Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do community college cops really need a SWAT team? Should hall monitors in middle school be next to acquire tactical gear?

From the Houston Chronicle we get this disturbing, bordering on ridiculous news:

The Houston Community College Police Department is the subject of several investigations following the firing of at least three officers.

Those officers and others still on the force also have raised questions about Police Chief Gregory Cunningham's qualifications for the job, as well as his decision to create a heavily armed tactical unit.

There's no reason in the world that a community college police department needs its own SWAT team any more than do constables when larger, better trained and equipped agencies already have those resources. And the lack of professionalism demonstrated by firing one's internal critics demonstrates why I dislike the proliferation of small, specialty departments generally, much less their acquisition of military-style tools and tactics.

RELATED: See this recent interview of Reason Magazine's Radley Balko (on Russian satellite TV, of all places) regarding the pointless proliferation of SWAT teams and their overuse:


SEE ALSO: Do small police agencies need redundant SWAT capacity? Budget crisis changing the debate. AND MORE: See this excellent, extended item from Drug War Chronicle titled "Reining in SWAT - Toward effective oversight of paramilitary drug units."

24 comments:

Joshua said...

Look, I'm a red-blooded American male (and a Texan to boot) and it is obvious that most guys love their tacti-cool equipment and firearms. Guns are just plain fun to shoot, and when you are all dressed up in your tacti-cool gear it probably makes you feel like a badass.

But a SWAT team for a friggin community college?! Come on people! Is this the best use of that money?!

Donald said...

I have never understood why community colleges (and public school districts, for that matter) even have police departments, let alone SWAT teams.

More needless, senseless, wasteful paranoia and "security theatre."

Matthew said...

I am personally against the militarization of local police forces.

However, the use of deadly force occurs (or seems to occur) more often in these times. Drug dealers are not often peaceful people looking for a non-violent way of making a living.

It should be noted that in Texas, judges must grant police the authority to conduct most "drug raids" and more importantly must authorize "no knock" search warrants. So the police do have input from the judiciary.

I think that threat assessments need to be completed prior to any to the execution of any search warrant to see if the immediate use of a SWAT team is warranted. There are times where an plain clothes officer could knock on the door, advise the inhabitants of a search warrant, and they will peacefully acquiesce to their authority. In such cases a SWAT team or pseudo-tactical unit could lie in wait in case the occupants start attempting to flee or flush drugs in the toilet.

I don't think that SWAT teams are necessary for the execution of all search warrants, but they sure are nice to have as a back-up if it breaks bad.

With the laws that we have now, and the types of violent criminals that flout those laws are still present in the United States; I believe that you will see some measure of militarization of the police.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to clean my .223 Bushmaster M4.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Been keeping up with this story out of West Memphis, Ark. where two police officers were gunned down by a man and his son with an AK-47 on the side of I-40 last week, Grits? Here's a link to some of the coverage:
http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/may/26/arms-race/

It kind of adds a little different perspective to this discussion if you ask me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Matthew, surely "some measure of militarization of the police" doesn't need to include community college or ISD cops?

And Donald, are you trying to impress us with your UK spelling of "theatre"? This isn't DA Confidential, a British affectation won't score any points for you here. ;)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:09, they're talking about state troopers getting assault rifles, not Barney Fife working at the community college PD.

A large agency with a dedicated unit and regional responsibilities is one thing. Then the need might justify the use and the folks doing it would be doing it all the time, not pulled off of parking duty once every year or three for the occasional random event. Indeed, just having the unit creates an incentive to find situations that justify it's use. Houston PD SWAT would gladly provide those services if they're needed at an area school, I'll guarantee it.

Also, the main thrust of the article you referenced was police chiefs arguing for an assault rifle ban for civilians - I'm curious if you were you endorsing that, too?

Anonymous said...

I can see it now comming from the Houston Community College system, "COPS". Bad Boys, what you gonna do.....go to class.

Ham2mtr

BTW where is all this money coming from?

Anonymous said...

Wow, a community college with a SWAT team. I would like to read that request memorandum. I have no problem with a helpful police presence in schools and colleges as a deterrent to illegal activity, but more so for the protection of a concentration of people. Tragic incidents such as Columbine and Virginia Tech have taught us that. But a contingent of SWAT pups is a little overboard. And I think the tacti-cool term is right on target. As a younger police officer I thought that stuff was neat. Now, I can't stand it because of the Hollywood connotation and the lack of training and professionalism found with some wearing it. I'm here to serve the public not dominate and intimidate. But I guess I'm getting old.

