I was reading Adam Selene’s post on the use of SWAT teams over at The Liberty Papers ( linked via title bar ). I’ll resist jumping on as a critic, either the manner in which a police operation was handled or, having picked up the familiar odor of a police bashing, becoming defensive. I wasn’t there and those who had responsibility for that job have to justify their actions in each and every incident at all levels of the justice system. Police officers are human beings, even SWAT officers, who have eternal souls and will forever be searching that soul hoping they did the right thing as they approach God’s bar of justice.
Instead I’ll relate a police war story from my night shift experience, something that I have first hand knowledge of. My partner ( so long ago that I couldn’t tell you which rookie I was training that night ) and I were dispatched to an apartment on a “disturbance with a weapon”. Upon arrival, that’s technical police talk for “When we got there”, we were met by a man claiming that his son was in the bathroom, messed up on drugs, armed with a pistol and possibly suicidal.
We carefully positioned ourselves on either side of the door and attempted to talk to the young man. This went on for several minutes without any coherent remarks from the other side of the door, a door which had been locked from the inside.
“Can’t you kick the door in?” The father’s suggestion was within reason and, after all, it was his idea rather than ours, it was the same as if he’d instructed us to destroy the door to save his son and get that pistol away from him. We didn’t count out loud like you see in the movies, “A one and a two”, no; that sounds more like the old Lawrence Welk Show anyway. My partner and I thrust our feet forward simultaneously and the door simply exploded into the small bathroom as fragments of the flimsy simulated wood product disintegrated.
The young man sitting on the toilet reacted by covering his head to protect his face from the pieces of door that crashed in on him as he; how to put it, was attempting to “let nature take its course”. He had no weapon of any kind and his mind had been clouded by some unknown substance which is why he never responded through the door.
I won’t pretend that we solved any problems that may have existed prior to arrival, to include the course of nature being hastened after our scaring the bejebers out of the young man sitting on the toilet ( substitute the more common phrase if you like ). We cleared the call as “unfounded”, yet another police term for situations that don’t match up with the nature of the original call and in no way should be considered part of the justice system; the digestive system possibly, not the justice system.
At no time did the thought occur to me, “Hey, this would be a great training opportunity for the rookie. Let’s kick in a door for practice so that some day down the road he can put on his training resume, “I kicked in a door”. Now, to set the record straight, I did watch an ER doctor perform an “emergency” tracheotomy on a fellow who had already been declared dead while being instructed on technique by the senior doctor. I figure I’d rather have him learn the first time when a mistake wouldn’t be such a big deal; after all, the next time it might be me he was working on. So, kicking in the door ended up being a great training exercise and would add to the ability of the rookie police officer’s bag of tools.
I don’t believe that SWAT teams are called out to exercise their particular abilities unless the list of “unknowns” justifies their being on location; to promote that line of thought might be considered paranoid, like saying, “The guy was only going to kill himself, why did SWAT have to help him?” There are many suicidal folks who lack the internal ability to finish the “job” themselves and have learned that, if you scare a cop at just the right moment, the cop will do the job for you; it’s call “police assisted suicide”. Who’s to say that no danger really existed, we didn’t need SWAT? When a person claims to have a weapon, visible or not, has shown mental instability, is acting in such a manner as to convince a rational person to consider there is eminent danger action must be taken. The danger is real, not only that individual; but to those in close proximity. The police officer is not permitted the luxury of inaction and I sure wouldn’t want any armchair soda sucking nincompoop to make the call based on paranoia and libertarian distrust of governmental agencies.
There is a tendency to use hind sight, “If we only knew …”, “. . .he really wasn’t a danger to anyone else”, or, “we could have talked him out of suicide if only we had given him an extra half hour to think about it…”; that kind of revisionist mentality attempts to cast doubt on previous rational conclusions in favor of a fairy tale existence which never was nor could be. Police officers make split second decisions based on a smattering of details with the hope that all the training and experience they have gained up to that point will guide them to a proper, legal and safe conclusion on each call.
I take back what I said in the opening paragraph, I’ve been retired from the police department since 1992; but I felt the defensive hair stand up on the back of my neck and I will criticize the police bashing remarks linked to in Adam Selene’s article, the ones that come right out and say, “Someone will die tonight”, implying that the police SWAT team was called so automatically there will have to be blood supplied for them to feel as if they did the job properly. Statements like that will not get you invited over for New Years dinner at my home.