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Originally created to deal with emergency or other very-high intensity situations (e.g. snipers, hostages, barricaded suspects), SWAT teams were deployed on fewer than 3,000 occasions in all of 1980. Today, SWAT teams conduct raids more than 50,000 times per year, mostly while doing low-level drug enforcement. The driving force behind the rise in SWAT team deployments has been drug war funding streams such as the Byrne police grants program.

Americans for SWAT Reform holds that SWAT teams should be available but only rarely used. Every time police enter a home with sudden, overwhelming force in the way that SWAT teams are trained to do, a trauma is caused to the people inside from which they may never recover. Many of the buildings targeted house completely innocent people -- roommates, spouses, children, victims of wrong address reports -- and the vast majority are low-level offenders at worst.

Even more troubling, using a SWAT team when a situation is not already close to violence risks creating an altercation that could otherwise have been avoided. Reports have detailed numerous cases in which unarmed people were shot by police officers who had become trigger happy due to the rush of doing a dynamic entry. In some cases police officers have themselves been killed doing SWAT raids, by people inside who were taken by surprise and who in fear of losing their lives opened fire. Reports of SWAT officers killing pets are common.

The "Petition for Responsible SWAT Reform" calls for SWAT teams deployments to be limited to mainly emergency situations. Copies of signatories petitions are sent by email to their federal and state legislators, with the initial goal of putting the issue of police militarization on the radar screen for policymakers.

"SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe" is a short online video that draws attention to the overuse of SWAT teams. It is built around a famous 2008 case in the small town of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, in which the county's SWAT team raided the home of Mayor Cheye Calvo, handcuffed him and his mother-in-law, and then shot Calvo's two dogs. "SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe" uses sophisticated graphics to communicate the basic points about the issue, and makes background use of actual SWAT raids footage.

The video also makes background use of news reports about three infamous raid cases:

  • Tarika Wilson: In January 2008 the Lima, Ohio, SWAT team burst into the home of Tarika Wilson, her one year old son, and her boyfriend, and immediately opened fire. Wilson was killed and her son's finger shot off. The SWAT team also killed one, and even one of the family dogs.
  • Cheye Calvo: A SWAT team raided the home of Cheye Calvo, mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, and his wife Trinity Tomsic, after delivering an intercepted box containing 32 pounds of marijuana to the house and observing Calvo bringing it inside on returning home. Police, who were unaware of who lived in the house, shot and killed Calvo and Tomsic' two dogs, and handcuffed Calvo and his mother-in-law while searching the property. The Calvos were cleared after it was determined that the family did not have any knowledge of the contents of the package, which a UPS deliveryperson intended to intercept before their return home.
  • Kathryn Johnston: In November 2006, Atlanta police stormed the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, stunning her into opening fire as the intruders, who were of unknown nature to her, broke in through her living room window. Police returned fire and killed Ms Johnston, shooting her 39 times.

"SWAT Raids -- No One Is Safe" was funded by a grant from the Marijuana Policy Project, with additional support from Richard Wolfe. Production and Editing was done by Robin Bell. Motion Graphics were provided by Erik Loften. Music was created by dubpixel.


  • Information about the Calvo case is widely available from numerous news reports. Background news report imagery about this case is from the Washington Post.
  • The figure of 2,884 SWAT team deployments in 1980 is from "Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and the Police," edited by Peter B. Kraska -- page 7, chapter 1, "The Military-Criminal Justice Blur" by Prof. Kraska.
  • The figure of over 50,000 SWAT deployments per year today is from private communication with Prof. Kraska.
  • The idea that SWAT raids can escalate the danger inherent in a situation, including to the police conducting the raid, is one that has been discussed by academics who have done research on SWAT teams. For example, in the late 1990s, Prof. Samuel Walker, a leading scholar of policing, was commissioned by the Albuquerque Police Dept. to study their increasing number of killings by police officers. Walker told the New York Times in 1999 that the SWAT team "had an organizational culture that led them to escalate situationi upward rather than de-escalating" (Timothy Egan, "Soldiers of the Drug War Remain on Duty," 3/1/99 -- via the Cato Institute report "Overkill, page 18). In 2006 Prof. Walker told Drug War Chronicle, "Bursting in on people can get you shot; it's a very risky tactic."
  • The Jarrod Shivers/Ryan Frederick case is an example of how the choice by police to do a SWAT raid instead of an ordinary knock-and-announce search caused the death of a police officer.
  • Background news report imagery of the Tarika Wilson case is from the Toledo Blade.
  • Background news report imagery of the Kathryn Johnston case is from CNN.

Americans for SWAT Reform is a project of StoptheDrugWar.org.