Armed Mundanes: The Reason Why SWAT Teams Exist

William Norman Grigg
Feb. 06, 2014

Most gun owners are familiar with the maxim "Gun registration is a prelude to confiscation." Relatively few understand the role of gun registration in threat assessments used to justify paramilitary police raids.

Last Thursday (January 30), Police in Ankeny, Iowa deployed a 12-member SWAT team in full battle array to execute a warrant in an investigation of alleged credit card fraud. The invasion pf Sally Prince’s home was captured on camera, despite the efforts of at least two of the jackbooted marauders to destroy the home security cameras used to record their crime.

One member of the household, Justin Ross, was in the bathroom when one of the raiders arrived. When one of them tried and failed to kick in the door, Ross reached for his handgun. After he heard one of the intruders identify himself as a police officer, Ross -- a military veteran who has a firearms permit -- re-holstered his gun and sat down with his hands in plain sight. If the overconfident and inept SWAT operator had succeeded in kicking in the bathroom door on the first attempt, Ross would have been murdered.

The invaders did not find any of the items listed in the search warrant. They did manage to precipitate of well-earned public hostility. Speaking on behalf of the department Captain Makai Echer insisted that the military-style assault was necessary and justified because the department was aware that an occupant of the home had a firearms permit.

Gun ownership is one of the key considerations in the standardized "Threat Matrix" used in planning SWAT operations. A representative Threat Matrix form lists a number of individual criteria that dictate "mandatory" SWAT deployment; in most circumstances, the confirmed presence of firearms falls into that category. This is particularly true if a home has "fortifications," such as burglar bars -- or, in the case of the home targeted in the Akeny raid, security cameras. Additional points are added to the threat assessment score if one or more residents of the targeted dwelling have a military background, as was the case with Justin Ross.

The purpose of the "Threat Matrix" is to assess the danger to officer safety -- not the potential threat a subject poses to the public at large. This is why supposed crimes against police officers, such as resisting arrest, are weighed more heavily than actual crimes against persons and property. Police in Ankeny pointed out that one resident of the targeted home had a criminal record that included assault charges more than a decade ago, but this was almost certainly less important than Ross's registered gun and military experience.

Obviously, the practice of compiling a Threat Matrix presupposes an ability on the part of the police to obtain detailed intelligence on potential targets. In that sense it is distant but unmistakable kindred to the analysis methods used by the CIA and the military as part of the "Disposition Matrix" — the system used to compile "kill lists" for drone strikes and other forms of summary execution.

All of the information about a potential SWAT target is collected, a "Threat Assessment Score" is then compiled, and the appropriate response is chosen from three options. The higher the "Matrix" score, the more militarized the response. A total of 1-16 points means that the supposed threat is considered "SWAT optional"; 17-24 points means that the SWAT commander should be consulted; if the score is 25 points or higher, SWAT deployment is "mandatory."

As noted above, the confirmed presence of firearms at the targeted residence will usually dictate the use of a SWAT team. The same is true of enforcement actions precipitated by public expression of "anti-law enforcement sentiments." In June 2012, a SWAT team -- accompanied by a camera crew from a local TV station -- kicked in the door of a home in Evansville, Indiana, terrifying an old woman and her teenage granddaughter. The SWAT raid was carried out because of supposed "threats" made against police officers in an online forum.

Captain Andy Chandler of the Evansville PD explained to me that prior to the raid, the department had been "notified by informants on the street about postings on a website that threatened officers." What this means, most likely, is that someone read the internet posts and called the department. On the basis of that information, Chandler continued, the department "obtained a number of subpoenas associated with that address," then conducted "surveillance and intelligence collection" on the address and that neighborhood."

They learned that there had been a number of shootings in that part of the city during the previous months, but apparently learned nothing of value about the people who lived at the targeted home. In this case, the only Threat Matrix criterion that mattered was the paramount issue of Officer Safety. As Chandler told me: "Every SWAT raid involves an element of risk, and we chose the method that would ensure the safety of the officers serving that warrant."

This was how idle trash talk posted by someone who piggybacked a WiFi signal led to a raid in which a squad of bold and valiant SWAT operators in bucket helmets and body armor flung flash-bang grenades into a house where a harmless grandmother was cooking dinner.

A similar, but less dramatic, incident of this kind took place in Letha, Idaho in August of that same year. Gem County Sheriff Chuck Rolland and several of his deputies, with guns drawn and wearing body armor, assaulted the home of a couple of organic farmers in response to an anonymous report of a "domestic dispute."

The woman, Marcella Cruz, was assaulted and seriously injured by Detective Rich Perecz; the man, Michael Gibbons, was forced to kneel with the muzzles of several assault rifles pointed at his skull while Rolland and deputies conducted an illegal search of his home. After being handcuffed, Gibbons was dropped onto a concrete porch, shattering his tailbone and leaving him unable to make a living.

The incident that precipitated that raid consisted of sharp verbal exchange lasting no more than ten or twenty seconds, which was overheard by an antagonistic neighbor. The initial report was that no firearms were involved. En route to the home, one of the assailants was overheard on radio urging a more aggressive response to the report, because the husband "anti-law enforcement "¦ he's a constitutionalist" -- which meant that the officers should expect that firearms would be present at the home.

Since that August 2012 incident, several law enforcement agencies in Idaho -- including the police department that exists, without discernible cause, in tiny Preston -- have acquired MRAP combat vehicles from the Pentagon. When I asked Lt. Tim Randall of the Nampa Police Department why his agency would "need" a vehicle designed for warfare, he replied: "Here in Idaho, practically everybody around here has a gun, and when we go on a call it is useful to have a vehicle that will enhance the safety of the responding officers."

That's the perspective of an occupying army. This shouldn't surprise us: Sir Robert Peel's Metropolitan Police, which offered the template from which all American police departments were struck, was adapted from the 20,000-man "Peace Preservation Police" he commanded as military governor of occupied Ireland in the late 18th Century.

When supposed peace officers clad in military garb carry out military assaults on Americans in their homes, this does not represent apostasy on the part of our "local" police; they're simply living down to their despicable institutional pedigree.

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