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Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America

NCJ Number
Radley Balko
Date Published
97 pages
After providing a history and overview of paramilitary drug raids of private homes in America, this report catalogs the abuses of such raids and offers recommendations for reform.
Over the last 25 years, there has been an increasing use of police paramilitary units, commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), to serve narcotics warrants, usually by means of forced, unannounced entry into private homes. Such home raids (40,000 annually by one estimate), often involve nonviolent drug suspects charged with misdemeanors and sometimes mistakenly target innocent persons or the wrong address. These raids carry a high risk for violence and have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries to police officers, drug suspects, children, bystanders, and other innocent individuals. Recommendations are offered for policy changes designed to phase out the use of paramilitary tactics for drug policing. Policy changes recommended at the Federal level are to end the Pentagon's free or discounted provision of surplus military equipment to police departments and to require Federal DEA agents to comply with the policing standard of the communities where they conduct raids rather than follow the more lax Federal policing standards. Further, the military should cease any involvement in local policing by sharing training, intelligence, and technology. Policy changes recommended for State and local governments are to return SWAT policing to its original function of addressing life-threatening crises and to rescind asset forfeiture policies, which provide incentive for aggressive policing. Other policy changes pertinent at all law enforcement levels are strict liability for police agencies that make mistakes in forced-entry drug raids, the tightening of search warrant standards, the videotaping of all raids that involve forced entry, and the use of civilian review boards to process allegations of the use of excessive force by police. 522 notes