U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

SWAT Team Liability

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 50 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 97-100
Carl Milazzo; Claire McNaught
Date Published
4 pages
This article focuses on increased litigation over critical incident response.
Liability for using special weapons and tactics is concentrated on high risk building entry, less lethal weaponry, crisis decision making, and training injuries. The general rule is that police need one of three things to enter private premises: consent, an arrest or search warrant, or exigent circumstances. Any injury that occurs will inevitably lead to an analysis of whether the initial entry was lawful. Having an impartial review by a judicial official before entering clearly helps justify the entry. There is no obligation to execute a warrant immediately, and it may not need to be executed at all if negotiations produce a voluntary exit by the suspect. Obviously, circumstances do not always permit the time needed to obtain a search warrant. Even after a warrantless entry occurs, officers may only secure the premises and briefly look for other victims or accomplices. There is no crime scene search exception to the Fourth Amendment, and a warrant is required before searching further. A “no knock” entry is justified when the police have a reasonable suspicion that announcing their presence before entry would be dangerous or futile. The Fourth Amendment does not permit a blanket exception to the knock and announce requirement for felony drug investigations. Courts support the use of flash/bangs or other diversionary devices as long as two conditions are present. There must be some factual justification supporting why the use was necessary in a particular case. Deployment is not routine, or indiscriminately without regard to the known threat. Since widespread use of these devices is recent, the case law is evolving and officers must be aware of any potential State claims. Failure to identify themselves as officers can result in a risk of liability. If undercover officers must conceal their identity at the scene of a search warrant, perhaps it is best to leave them behind. There is no Federal civil rights liability for accidentally killing a hostage, but there may be State liability for negligence and wrongful death.