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Thursday, November 24, 2011

More S.W.A.T. Teams in and around Charlotte

Brigida Mack of WBTV reported this week that Mecklenburg County has a new S.W.A.T (Special Weapons and Tactics) team made up of police from Matthews, Pineville, and Mint Hill.  Pineville’s Lieutenant Richard Miller says, “It’s gonna be huge” to have the squad separate from Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s S.W.A.T. team.   Earlier this month, WCNC reported “UNCC campus getsSWAT team” at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with training to respond to potential incidents on the Campus. 

MEDIC Kevin Caldwell is talking about learning to take care of “comrades” and “innocent bystanders” as part of the training and focused on the DNC2012.  He states, “these officers want to be prepared -- especially with the Democratic National Convention coming to town next year.”

One thing that was impressive is that an area law enforcement lieutenant actually admitted crime is increasing in general.

No City of Charlotte official or CMPD official will explain the crime statistics they publish which don’t match reality.  Even looking at statistics for what they promoted as a high-value prostitution sting in the area of Plaza Road & 36th Street, the Calls For Service and Reported Incidents reported by CMPD during an 8 ½ month period paint a fine picture of low crime.  However, actual crime in the area was bad enough to launch a special, targeted operation.  CMPD has given no explanation for this discrepancy, or many others.

Data promised to citizens has been removed from the police site. 

But Lt. Miller said "I think with the DNC coming to town and just crime increasing in general, we're just trying to increase our response and our capabilities and our equipment.”

It’s a hint of what’s to come with CMPD roughly doubling its size with manpower from other police departments for DNC 2012.  There’s no word from CMPD yet if either new S.W.A.T team named here will be involved.  

Read “Cops With Machine Guns: How the War onTerror Has Militarized the Police by Arthur Rizer and Joseph Hartma of the Atlantic, describing the danger of militarization of the police—the peace officers—across the country, particularly since 9/11 terrorist attacks.    The article continues to describe the general issue of invoking extremely militarized tactics on a civilian population from police officers:
In an effort to remedy their relative inadequacy in dealing with terrorism on U.S. soil, police forces throughout the country have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a "soldier's mentality" among their ranks. Though the reasons for this increasing militarization of American police forces seem obvious, the dangerous side effects are somewhat less apparent.

Undoubtedly, American police departments have substantially increased their use of military-grade equipment and weaponry to perform their counterterrorism duties, adopting everything from body armor to, in some cases, attack helicopters.   Experts in the legal community have raised serious concerns that allowing civilian law enforcement to use military technology runs the risk of blurring the distinction between soldiers and peace officers  
This is especially true in cases where, much to the chagrin of civil liberty advocates, police departments have employed their newly acquired military weaponry not only to combat terrorism but also for everyday patrolling  Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms.

.  .  .  .  .
Furthermore, with the safety of their officers in mind, these departments now habitually deploy their S.W.A.T. teams for minor operations such as serving warrants. In short, "special" (of special weapons and tactics) has quietly become "routine."

The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, however, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the "men in blue" from "peace officer" to soldier. This development is absolutely critical and represents a fundamental change in the nature of law enforcement. The primary mission of a police officer traditionally has been to "keep the peace." Those whom an officer suspects to have committed a crime are treated as just that - suspects.

Police officers are expected, under the rule of law, to protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even the "bad guys."

For domestic law enforcement, a suspect in custody remains innocent until proven guilty.  Moreover, police officers operate among a largely friendly population and have traditionally been trained to solve problems using a complex legal system; the deployment of lethal violence is an absolute last resort.

Soldiers, by contrast, are trained to identify people they encounter as belonging to one of two groups -- the enemy and the non-enemy -- and they often reach this decision while surrounded by a population that considers the soldier an occupying force. Once this identification is made, a soldier's mission is stark and simple: kill the enemy, "try" not to kill the non-enemy.

Authors say, notwithstanding legitimate concerns of officers’ efforts to stay safe on the job in often dangerous situations:

Americans should remain mindful bringing military-style training to domestic law enforcement has real consequences. When police officers are dressed like soldiers, armed like soldiers, and trained like soldiers, it's not surprising that they are beginning to act like soldiers.

Meanwhile, citizens who live in Charlotte deserve to know the true level of crime and how it’s being addressed.  Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Rodney Monroe still refuses to release data on a wide range of topics, including the real crime statistics, even though they are public record… even though the FBI rules require maintenance of the original complaints and other information… Mayor Anthony Foxx, Charlotte City Council, City Manager Curt Walton have remained supportive of keeping the information from the public.  The only conclusion one is left to draw is that the information people are asking for (and entitled to) will show a pattern of incorrect information fed to the citizens. 

Lt. Miller of the new area S.W.A.T. team admitted that “crime in general is on the rise,” but you’d never know that truth by listening to Chief Rodney Monroe or his political supporters. 

There’s a financial and political benefit to underrepresenting crime in our City.  It’s a short term benefit, and only for those few people making political gains, or winning contracts based on this ‘information.’  For everyone else here, crime continues to be an constant issue.  For everyone else, underrepresenting crime can have a negative effect on collecting a share of safety/police-related grants for years to come. 

