SWAT Under scrutiny focused on safety
SWAT resources in Southwest Washington — click to enlarge. Shooting spurs lawsuit against local SWATThe images of police in body armor and ballistic helmets clashing with protesters in Ferguson, Mo., in recent weeks have raised concerns about the militarization of law enforcement. Locally, the Southwest Washington Regional SWAT team can arrive on scene in a massive show of force, with officers spilling from Lenco Bearcat and Gage Peacekeeper armored personnel vehicles. “Our equipment is not designed to scare or intimidate. It’s protective,” said Cmdr. Mike McCabe of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. “SWAT exists because there are those calls that are greater danger to the community and to the officer. Some calls, a patrol officer shouldn’t be asked to respond to.” SWAT commanders say they are well aware that the team’s response has the power to either quell or inflame volatile situations, and they work hard to deploy judiciously. Over the past 10 years, SWAT has activated about three times a month, 70 percent of the time to execute search and arrest warrants. That increasing use of SWAT for routine matters is what worries civil libertarians, who argue it pits police against the citizens they are supposed to protect.To be sure, SWAT action can save the day, as it did on March 14, when officers shot and killed one of Washington’s most wanted fugitives, who was armed and barricaded in a Ridgefield home. But SWAT also has the potential to escalate tensions, as a Ridgefield woman alleges in a federal civil-rights lawsuit against SWAT for shooting her when she was suicidal.