The Hubris of the National Tactical Officers Association

In my report following the live chat @ The Agitator with Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo last week, I made mention of some very modest reforms he was pushing in Maryland. The bill would require all police departments with SWAT teams to provide monthly reports to the state’s Attorney General, local officials and the general public.

Who would have a problem with just a little public oversight over law enforcement? Apparently, the National Tactical Officers Association’s executive director John Gnagey does:

[John Gnagey] says reporting requirements for SWAT teams should emanate from the law enforcement community, not legislators.

“Our data shows that when SWAT teams are deployed, the violence goes down,” said John Gnagey, who was a SWAT team member for 26 years in the Champaign, Ill., police department.

One question for Mr. Gnagey: That slogan that you have on your squad car that says “to serve and protect,” who exactly are you trying to serve and protect? Based on the tone from the article, it appears that you are only interested in serving and protecting law enforcement. Silly me, I was under the impression that the purpose of law enforcement was to serve and protect the general public! If you have some data that shows SWAT deployments bring the level of violence down, why are you so afraid of putting this data to the test?

The hubris of Mr. Gnagey illustrates exactly why more oversight of law enforcement is necessary. The article also points out that nationally the number of SWAT deployments rose from 2,500 annually in the 1980’s to between 50,000 and 60,000 in 2005; the War on (Some) Drugs is largely responsible for this dramatic increase. Not everyone agrees that these SWAT deployments have reduced violence.

Mayor Cheye Calvo was also interviewed in the article:

“It’s pretty clear to me that police are using SWAT teams for duties that used to be performed by ordinary police officers,” says Calvo, whose Berwyn Heights house was raided July 29 when police mistakenly thought his wife was involved in drug trafficking. “No question, there are times when SWAT teams are appropriate. What strikes me about this is that police are using SWAT teams as an initial response rather than a last resort.”

What we need is more transparency and it’s never going to happen if we depend on those who have something to hide to change the reporting requirements.

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