SWAT team leader discusses rationale behind raids
Hollywood movies and mainstream media portray SWAT teams in many ways, from every day average Joe heroes that save the day to corrupt villains that abuse their power. The public perception of tactical units tends to vacillate between favorable and outright detestation. With constant media coverage, it is often easy to spot when law enforcement may or may not be doing something contrary to their original intention.
In May of 2014, a Georgia SWAT team’s tactics and policies were placed under scrutiny when a flash-bang grenade injured a toddler during a raid. This incident prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to launch a study on the militarization of police forces. North Carolina was no exception and the Lincoln County SWAT team responded to a Freedom of Information request from ACLU-NC, providing documents detailing training exercises and reports on SWAT deployments.
While the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office responded to the request, SWAT team leader Lt. Jason Reid clarified what qualifies a SWAT deployment, a detailed account of how members of the team are trained and how the inclusion of a tactical team within the scope Lincoln County law enforcement impacts the citizens.
Reid has been with the Lincoln County SWAT team since December of 2010. Prior to his position with SWAT and the narcotics division, Reid was the SWAT team leader for Iredell County from 2009 to 2010 and served as the assistant SWAT team leader for Catawba County from 2001-2008. Lincoln County has had a SWAT team since 2006.
“The Sheriff (David Carpenter) is a 100-percent believer in having a tactical team but he also believes that the only time we should use the team is when we need to,” Reid said.
The Lincoln County SWAT team currently has 16 members on staff, including one who is EMS certified. To qualify for the SWAT team, police officers must be sworn in, work in law enforcement full time and their supervisor must sign off on their SWAT application. Additionally, in order to try out, the sheriff or major must approve their application. Candidates must pass a rigorous physical fitness test and pass an oral exam with present members of SWAT.
Once on the team, members are expected to train eight-12 hours every month in simulated tactical scenarios. Once a year, the team travels to Camp Lejeune for a weeklong training session with the United States Marine Corps. Every officer is equipped with a standard issue sidearm and long gun.
“We prepare monthly for the worst possible situations that this county can think of so that when and if they happen, we are ready,” Reid said. “We don’t want to have to call another jurisdiction to clean up a mess in our county. “We have trained officers who work the roads, as detectives, but there are times when things get out of hand, and if we have to call the tactical team, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Recent events, like the flash-bang incident in Atlanta and the growing public perception of an increasingly militarized police force, have raised red flags when it comes to utilizing SWAT, particularly in ethnic communities. The Lincoln Times-News, after conducting an independent investigation following the release of the ACLU report, noted that most of the SWAT raids conducted since 2010 have been for drug warrants, the one major exception being a stand-off in March when a suspect barricaded himself in an apartment and traded gunfire with local police. According to documents dating back to 2011, one gun charge was filed against a suspect that was the target of a SWAT raid.
While serving a drug warrant may seem like something that local police or the Sheriff’s Office should be able to serve without incident, Reid clarified the criteria for law enforcement officers to initiate SWAT in those situations.
High-risk search warrants are the main reason Lincoln County SWAT is mobilized. When serving search warrants on people with a history of violence, SWAT steps in to prevent possible physical contact. The intimidation factor of blackout uniforms, battering rams and long guns, Reid said, saves lives.
“We train to be intimidating,” Reid said. “That way when we show up, if you can intimidate somebody, there’s a good chance you won’t have physical confrontation.”
Instances where SWAT may be called include barricaded subjects —as was the case with the March 27 incident in which the Lincolnton Police Department located a suspect after responding to a homicide. The suspect barricaded himself in an apartment and was killed after SWAT was called in and gunfire was exchanged. The tactical team will also respond to hostage situations or any situation in which road patrol is unprepared or unable to handle, manhunts or woodland operations or high-risk apprehension, as in the service of a felony warrant.
According to Reid, there will be several months where the Lincoln County SWAT is called multiple times, before the team goes a long stretch of the year without receiving a phone call. There is no pattern of responses from the team, only that their training is well documented and both the Sheriff’s Office and Reid feel it is an invaluable asset in the war on crime in the county.
Reid defended the use and the need for SWAT within the county, and references the March 27 incident as a perfectly good example.
“He could have killed more people,” Reid said. “(I’ve) not seen one time where we have used our tactical team and shouldn’t have,” Reid said. “Every time we’ve used our team, we’ve found guns (or) multiple individuals with violent behavior. (Some) times we’ve had physical confrontations.”