Editor's note: the original post also included the information presented by The Atlantic authors, as they presented it, concerning the shooting by S.W.A.T. team of "26-year-old José Guerena, a former U.S. Marine and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq”at his home as they tried to serve a narcotics warrant.   Authors stated he was shot sixty times and that an investigation revealed he never had any narcotics or even a criminal record, but was killed in the raid.  A very astute comment has come in, which you can read below, which contradicts this information and provides a link to the search warrant in this particular case:

Please read both and draw your own conclusions.  The commenter rightly points out that many drug operations are loaded with dangerous weapons and require extra care.  As you can read in comments below, the focus for this post was not intended to be on a particular case, but on
1) whether an increase in employing military-style techniques and equipment is a good or bad idea, and how to consider each situation AND
2) Charlotte's political and police leaders have exhibited a troubling lack of transparency and accountability for their actions. 

Please continue writing in on all topics.  Thank you.


  1. You bringing José Guerena into the discussion is the wrong move. The search warrant affidavit is here:

    The search warrant was executed the way it was because of the inherent dangers associated with drug traffickers. Drug traffickers have weapons and will use them against law enforcement. It is obvious his entire family is involved and they hit several houses simultaneously.

    Jose Guerena was pointing his rifle at the police officers when he was killed. They did forensic tests on him and the weapon. The only way the weapon and he could have been shot the way they were is if he was aiming the rifle at the police officers when he was killed. They knocked and announced and had sirens going before making entry.

    While I agree CMPD and the Charlotte City Council need more transparency, you saying the militarization of the police caused someone's death is flat out wrong. The only thing that cause Guerena's death was Guerena pointing a rifle at police officers who were executing a valid search warrant in accordance with the law and policy. Use someone else as the poster boy for that cause, because by using Guerena, you are using the wrong one.

    And I don't know any police force in America that routinely sends out patrol officers with rifles and "full-battle uniforms." Rifles are a tool of law enforcement and provide many benefits when confronting an armed person. Likewise the only people who even have "full-battle uniforms" are SWAT and they don't patrol in them, only when they are on a SWAT callout and might have the need for it.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and the information offered. The only facts available about the case mentioned are that an investigation was conducted and the results are presented. Thank you for presenting the warrant link, which is recommended reading. At this time, it locks up past p. 6, but will keep trying. It appears there was a strong basis for the search warrant, but how do you know about where a gun was pointed? Citynewswatch would be interested to see the forensic results you refer to, which contradict the information provided by The Atlantic authors. They might like to read it, too. It’s certainly possible he was guilty, but he was only accused at the point he was shot, and we have the presumption of innocence here. Is it possible he could have been detained in a more safe manner, like while he was not inside the house? And then the search warrant could have been executed… Maybe not.

    Taking this particular case off the table, read about 7-year-old Aiyana Jones who was (allegedly) killed by a S.W.A.T. team trying to serve a warrant on a neighbor in a duplex. They had the wrong address. Links to court documents are here: and the police are still fighting to block a video tape of the whole thing from evidence for a couple years now.

    These are only two stories out of many—an increasing number of S.W.A.T. raids and activity which is often successful and safe. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea in every case where it’s employed. Maybe all officers should have the opportunity for advanced training and equipment.

    Police work can be very unpredictable, which makes it even more dangerous. That’s understood. The point of this is to consider when it is appropriate to send in fortified, military-type teams rather than use “regular” police procedure, which often fails civil liberties as well. All proper police work is greatly appreciated, and if that hasn’t come across in the overall writing here, that would be a great shame.

    The other issue you bring out is the huge failure of transparency with those in charge in Charlotte, which is a terrible problem here. When people can’t have access to the truth, and enormous amounts of money are being spent on militarizing the police department, adding unknown ‘private security’ with unknown training, etc… when false information is propagated and true information about negative incidents are covered up, these are strong reasons for concern both individually and in combination.

    Please send an e-mail with any more information or concerns as they occur, and of course you are welcome to comment here.

  3. I am not saying that SWAT teams should be used all the time either. But below is more information on the Guerena shooting. The PDF I linked to earlier should have come up completely. I'll try to find another copy of the affidavit. Below is the wife's statement, audio and video of the approach to the house showing them blaring a siren, announcing and knocking on the door. In the statement by the wife she says she knows it's the SWAT team outside. I'll see if I can find more information for you and send it via either email or comment.

    Wife's Statement, Part 1:

    Wife's Statement, Part 2:



  4. One of the articles you linked to says :"Documents released late last week underscored what the sheriff's department and SWAT's attorney have previously said, that the team believed Guerena had opened fire. It also shows that one officer didn't wait to see whether Guerena would fire. In his debriefing, that officer stated that he fired on Guerena when Guerena began swinging his gun in the direction of the team. The investigation later found that Guerena had not fired a shot, and that his weapon still had the safety engaged."

    Another says the first shot was fired by a S.W.A.T. team member who saw Guerena with a gun in hand and was in fear, shot, and fell backward. The others saw the S.W.A.T. muzzle fire and fall, mistakenly thought Guerena had shot at them, then began firing the dozens of rounds which caused Guerena to bleed to death.

    The point here is not to adjudicate whether a man was guilty or innocent of the crimes alleged on a search warrant--that is not possible and would not be fair.

    This officer mistakenly (by virtue of the fact their own investigation showed the safety was still engaged on Guerena's gun and no shots were fired) shot at a man that was not shooting at him, in the heat of a S.W.A.T. raid, which caused dozens more rounds to be fired. The rest of this story for others to speculate about.

    The hope is that people will consider the control involved locally concerning adequate training, leadership, and decision-making for all law enforcement in the Charlotte area, especially as S.W.A.T. teams are on the rise. Right now, the people in charge are not being transparent or accountable.

    Lt. Miller's statement that crime is on the rise in general needs to be documented and investigated, as do any number of other CMPD Command-related issues.