The BBC are running a story about SWAT raids. The hook is the case of Dr Salvatore Culosoi, a Virginia doctor who was under investigation for illegal gambling. Culosi was unarmed, had no history of violent behavior, and threatened no-one during the raid. He was shot dead by a police officer. A striking statistic from the article is that the number of SWAT raids per year has increased from 3,000 in the 1980s to “at least 40,000 per year” now. Seems like a straightforward garbage-can process at the organizational level, or a neoinstitutionalist story at the field level: SWAT teams are effective in certain situations. Initially, it’s cutting-edge departments who have them. They also get a lot of press. The gear makes a nice recruiting tool, too. Pretty soon, you need one if you want to be seen as a respectable police department. Once you have one, it’s a solution sitting around waiting for problems to apply itself to. Seeing as your podunk town is unlikely to have a hostage crisis, the bar for its application gets lowered way, way down. Voila, the police force is now militarized.
The story led me back to Radley Balko’s outstanding coverage of the Cory Maye case, which I wrote about late last year. It’s to Balko’s great credit that he’s been following up on this miscarriage of justice. He’s working on a magazine article about the case, which I sincerely hope appears where people will see it. Right now the Maye case shows that a lot of blogger agitation (about a nonpartisan issue, no less) can just sink without a trace unless it gets picked up by the media.