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Friday, June 19, 2020

Small Town SWAT

     Nationwide, the vast majority of SWAT team duty is performed on a part-time basis. Except in the largest metropolitan areas, there aren't enough hostage situations, armed standoffs, or other high-risk assignments to justify full-time SWAT team positions. Although they are on call around the clock, most paramilitary team members, when they are not on SWAT calls, perform routine police work. The smaller the law enforcement agency, the less need there is for a SWAT unit. Therefore, SWAT officers in the smaller agencies either grow stale from inactivity or are deployed in low-risk cases in order to keep sharp. Being busy also boosts officer morale. This form of SWAT utilization exacerbates the universal problem of small town over enforcement of the law.

     Forming and maintaining a SWAT team is expensive, and most law enforcement agencies are strapped for money. The National Tactical Police Officer Association's (NTOA) minimum personnel standard for the staffing of one SWAT team is 17 officers. The equipment, ongoing training, and overtime necessary to support a single SWAT team can cost $200,000 a year, a figure that doesn't include the purchase and maintenance of a SWAT tank or an armored personnel carrier. Moreover, this sum doesn't take into consideration insurance and legal costs associated with civil liability suits when things go wrong. To save money, some small departments field SWAT teams comprised of ten officers, far below the NTOA recommendation.
     Eastern Kentucky University Professors Peter B. Kraska and Victor Kappeler, in their 1997 landmark study, "Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing," found that by 1996, some 70 percent of police departments in towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had fully equipped SWAT units. Police chiefs and sheriffs in lightly populated, low-crime jurisdictions, in justifying the formation of SWAT teams, almost always cite self-sufficiency. Why would they have to humble themselves by having to request, a few times a year, help from neighboring agencies? The keeping-up-with-the-Jones aspect of small town SWAT proliferation reflects the competitiveness, professional jealousy, and even hostility among law enforcement agencies that traditionally do not cooperate well with one another.
     SWAT policing has become a part of small town law enforcement. There are, for example, SWAT teams in places like Maryville, Tennessee, Medford, Oregon, Mansfield, Texas, Winchester, Virginia, and Harwich, Massachusetts. The campus police at the University of Central Florida employ SWAT officers even though the county has a paramilitary force. Combat style policing is no longer an urban affair.
     The police department in Mountain City, Tennessee, in October 2007, became combat ready. In announcing the formation of a SWAT team, Chief of Police Jerry Proffitt said, "We're not going to stand by and wait for somebody else to take care of our problems." It was not clear what problems the chief was referring to, since only one homicide and two rapes had been reported in the town of 24,000 during the previous five years. Since police departments don't form SWAT teams to let them die on the vine, the citizens of Mountain City were about to experience a more militarized approach to local law enforcement, one that would mostly take the form of pre-dawn, no-knock house raids in search of drugs.

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