Barney Fife Meets Delta Force

Or “When the only tool you own is a hammer…”

Over at National Review Online, Charles C. W. Cooke looks at the disturbing trend of “hypermiliterizing” local police

Historians looking back at this period in America’s development will consider it to be profoundly odd that MRAPat the exact moment when violent crime hit a 50-year low, the nation’s police departments began to gear up as if the country were expecting invasion — and, on occasion, to behave as if one were underway. The ACLU reported recently that SWAT teams in the United States conduct around 45,000 raids each year, only 7 percent of which have anything whatsoever to do with the hostage situations with which those teams were assembled to contend. Paramilitary operations, the ACLU concluded, are “happening in about 124 homes every day — or more likely every night” — and four in five of those are performed in order that authorities might “search homes, usually for drugs.” Such raids routinely involve “armored personnel carriers,” “military equipment like battering rams,” and “flashbang grenades.”

Were the military being used in such a manner, we would be rightly outraged. Why not here? Certainly this is not a legal matter. The principle of posse comitatus draws a valuable distinction between the national armed forces and parochial law enforcement, and one that all free people should greatly cherish. Still, it seems plain that the potential threat posed by a domestic standing army is not entirely blunted just because its units are controlled locally. To add the prefix “para” to a problem is not to make it go away, nor do legal distinctions change the nature of power. Over the past two decades, the federal government has happily sent weapons of war to local law enforcement, with nary a squeak from anyone involved with either political party. Are we comfortable with this?

Some gun owners may be tempted to look at stories like that of 19-month old Bounkham Phonesavanh and say “Oh, this is only about drugs.” You really shouldn’t.

If we review the history of SWAT teams in the US, we see that these special police units were formed in the 1960s. Events such as the Watts riots and the Symbionese Liberation Army shootout inspired police departments across the country to form SWAT units. Ostensibly, these were “rescue” units intended for hostage situations or unusual tactical circumstances that endanger patrol officers. But it was fear of violent, left-wing radicals that really spurred these departments to go on a spending spree buying military gear. Today, other boogeymen have replaced the 60s radicals. Drugs, for one. But the “threat” that ought to concern many of our readers is gun ownership.

Mind you, I’m not talking about rank-and-file officers. We appreciate their service. These men and women rush into dangerous places when sensible people are running the other way. The NRA is grateful for these people who have chosen a life of duty. What I’m talking about here are their politically correct, left-wing superiors. They’re the ones who approved the purchases of all those M-4 carbines and signed the invoices for the service on the department’s new MRAP. They’re the ones who want those expensive hammers taken to a few nails.

A case in point is the death of Salvatore Culosi of Fairfax, VA. Culosi, an optometrist, enjoyed making friendly wagers with friends over various sporting events. He was accused of “conducting an illegal gambling operation” when a Fairfax PD detective talked him into making a $2000 wager. This is the threshold under VA law that turned his bets, normally under $100, into a felony. And that, in turn, resulted in a SWAT team being dispatched to his home to serve a search warrant…

According to press accounts, police affidavits, and the resulting investigation by the Fairfax prosecutor’s office, [Detective] Baucom called Culosi that evening, and told him he’d be by to collect his winnings. With the SWAT team at the ready just behind him, Baucom waited outside Culosi’s home in an SUV. As Culosi emerged from the doorway, clad only in a t-shirt and jeans, SWAT officer Deval Bullock’s finger apparently slipped to the trigger of his Heckler & Koch MP5 semiautomatic weapon, already aimed at the unarmed Culosi.

The gun fired, releasing a bullet that entered Culosi’s side, then ripped through his chest and struck his heart, killing him instantly.

Reportedly, it’s department policy to use the SWAT team to serve “nearly all” search warrants. Culosi, like you, had no arrest record and no record of violence. There really wasn’t any good reason for SWAT to be there other than the department had the hammer in its toolbox.

So what do you think would happen to you should the police be called to your home in the dead of night, given that government snooping and record keeping has tipped them off to the modern sporting rifles you own? No, you don’t have a record of violence, but your file says that you do have a gun; and you might use it if SWAT peacefully lobs a flashbang into your home at 3 am. Does that sound like reason enough to shoot first and ask questions later?

It probably does to the guys who bought the hammer.