The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Thursday, December 15, 2005

Can It Be Justified? 

I have to admit... recent postings over at The Agitator got me looking at my local police department. One of the topics that has been hit upon constantly of late is the proliferation of para-military style units within very small police departments. So I wondered, does my own City of Wauwatosa have it's own SWAT Team? A little Google searching has actually yielded more information than I thought it would.

The most useful source of information that I found is this annual report (PDF format) from the end of 2004 for the police department. The city does have a SWAT team, which is referred to as a "Special Response Team". It was formed in 1992 and it's primary goal is to "utilize the minimum amount of force necessary to bring a safe resolution to high- risk situations and to reduce risk to citizens and officers." That seemed a bit vague to me... and shouldn't that be the goal of every police encounter, whether SWAT style or not? The history of the police department didn't provide much more:

The Department's Special Response Team was formed in 1992. The SRT is trained and equipped to respond to out of the ordinary calls, such as hostage incidents and negotiations, barricaded suspects, room clearing and other high risk special situation calls.

I'll call out some of the more interesting statistics as I think it relates to having a Special Response Team. Most of these statistics are taken directly from the 2004 Police Department Annual Report.

Wauwatosa has a total population of 47,179 people. That's right... less than 50,000 people and we have a para-military style assault team on our police force. Last year there were no homicides (nor attempts), only one the year before that, and none again in 2002. Last year, there were 131 "narcotics incidents" out of 28,698 total police response incidents. The statistics don't show if these were considered high risk or not. Odds are, most were not high risk. No hostage incidents appear anywhere on any report I could find. Frankly, nobody in Wauwatosa feels like we're a high crime city, and the statistics really prove this. The crimes that are committed are usually relatively light in severity, especially compared to Milwaukee, and I don't think anywhere on the level needing a para-military style police force.

I have yet to find any information that shows exactly how many calls the SRT went on, nor of what type. This section has a little information, but nothing too specific:

In 2004 the Special Response Team served search/arrest warrants, and was called out on several tactical situations. The Special Response Team served several Search and Arrest Warrants for the State of Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI). The Special Response Team was also involved in a joint governmental task force round up which resulted in the arrest of numerous gang members and major drug dealers in the City of Milwaukee. This joint task force operation resulted in numerous search and arrests warrants being executed by numerous Federal, State and local Law Enforcement agencies throughout the Wisconsin and Texas. This operation was deemed a great success.

Texas? I did a rudimentary search on Google for news items relating to the SRT, and could only find this very brief story of a drug arrest where the suspect was shot by a member of the SRT. The raid took place in the City of Milwaukee. In fact, all the information I've seen for the Wauwatosa SRT references raids and activities that were not in the City of Wauwatosa!

So exactly what is the Special Response Team anyway? From what I can gather, it consists of 4 teams totalling 25 members. For the vast majority of them, this is not a full time posting. Rather they are on 24 hour call if the need arises. At least that much is good news. They also seem to be highly trained (no Deputy Fifes here):

The Entry, Rifle/Scout and Selected Marksman Units train approximately 16 to 20 hours a month. With the exception of Milwaukee’s Tactical Enforcement Unit, the SRT trains more than any other tactical team in Milwaukee County if not southeastern Wisconsin.

There is an "Entry Team" of 7 members that specializes in room clearing, and close quarters combat. In case you're wondering, the term "close quarters combat" is not a reactionary term I'm using. I pulled that straight from their report. They train on using flash/bang grenades, tear gas, etc.

There is a Rifle/Scout Unit, which consists of 8 members that seem to be used as a first responder unit. From the report, "Each member is equipped with camouflage battle dress uniforms, a rucksack for equipment in the field, and a Colt AR-15 assault rifle. Rifle/Scout members also cross train with the Entry Unit, and must also be proficient in room clearing techniques."

Granted Wauwatosa does have some wooded areas in it, but this is a city, and most crime takes place in the city proper. I honestly don't want to disparage the officers involved here, because by all rights they appear to be very highly trained and motivated individuals. But when I read about city officers being equipped with "camouflage battle dress uniforms", I can't help but be given the impression of some guys who want really badly to exercise some testosterone, for no good reason.

There is also a Selective Marksman Unit consisting of 5 members, who are trained in using the Remington .308 rifle. Basically they're sharpshooters. Finally the team is rounded out by 5 crisis negotiators. That's a total of 25 officers and sergeants out of a total sworn police force of 89. Can you say overkill?

Once again, from all evidence, the City of Wauwatosa itself has never needed such capabilities, and instead has farmed out our officers to other cities for their specialized training. To be honest, I have to wonder what this team is being used for in Wauwatosa... and how much this all costs to maintain. I will also say, I don't think the crime, nor the size of our city at all justifies having this sort of capability in our police department. If a highly volatile situation did arise, the Milwaukee County Sherrif has it's own SWAT team that could be called upon.

I'm going to do some extra investigation here, and make some calls into the police records phone line to see what else I can dig up. Stay tuned.


I suspect most law enforcement units have at least part-time "SWAT" teams (I think the FBI Milwaukee office "SWAT" team is part-time only). So what? It would be one thing if Tosa dedicated 10+ cops full-time to such duty...that would seem to be wastefull spending.

  Posted at December 16, 2005 12:19 PM by Anonymous Anonymous  
Unlike some others... I don't necessarily think that a SWAT Team on a small police force is bad per se... but it definitely depends on how they're used.

There have been a lot of stories, often times under-reported of police forces using SWAT tactics in situations where its not warranted (especially drug raids on non-violent offenders), where home owners have been shot or killed, many times thinking they were defending themselves from a home invasion.

These warrants are sometimes carried out as no-knock raids in the middle of the night, sometimes with children in the house... and sometimes only on the proof of paid informants.

Often times cities do this to justify their having a SWAT team after the fact... when in fact, they don't need one to begin with.

And just because they're part-time members doesn't mean it's not wasteful. As I point out in the post, these officers go through significant training every month, and exams twice a year to maintain qualifiations. While this is an excellent idea when you decide to have a SWAT team... it's also expensive to do. If the team isn't being used for its stated purpose, then it is wasteful.

Are any of these misuses happening with the Tosa team? My gut tells me no, since I haven't heard of any incidents... which is good. But Tosa shouldn't be paying to maintain a highly skilled team if there is no need for it. That is wasteful.

  Posted at December 16, 2005 2:40 PM by Blogger Nick  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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