Action alert: Help enact meaningful SWAT reform in Maryland!
- Visit this state web site: SWAT Team Reporting – SB 447. Then click and download the last SWAT statistical report to be issued, FY 2014 SWAT Data Report.(Please do both.) Believe it or not, this matters: police and politicians are claiming no one is interested, so let’s prove them wrong.
- Call these four House Judiciary committee members now–and again first thing on Monday when office staff will have to take your call– and tell them you want meaningful SWAT reform via Delegate David Moon’s bill HB0739, meaning uniform training and deployment standards and data collection to prove those standards are working:
- 301-858-3052, Kathleen Dumais (Vice chair; Montg.County, D15)
- 301-858-3488, Joseph Vallario (Chair; P.G. County, D23B)
- 410-841-3291, Curt Anderson (Deputy Majority Whip; Baltimore, D43)
- 301-858-3380, Pam Queen (Montg. County, D14 — the third Montg.County member of the committee besides Dumais and Moon)
- Email bill sponsors Delegate David Moon and Senator Will Smith with a message of appreciation for their work on HB0739 and SB0941, the crossfiled bills that could make Maryland a leader again in reining in the rampant overuse of SWAT teams.
- development of standards about training and deployment of SWAT teams by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC), and…
- data collection about SWAT team deployments by every police department on the frequency, location, reasons or warrants for SWAT team deployments, and outcomes of those deployments including arrests, injuries or deaths, property seizures, forcible entries and weapons discharges as well as the age, gender, and race of persons encountered, and the reporting of these data by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP).
The data collection half of the bill would simply return the state to its leadership years of 2010-2014 when Maryland collected just such data, prompted by a notorious botched SWAT raid of a house belonging to the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, resulting in him kneeling in his boxers next to his two dead dogs and terrified mother-in-law.
It’s hard to know where to start with a critique of the SWAT culture permeating our country’s and state’s police forces. Maybe here: we were getting along just just fine without any SWAT teams whatsoever, until the 1965 Watts riots prompted LA Police Chief Darryl Gates not to, say, rethink police practices, but to double down with counterinsurgency warfare tactics being honed in the Vietnam War.*
Our nation’s police forces have been at war with us — well, mainly with some of us — ever since. As the ACLU’s fine 2014 report and police department survey “War Comes Home” showed , about 5 out of every 7 persons of known race** affected by a SWAT raid were persons of color. Moreover, over two thirds (68 percent) of those deployments were merely for drug searches — not hostage situations or barricaded bad guys. Only about one third (38 percent) were mere drug searches when white people were impacted.
Prepared with those facts, and knowing that this year’s bill was essentially a carbon copy of last year’s version, HB521, that passed out of committee by a 15-4 margin, I was hopeful that the hearing would go well. But when I arrived in Annapolis, Delegate Moon warned it might not, and that it was the reporting requirements that might not survive the committee’s deliberations.
The full hearing that day had a total of 16 bills to hear testimony about — and as bad luck would have it, HB739 would turn out to be the 15th to be considered. So despite beginning at 1pm, it wasn’t until around 10pm(!) that I could finally join Delegate Moon, Maryland Libertarian Party’s Eric Blitz, and ACLU Maryland’s Toni Holness at the panelist table to testify for HB739. Video of our part of the hearing can be seen here. Copies of both my own written testimony and that of Takoma Park resident, TPMobilization supporter… and ex-New York State prosecutor Eli Koppel are embedded at the end of this post.