Matthew said...

Well Grits, first I would not like to characterize an ISD or a College police officer in a school as a "Barney Fife." I am of the hope that the police officers that protect my children are well trained. For the most part, from what I have seen many of the ISD and community college police officers are retired from other larger agencies.

I do not specifically know the situation of this community college, but some universities and colleges are cities unto themselves. If they have a substantially large live-in or transient population in their jurisdiction, necessity may require specialized units of police officers.

I know that in Amarillo, Texas the Amarillo College Police have jurisdiction in numerous counties and actually have jurisdiction over a significant population which resides at an old air base in Potter County.

It seems to be a bit much, and they could always borrow a SWAT team from the nearest large city. Unless they have had trouble finding a SWAT team from a neighboring or concurrent jurisdiction that is unwilling to provide the use of their SWAT team for critical incidents on the campus.

Well that is my two or three cents.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to get the oil changed in my Armored Personnel Carrier... Just kidding.

Anonymous said...

A little trivia for you, Grits. Did you know that the UT Tower sniper (Charles Whitman) incident in August of 1966 was one of the principal articulated justifications for the Los Angeles Police Department's creation of what many believe to be the first Special Weapons and Tactics unit the following year?

Don't know for sure but I would bet that the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings have also contributed to the tactical evolution of SWAT teams in those communities as well.

I realize that it's impossible to adquately prepare for every conceivable tragedy, but at the same time, the issue of campus violence and readiness for same is not something schools should take lightly. JMO.

College Cop said...

I honestly don't know why people have a problem with Special Jurisdiction Police.

Firstly, institutions are going to provide some kind of security regardless, given a choice between a peace officer who spends at least 560 hours in school before they can carry a firearm or a security guard who goes to "school" for all of 4 days before being able to carry, most (sane) people would choose the peace officer

Secondly, how many times do you see Special Jurisdiction Cop in the news for something outrageous, compared to Officers from "Traditional" agencies? I happen to be one and my agency picks people based on who fits in the educational environment and rejects applicants with disciplinary problems/histories with their former agencies.

Lastly, Special Jurisdiction Police (like my Campus Police Department) offer an advantage if a critical incident (like a school shooting) does happen, because institutional police know the layout of the place like the back of their hands, unlike outside agencies that need to waste precious time figuring out what is where.

Now that's not to say I like what HCC has done. I don't think a College PD needs a Traditonal "SWAT" team, because SWAT is useless against an active shooter. Now having College Police with Patrol Rifle Training and access to a rifle or two in the event of an armored active shooter (like the guy at the Tyler court hours incident) is a very god idea, because you never know. Good thing is school shooting are rare, but rare doesn't mean impossible.

My agency has no such capability, which means if an armored shooter shows up at my campus and I can't stop him with my weapon (we are isisued .40 cal pistols), people are going to die while waiting for swat....

College Cop said...

Oh and please excuse the spelling, typing with a sprained hand here.

bob42 said...

Regardless of the size of the owning jurisdiction, SWAT teams and their deployments have skyrocketed over the last couple of decades. Has our society become so violent that creating and using para-military units so frequently is required?

I seriously doubt it. I think it is more likely that our tough-guy swaggering politicians see re-election benefit from exaggerations of threats and follow it with the seed money and surplus military toys that are behind the creation most tactical units.

The recent viral video of a routine SWAT deployment in the college town of Colombia MO should be anecdotal and a complete accident.

Unfortunately, that is far from the case. All aspects of the raid, from the rubber stamped search warrant, to the lack of a real investigation, to the terrorized family, to their dead dog, to the minuscule amount of contraband found during the raid, and finally the conclusion that the officers acted according to policy are absolutely routine in drug war SWAT deployments.

The only unusual aspect of the raid was that the video was released so soon, and quickly became viral. The police chief's reaction?

"I hate the Internet."

The horribly immoral growth of the use of para-military tactical teams in non-violent situations is a direct result of incompetent politicians who value their careers more than the constitution or their constituents.

There's just plain dumb.
There's dumber than a fence post dumb.
And then, there's drug warrior politician dumb.

Seriously ask yourself this: Do you REALLY want your son or daughter's college to have a SWAT team?

Anonymous said...

SWAT is so last week. The new concept is Active Shooter.
Look it up.

R. Shackleford said...

Swat teams are used, imo, far too freely these days. But hey, the erosion of citizen rights has to march on until citizens take 'em back, and we're far from that. Not as far as we used to be, but still far. Finally, my kids can take care of themselves, they've been taught not to wait for a questionable government to do it for them.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Matthew says: "I am of the hope that the police officers that protect my children are well trained."

Agreed. In addition, I hope we have 75 degree highs throughout July and August. Cross your fingers! Unfortunately, smaller agencies have less training, less pay, and most importantly the pool of quality supervisors isn't even big enough for all the municipal agencies and sheriffs, much less a zillion smaller shops. Also, there's a reason those retirees you describe left the big game.

3:34, I was indeed aware of that. However at the time they were first pitched, they were supposed to be elite units at large agencies. After Whitman nobody was claiming UT needed a SWAT team, the argument was to put one at APD.

College Cop, the special jurisdiction agencies have their share of problems. They're often poorly supervised and more frequently accept so-called "gypsy cops" who float from agency to agency after disciplinary problems, particularly compared to the larger jurisdictions. (See here for an elaboration.)

You ask "how many times do you see Special Jurisdiction Cop in the news for something outrageous"? Actually if you follow such things, the answer is a fair amount. Sometimes the lack of professionalism blows up spectacularly, as with the Katy ISD PD cop last year who abducted his 24-year old co-worker lover last year, held her for hours in a standoff with SWAT before committing suicide. Do you think that guy should have been ON a SWAT team instead?!

I'm glad you're proud of your job, but with all due respect there's no way should they be giving community college or ISD cops military gear or weaponry. Once they're trained and equipped, I'll guarantee those agencies won't wait until there's an armored shooter running loose to try out their new toys.

College Cop said...

""College Cop, the special jurisdiction agencies have their share of problems. They're often poorly supervised and more frequently accept so-called "gypsy cops" who float from agency to agency after disciplinary problems, particularly compared to the larger jurisdictions. (See here for an elaboration.) ""

How do you know they are "often poorly supervised"? Again, compare the sheer volume of bad cop stories coming out of the "big shops" (big city and suburban LE agencies) and what you here coming from Special Jurisdiction agencies. Their is no comparison.

Another thing you could do is go to TCLEOSE, who put out a publication of Peace officer license revocations. What you will find is that the number of revocations from special police agencies is LESS than there share of the LE "population" (this is reversed for small town PDs, where the real gypsy cop action happens.

It is a bit irresponsibly, also, to point to the Katy ISD mess when you can litterally find hundreds upon hundreds or similar stories going back a long time from more traditional agencies. This is because (in part) the average age of special jurisdiction cops is higher than with traditional departments.

""I'm glad you're proud of your job, but with all due respect there's no way should they be giving community college or ISD cops military gear or weaponry. Once they're trained and equipped, I'll guarantee those agencies won't wait until there's an armored shooter running loose to try out their new toys.""

You have absolutly no reason to believe that other than a personal bias. Again, special juisdiction agencies are just a different animal from Traditional Agencies, in campus policng in particular, officers tend to be older and more settled (which is why you don't see school police in the news very often)

On a related note, the feds put out publications about campus police in America. some stuff many people don't know: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cle0405.pdf

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, College Cop, FWIW I was the Police Accountability Project director for ACLU of Texas for six years, so I've got at least a little background to draw on for my opinions about supervision quality, etc., and I've known quite a few police chiefs and supervisors from traditional agencies who agree with the assessment.

As for TCLEOSE, they only revoke licenses if the locals take action, they don't investigate and enforce. So all their data really shows is that supervisors at small agencies are taking fewer enforcement actions against their officers. Also, those numbers reflect the fact that these jurisdictions are often sleepy backwaters that don't really need a special police force and the officers there aren't doing much for good or ill.

Finally, I mentioned the Katy incident because you asked, "how many times do you see Special Jurisdiction Cop in the news for something outrageous"? IMO that was pretty outrageous. Can you identify any TX cops at traditional agencies that pulled that kind of stunt recently?

