Sunday, August 18, 2013

SWAT Crazy!

I read with interest this article about a SWAT team in Texas (H/T Instapundit) going after an organic farm, on a dubious tip about MJ growing, but justified by an administrative code violation. What caught my eye in there was a reference to a similar raid in Manassas Park, VA against the Rack-N-Roll. I did remember that raid as it was in the news quite a bit at the time, and I used to drive past there almost daily.

Now, as a point of reference here is how I viewed that place before I did some research. The strip mall in question is on a major north / south thoroughfare for Manassas. If you are a commuter that works either in Fairfax or DC and live in Manassas or points west, you have two choices to get there. One is to go through Manassas and jump on I-66 at Rt. 234, the other is to take Rt. 28 through Manassas and join I-66 in Centreville. Notably, the Rt. 28 route is usually to shortest on Google map routing. If you choose this route (and an ever increasing number do) it will take you past the Rack-N-Roll in Manassas Park on Rt. 28.

Ok - so much for geographic context. My impression at the time of the raid from the news accounts was 'good end to bad rubbish'. The news reports talked about pole dancers and naked women, drunken brawls, etc., etc. That was my impression. So I took another look at it given this article, thinking that perhaps I misjudged it a bit. As you would expect, the back story is a bit more seedy than you would expect. This web site notes that the naked dancing women meme was a result of a City Planner, cum DJ, at the club encouraging teenage girls to show their boobs and then taking pictures of them; then turning around and acting as an informant to the police. Notably, I don't think anyone was charged with a crime for that. That being said, the owners of the club can't exactly be said to be innocent babes to those shenanigans, as that particular DJ probably pulled in a good crowd and the booze and profits were great (for a time).

How do things stand there today, given that all this happened almost 10 years ago?. There is a 'family fun center' (sans alcohol?) where the Rack-N-Roll used to be. There is a thriving 'Pollo al Brasa' place out front. Down to the right of the strip mall is a couple of ethnic (south american) places and a Radio Shack. The only establishment I have frequented there is predictably, the Radio Shack. I will admit, that I got a feeling that there was more going on at the food places than just eating. Since I was trying to track down some obtuse parts, I choose to ignore the atmosphere and go about my business. So, whatever the raid attempted to do, I suspect that all it did was really replace one borderline seedy place with other, perhaps more sinister enterprises.

My main point to all this is not really about a strip mall in Manassas Park. No, my concern is really about the explosion of SWAT capabilities in the US in a post 9/11 world. The presence of such units gives us a level of comfort that should bands of armed terrorist ever launch attacks in such defenseless locations as Manassas Park, we will have an equal and overwhelming force to counter them. The problem with such units is of course that if you have them, you will look for opportunities to use them. When such overreactions start to become more and more common, your average citizen begins to look on these teams, and by extension the common patrol officers, not as nice civic minded guys and gals, but as potential adversaries. This is not the way a democracy should function.

What is the solution? I am thinking that it is up to the local government to place appropriate leashes on such units. Funding for them should be proportional to their actual tasking - which is to say rare - extremely rare. I would think that the such teams should be 'virtual', i.e. not permanent fixtures, but additional duty for normal patrolman, with a rotating membership. This way elite military mindsets will not get a chance to get fixated. Call outs should be explicitly triggered only by a judge where the activating entity has the responsibility (and liability) of justifying why such overwhelming force is necessary. Such a ruling and proceedings should be open to the public after the raid is completed. In this way there is accountability for such actions.

On a federal level I would like to see the same types of accountability. The Posse Comitatus Act would seem to demand such compliance. Sadly, it seems that the current administration's actions, and willful judicial blindness ensures only selective adherence to power limiting laws. I fear there really isn't a solution to this, excepting the electorate miraculously gaining enough awareness to trigger a change in attitude of their servants in Congress.

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