Last July, police in Prince Georges County, Maryland, made national news headlines when their SWAT team raided the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. Police had tracked a box containing marijuana to Calvo's porch, and when he carried the box inside upon returning home, the SWAT team struck. Team members broke down the door, restrained Calvo and his mother-in-law for hours, and shot and killed Calvo's two Labrador retrievers, one while running away.
Now, in the wake of the Calvo incident, as well as other well-known SWAT raids gone bad, such as the one last year in which a 26-year-old Lima, Ohio, woman was killed and the one a few months later in which a Pennsylvania FBI agent was shot dead by a homeowner who claimed she thought she was defending her family from intruders, a handful of Maryland legislators are trying to rein in the SWAT teams.
A bill filed earlier this month, SB 447, would require police departments to monitor their SWAT team use and report it annually to the governor and the General Assembly. As the bill puts it:
"On a monthly basis, beginning January 1, 2010, a law enforcement agency that maintains a SWAT team shall report the following information to the office of the attorney general using the format developed under subsection (c) of this section:
(1) the number of times the SWAT team was activated and deployed by the law enforcement agency in the previous month;
(2) without identifying an exact address, the approximate location within or outside of the jurisdiction of the law enforcement agency to which the SWAT team was deployed for each activation;
(3) the reason for each activation and deployment of the SWAT team;
(4) the legal authority, including type of warrant, if any, for each activation and deployment of the SWAT team; and
(5) the result of each activation and deployment of the SWAT team, including:
(i) the number of arrests made, if any;
(ii) the type of evidence seized, if any;
(iii) whether a forcible entry was made;
(iv) whether a weapon was discharged by a SWAT team member; and
(v) whether a person or domestic animal was injured or killed by a SWAT team member."
"This bill is an important first step that doesn't restrict [SWAT] use," Calvo told the DC Examiner. "It merely brings transparency."
And that would be a much needed beginning to reining in the SWAT teams, which were originally intended for hostage situations and other high-risk affairs, but have ended up being used routinely in drug raids and other law enforcement endeavors. If the bill passes, Maryland would be the first state in the nation to demand accountability from its law enforcement agencies when it comes to SWAT teams.