The Rise of the Warrior Cop
If one accepts, as I do, the premise that SWAT teams are often misused, it’s important to understand why this is so. One explanation that occurs to me may at first seem counterintuitive: the availability of military-style hardware has the effect of rewarding timidity on the part of police managers. For example, when I first began participating in search warrants in the mid-1980s, the oversight for warrant preparation and service within the LAPD was minimal, with only my immediate supervisor and the lieutenant above him providing input under ordinary circumstances. The tactical plans we drew up in preparation for warrant service were one or two pages, and the process of receiving information, verifying it, and then preparing and serving a search warrant might be accomplished inside of a few hours.
Today, the LAPD’s search warrant tactical plan is nine pages long, and the approval process, even before a warrant is presented to a judge, can go up the chain of command all the way to a deputy chief. As in most police departments, one does not ordinarily advance in the ranks of the LAPD by being a seasoned investigator or tactical officer, but rather by avoiding these jobs. So, when presented with a proposed search warrant, the timorous manager, knowing that his name will now be associated with the operation, asks himself two questions: What can go wrong, and how can I avoid being blamed for it when it does? He then satisfies himself by directing that every available resource be devoted to the operation, whether tactically necessary or not.//