and two killed.

Baltimore police listed raid sites by ZIP code, with the most, 22, in Northwest Baltimore, followed by 14 in parts of East and Northeast Baltimore. There were nine in Waverly, four in Govans and five in Highlandtown.

In Baltimore County, police conducted the most raids in Halethorpe (nine), Dundalk (eight) and seven each in Essex and Middle River. Howard County police conducted the most raids in Columbia, 13. Anne Arundel County authorities performed the most raids in Glen Burnie, 20, with eight in Brooklyn Park and six in Laurel.


My but aren't they all so proud of themselves in their nifty uniforms and with all their flashy toys!

How about a little reflection on the larger picture and what is really going on that justifies having these units? Let alone the real embarasment of their dismal and weak result.

Politicians should never dictate police tactics. The execution of warrants is very dangerous and unpredictable. There is nothing routine about this activity. Tactical units (Special Weapons and Tactics) exist for good reasons. If you don't understand why, please conduct research and you shall learn.
What happened at Mr. Calvo's house is unfortunate and a shame. The use of a SWAT team is not the problem. Focus on the PG County Police leadership instead. Find out why a Detective Supervisor did not review the investigative reports and/or the affidavit for the Search Warrant before giving the green light. There is no reason to make a political cause celebre out of this. This is clearly a knee-jerk overreaction by our elected officials. Instead, tell our MD politicians to focus on making slots/parlor gambling a reality and to promolgate new laws preventing felons from possessing long guns and ammunition.

There is an old saying: "Use it or loose it!"
PD's are trying to keep their toys like all normal children. But their is a caveat: "Abuse it you loose it!" The Baltimore PD Tactical Unit has been deployed to elementary schools to quell what they and the schools termed a "riot". Which we later found was a fist fight among less than a half dozen 8 and 9 year old girls. It is bad enough that the schools are run like prisons, but even regular uniformed patrol would have been edging into overkill. They are searching for justifications to keep their spray guns and gadgets. So, they try to use them whenever they can. The problem is these units are becoming just as dangerous and scary to the public as gangs and terrorists.
There is also a major integrity problem: The PG County Police have never admitted to any wrong doing. They have shown not the slightest bit of remorse. Everyone makes mistakes. It is this heir of infallibility police hold that does them in. They don't shoot you because you are a criminal - You are a criminal because they shoot you. This attitude cannot be tolerated, and it will not stand.

Don't have that problem around here. We have SWAT, but we also have better gun laws so just busting in somewhere might get a bunch of SWAT officers and civilians killed. Deer rifles will shoot through that fancy gear...

Last year I conducted a training seminar for Prince George's County SWAT school. Having interacted with members of some 32 law enforcement agencies in the state of Maryland in some training capacity, I can tell you that they are some of the most dedicated, professional, and intelligent officers I've ever had the pleasure of coming across. If the information handed down to them was faulty, then the fault should lay with the investigators who deemed the threat to be present in the first place, not those who were ordered to respond to the perceived threat.

With regard to the training gear - 90% of the extra equipment they carry is DEFENSIVE and PROTECTIVE in nature. From helmets to gloves to vests, this gear's sole purpose is to preserve the life of the officer in a high-risk situation. Extra protective equipment doesn't make them more of a threat.

Also, SWAT officers go through the most rigorous fitness, marksmanship, and tactical training available. When they are not executing these high-risk warrants, they are training to improve their ability in all areas, that their own lives and the lives of ordinary citizens may be preserved by their expertise.

Few of us, including perhaps those who have commented above, can ever say that one daily task at their job included calculating how to avoid a violent death at the hands of a criminal while apprehending them so no others could be hurt.

Jeff, the problem is that their daily task includes "calculating how to avoid a violent death at the hands of a criminal while apprehending them so no others could be hurt." When only SIX percent of SWAT responses sre for barricade situations, then the sitaution you described should be a MONTHLY task. Of course they need to have DEFENSIVE and PROTECTIVE gear. They are VIOENTLY and AGGRESSIVELY entering homes occupied by citizens who may have firearms sanctioned by the US Constitution. SWAT officers have been mistakenly hurt or killed by surprised homeowners who have awoken in the middle of the night, discombobulated, and then shot at people they thought were home invaders. But many more innocent citizens have been shot in wrong-doorraids. And they are VIOENTLY entering homes of people who comitted non-serious felonies and misdeamenors. Since when does a misdeamenor require SWAT? The Bill of Rights guarantees that Americans should be secure in their persons and homes. People who are suspected of having committed non-violent crimes should be served a peaceful warrant for evidence gathering. If the officers do not enter violently, the officers will not need the "defensive and protetive" gear that you mentioned. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty. Having a SWAT team break down a door, shooting pets, and throwing residents to the ground is not the method to gather evidence for a misdemeanor or non-serious felony. And by the way, my husband is a cop.

I am not saying this is the most important issue at stake, but I am disturbed by the killing of the dogs.

Most of what I read say it is SOP to kill dogs at a residence when SWAT goes in (including any tied up outside), and anecdotal evidence states this is often a "game" with SWAT members (who kills the dog first, most dogs killed, etc.)

As a dog-owner, this just makes me mad.

Politicians have EVERY RIGHT to dictate police tactics because they are YOUR BOSSES! The police are the SERVANTS of the PEOPLE through the LEGISLATURE. Sorry, MrRational, but we do get to tell you how to conduct your raids. We do get to tell you what is right and what is wrong. And you can leave and find another job if you don't like what we tell you. That's the way it goes.

What is especially disturbing is the attitude that nobody, not even the legislature, can question what the police do. Disturbing, but not unexpected. It's more than obvious that throughout history giving a bunch of men with low self-esteem guns and unlimited immunity to shoot whatever they want always ends up nothing more than having a state-sponsored gang.

But what's going to happen if the police don't wise up will be awful for them. How long can you break into people's homes and shoot everything you see and then walk away... without anything happening to you afterwards? Sure, the prosecutors won't do anything to you, but the people will. Mark my words, it will get to the point where random, innocent police officers will be indiscriminately killed as revenge for the SWAT raids simply because they wear the uniform. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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