Even if the Hartes had marijuana, a SWAT raid is outrageous

The case of Robert and Addie Harte is completely outrageous. The family was terrorized by a SWAT raid despite the fact that the “probable cause” for the raid was flimsy at best. (Radley Balko has written extensively about this case.) But the raid would have been completely outrageous even if they were guilty.

The police mistook loose-leaf tea for marijuana, and raided the Hartes’ home in an April 20 publicity stunt. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the Hartes were actually growing marijuana. (They were not, of course.) Was a paramilitary SWAT raid, complete with a battering ram to knock down the door if the Hartes did not answer, a prudent use of police power? No, it was not – and that should be obvious to everyone.

The purpose of SWAT is to go in with overwhelming force to deal with high-risk situations that are too dangerous for traditional police tactics. These include things such as terrorist attacks, barricaded suspects, active shooters and hostage situations. But these situations are rare. SWAT teams are increasingly used on non-violent suspects, and often create violence. One such case was a 92 year old woman in Atlanta who thought she was the victim of a home invasion and was gunned down by SWAT officers.

The Hartes had no history of violent crime. There was no need or justification for a SWAT raid. The police could have showed up unannounced with a search warrant and went through the house. A traditional search warrant would have been much less traumatic and would not have carried the potential for violence. The real question here should not be whether the search warrant was justified. The real question here is why the police are conducting paramilitary raids on suspects with no history of violence instead of simply serving a search warrant.

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