On February 23d, MCCRC submitted written testimony in support of HB521, a bill sponsored by Delegate Will Smith (D-20) that would require Maryland police departments to annually report detailed data about their SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team deployments. The law would be similar to one passed in 2009, but allowed to lapse due to a sunset provision.
As will be clear from the testimony we submitted (below), we don’t believe the appearance of SWAT teams and the associated “no-knock” raids have been a good development at all in American history. Or in Maryland’s; to cite some of the statistics gathered during the 2009-2014 period (see our testimony for references.):
- In FY 2014 (July 1 2013-June 2014), there were 1689 SWAT deployments in Maryland — nearly 5 per day, with well over one a day in P.G. County alone (418 in all).
- About two of every three SWAT raids used forced entry.
- Yet in FY 2012, nearly 90 percent of the SWAT raids in Maryland were executed merely to serve search or arrest warrants. By FY 2014, that figure had actually climbed to 93 percent, leaving only 7 percent for the kinds of emergencies (barricaded structures, bank robberies, hostage situations) that SWAT teams are imagined to respond to exclusively.
- Half the SWAT deployments in 2012 were for nonviolent “Part II” crimes. The vast majority of those raids were to serve search warrants on people suspected of drug offenses.
We strongly support gathering data like this about their deployments, in hopes those data will continue to bear out skeptics like Radley Balko (author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces“) that they are overused, and a step backward for civil rights and civil liberties in America. This bill would give Maryland another chance to do that.
While HB521 envisions only annual rather than semiannual reporting, that seems a small price to pay for the improvements it makes on the original 2009 law. Police would resume reporting basic data like location, number of arrests, weapons discharge, and injuries to persons or domestic animals. In addition, HB521 would also require data about the age, gender, and race of detained individuals, as well as a list of all controlled substances, weapons, contraband, or evidence found. Perhaps most crucially, HB521 would also require police departments to report not just the legal authority and type of warrant involved for each SWAT deployment, but specific data about the alleged crime committed by the suspect.
In what appeared to be a good sign for the bill’s prospects during oral testimony on Tuesday (beginning at the 6:29:40 mark), Chief David Morris of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) said he supported the bill with amendments. His reservations had to do with reporting on all evidence gathered as the result of SWAT team deployments, which he said might might jeopardize the integrity of ongoing investigations or cases resulting from the raid. We understand an acceptable compromise may be to provide checkbox-style reporting on the kinds of evidence gathered rather than an exhaustive, detailed list. Delegate Smith said he’d accept the MCPA’s amendments in this regard as friendly ones.
As Delegate Smith pointed out in his final remarks, “Greater transparency means greater trust, and this will benefit both law enforcement and our communities.” We agree — and hope this is a first step to dialing down SWAT team deployments in Maryland. As a glance at our legislative tracker shows, the Senate crossfile is SB589.
MCCRC testimony follows: