TIME Crime

SWAT Teams Treat U.S. Neighborhoods ‘Like a War Zone’

Bounkham Phonesavanh
David Goldman—AP A photo of 19-month-old Bounkham Phonesavanh, who was severely burned by a flash grenade during a SWAT drug raid, is held by a supporter outside Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta on June 2, 2014

Use of military-style gear and tactics by police is surging in American neighborhoods

Police departments in the U.S. have become excessively and dangerously militarized, according to a report published by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The organization’s investigation found that SWAT deployments are increasingly used to search homes for drugs and are carried out despite the presence of children and elderly. It also said poor standards were used to gauge whether an operation was “high risk” — such as whether a suspect was armed and dangerous — and that squads were increasingly adopting warrior-like mind-sets.

Some key numbers from the report, which is titled War Comes Home:

  • 50% people impacted by SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012 are black or Latino. Whites account for 20%.
  • Seven civilians were killed and 46 injured in such deployments from 2010 to 2013.
  • 79% of all SWAT deployments were to execute search warrants for homes, most of them for drug searches.
  • 7% of deployments were for hostage, barricade or active-shooter scenarios.

Tragic case studies accompany the figures, among them that of Tarika Wilson, a 26-year-old mother who was shot and killed holding her 14-month-old son, and Eurie Stamp, a 68-year-old grandfather who was shot while watching baseball in his pajamas during a SWAT invasion. Bounkham Phonesavanh, a 19-month-old baby, was in a medically induced coma after paramilitary squads unwittingly threw a flash grenade into his crib, piercing a hole in his cheek, chest and scarring his body with third-degree burns. None of the victims were suspects.

The ACLU claims the militarization of policing in the U.S. lacks oversight and transparency. Not a single law-enforcement agency provided documents of all information “necessary to undertake a thorough examination of police militarization.”

It added, “Neighborhoods are not war zones, and our police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies.”

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