Our View: Militarization versus liberties

Wednesday , April 03, 2013 - 2:44 PM

Editorial Board

One of the consequences to the aftermath of Sept. 11, and the war on terrorism, is a creeping militarization of law enforcement agencies. An increase in commando-style police raids, SWAT-style breaches executed with excessive force and sometimes at very odd hours, have brought criticism. In Weber County, law enforcement acknowledges that police use a “door-kick” approach on average, once a week.

Law enforcement officials argue that these tactics are needed for reasons that include officer safety and preventing suspects from getting rid of evidence. Critics think the increased emphasis on military-style tactics erodes personal liberties. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed 255 public records requests in 24 states, including Utah. Several Top of Utah law enforcement agencies are among those whose records were requested. It will be interesting to see what the records will show.

Frankly, we can see the arguments on both sides. It is imperative that local law enforcement have a clear operating advantage over criminal elements. If law enforcement officers are utilized to protect society without a clear perceived advantage, we have failed them and that is an outrage. However, the growth in search warrants for local drug cases is just one of several concerns with beefed-up police tactics. One example: The Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force serves twice as many warrants as the organization did five years ago.

The recent case of Ogden police officers terrorizing a family in the middle of the night while searching for a military AWOL case certainly erodes any case for similar operations. Other cases that have sparked controversy include the Ogden drug raid on Matthew Stewart that left one officer dead, and several wounded, and a 2010 Roy raid that left the golf club-wielding suspect, Todd Blair, shot to death by police.

The increase in these commando-style, militarized police raids is a concern. Law enforcement should have an advantage in resources over criminals. But such tools should be used wisely. Better guidelines need to be established. If that’s done, the number of SWAT-style breaches should decline.

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