College Cop said...

"I've known quite a few police chiefs and supervisors from traditional agencies who agree with the assessment."

LOL, well of course they do, as some (by no means all) Traditional Agency officials think that only their agencies should exist in the 1st place.

"As for TCLEOSE, they only revoke licenses if the locals take action, they don't investigate and enforce. So all their data really shows is that supervisors at small agencies are taking fewer enforcement actions against their officers."

OR that fewer Special Jurisdiction officer are doing things that require discipline in the 1st place. Older officers tend to need discipline less than younger ones, I'll find the reference (it might be in another DoJ publication) but Special Jurisdicion officer nationwide (and in Texas) are older.

Also (in the specific case of campus police), the higher levels of education corelate to less need for dicipline (this artilce highlights a study on the matter from Florida: better educated cops misuse authority less..http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-09-17-police-education_x.htm

"
Also, those numbers reflect the fact that these jurisdictions are often sleepy backwaters that don't really need a special police force and the officers there aren't doing much for good or ill."

No locale NEEDS police...until something bad happens. In addition as you can't prove a negative it's imossible to prove what might have happened in those places that have special police forces had they not been there, because nothing happened lol. The Primary job of Law Enforcement is to maintain peance and order, something that Traditional Agencies sometimes get away from, but that special agencies like mine CAN'T get away from.

"Finally, I mentioned the Katy incident because you asked, "how many times do you see Special Jurisdiction Cop in the news for something outrageous"? IMO that was pretty outrageous. Can you identify any TX cops at traditional agencies that pulled that kind of stunt recently?"

I not not intend to malign officers from other agencies (my comments should not me misconstured to suggest guys like me are somehow better than them, their job is just pain tougher than mine and being human, sometimes members of an organization will do wrong). However yea, I could point to several incidents, like the Fort Worth Officer recently sentenced to jail time after shooting at his ex's boyfriend.

The Katy ISD idiot should not be held as an example of school police in Texas, and as I have contended, their is a reason why you her so much less about special jurisdiction police of all kinds than you do tradidtional police. The small town 1 man cop shops, the nearly un-supervised multi-jurisdictional task forces and the big city super bureacracies are in much worse shape to most special jurisdiction agencies.

Anonymous said...

We've got some real winners working as Corpus Christi ISD cops.

http://www.kiiitv.com/news/local/94872849.html

Mark # 1 said...

Thanks, 5:10. I did look it up. It's good to see actual research and results-based analysis being used to address a real problem.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Metro Transit Authority in Houston has a SWAT team. You know, the traffic cops whose duty it is to patrol traffic and respond to incidents involving Metro buses and trains. They have a huge SWAT van and everything! (Of course, there are so many standoffs and bus hijackings in Houston!) Their officers walk around in combat gear and combat boots and in really cool looking black uniforms. So it only makes sense that the community college system would want their own SWAT team. After all, its remotely possible that the several HPD SWAT teams AND the Metro SWAT team AND the Harris County Sheriff's Dept. SWAT team might all be otherwise engaged the next time that some community college campus comes under armed attack. And it only makes sense that each campus should have its very own SWAT team because have you ever tried getting through Houston traffic? Really, those campuses are spread out and in bad traffic it could take over an hour to get to one. We could really cut down on problems if we just bite the bullet and put a SWAT team on every block. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Anonymous said...

@College Cop --

Thanks for the informed and reasoned comments. I don't know a great deal about police work, but I do get worried about both the militarization of police departments and the few - but increasing - highly violent nutcases who set up planned shootings of cops doing their jobs.

Let's hope that the main problems at our college campus PDs will be parking issues, the occasional off-campus intruder scouting for stuff to steal and boredom when nothing goes wrong.

Anonymous said...

You know as a State Police Bomb Squad Commander I was entirely blown away that a department would stick a perfectly good cop in a Jr High to walk around. Over the next five years this officer became the "go to" intel guy on every bad guy in the county helping me alone on two very dangerous cases. Not only did he closley follow the paths of those that were troubled he created a network of friends that would tell him anything. It is a fantastic idea that I would advise any department to consider. He could also tell you and would in a minute, which teachers gave a crap and which were just drawing a check.