Joyous Day! Town Liberated From Its SWAT Team—But For How Long?

Sadly, this wasn’t a move by the people of Framingham, Massachusetts because, according to the town’s rulers we are told, “Framingham’s SWAT decision has no place in public discussion.”

Nevertheless, credit must be given to an outgoing police chief for making a wise decision for the safety of the town. One might wish that this decision had been made years earlier. Without a SWAT team, one of Framingham’s elderly residents, one Eurie Stamps Sr, would not have been shot to death while lying on the floor complying with police in 2011.

The SWAT team had been serving a search warrant in a routine drug case and they’d given the Stamps home the full SWAT treatment: A midnight raid complete with battering rams, flash-bomb grenades, and 23 heavily armed officers, who caught Stamps in his pajamas.  Stamps cooperated, and there were no drugs or guns found in the house, but he was killed by an officer who said he stumbled and his weapon fired by accident.

This did not lead to the disbandment of the SWAT team, but it did lead the police chief, Steven Carl, to tell the town’s investigating commission that, if Deputy Chief Craig Davis ever left Framingham, he would disband the team. Carl said that, unless the team was supervised by someone with trustworthy competence, it was too dangerous to leave in place. When Davis transferred elsewhere, Carl, who is now also departing, disbanded the SWAT team just as he had promised.

Of course, the SWAT team might return with the next Police Chief. And under municipal fascism the town government, the townspeople will have nothing to say about the decision. “Framingham operates under a ‘strong chief’ and ‘strong town manager’ model, and that’s how it works.”

Carl is quoted by Daily News opinion editor Rick Holmes saying that, with the many expenses of a SWAT team, “you’re paying a lot for an insurance policy.” They are designed to deal with hostage situations and armed confrontations that rarely happen in a small town. But most insurance policies don’t normally find reasons to throw grenades in your home and point automatic weapons at you. Holmes writes:

A small, but growing, chorus of SWAT critics cite other good reasons to disband these units. They skew police priorities toward the pursuit of drug offenders, which is more action-packed and lucrative for the departments. They unnecessarily turn quiet neighborhoods into battlefields. They make mistakes. According to Radley Balco, author of  “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” Stamps is one of at least 50 innocent people killed by SWAT teams across the country.

Then there’s what a group of Ashland residents critical of their town’s police department calls the “SWAT mentality.’” Police should think of themselves as community servants, not warriors operating in hostile territory. Former Ashland Selectman John Ellsworth pleaded in a letter to the editor last month for the town to choose a new police chief committed to community policing, not SWAT-style militarization.

Seems reasonable to me! But Holmes mentions that the “Drug War” SWAT raids can be lucrative. If the town government and police department are going to live by raiding and looting criminals (or should I write “criminals”? since they usually get to keep the plunder even without a trial and conviction), we can expect SWAT to return, and more unnecessary and wrongful deaths in Framingham’s future.