Military Muscle Comes To Mayberry 

Military Muscle Comes To Mayberry 
Posted by FoM on August 19, 2001 at 10:22:05 PT
By Steven Elbow
Source: Capital Times
Black River Falls may have a small police department, but it's packing some big firepower. The Police Department's nine officers have at their disposal four M-16 automatic rifles and a 40-mm grenade launcher - armed with rubber projectile canisters in case of a riot at the nearby Jackson Correctional Institution - all compliments of Uncle Sam. "With a small department, and even with large ones, you don't often run into situations where you require that kind of firepower," Black River Falls Police Chief Don Gilberg said of the grenade launcher. "But with the prison nearby and the possibility of a general uprising, it's better to have it when you need it than not." 
The Black River Falls Police Department is one of thousands of agencies across the country taking advantage of a federal program that gives military surplus items - everything from office equipment to armored personnel carriers - to local law enforcement agencies. Since 1994, the military has given M-16 automatic rifles to more than 60 Wisconsin police departments. (Mostly leftovers from the Vietnam War era, those weapons are no longer available.) It has issued two armored vehicles and approved at least two others. Four departments have received grenade launchers - which also can be used for delivering tear gas charges or smoke grenades - and at least seven others have requested them. Police officials, citing national trends, say it's important to be prepared for any contingency. Many point to California. "California is kind of like the barometer for the rest of the country," said Steve Pederson, public information officer for the Waukesha County Sheriff's Office, which has been approved for an armored vehicle. In Waunakee, just north of Madison, the Police Department has received five M-16s, protective vests and a sniper rifle, which according to Police Chief Kevin Plendl has saved his department between $6,000 and $8,000. The department was approved for a grenade launcher, which the department, because of a change in administration, never picked up. "Some of these agencies wouldn't have a fraction of what they have without this program," said Lt. Steve Sell of the Wisconsin State Patrol, the state's administrator for the Law Enforcement Security Program, a Defense Department project that disburses military surplus equipment to local agencies. The program originated in the Defense Department's Drug Enforcement Policy and Support Office in 1981 to assist civilian police with an array of services in the enforcement of drug laws. In 1994, Congress created the reutilization program to focus on handing out equipment, including high-tech weapons formerly reserved for military use. By 1997 the Defense Department had given U.S. police departments 1.2 million pieces of military equipment, including 73 grenade launchers and 112 armored personnel carriers. During the 1990s, the military handed out 99,799 items worth $18 million to local law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin. Just north of Dane County, the Columbia County Sheriff's Department alone received 5,396 pieces of equipment worth $1.75 million, including 11 M-16s, 21 bayonets, four boats, a periscope, and 41 vehicles, one of which was converted into a mobile command center for the SWAT team. It has also received surveillance equipment, cold weather gear, tools, battle dress uniforms, flak jackets, chemical suits, computers and office equipment. The Madison Police Department has made limited use of the program. It received 10 M-16s in 1996. "Having been a sheriff, I can see a lot of departments going after this stuff because they're financially strapped," said the State Patrol's Sell, who was Marquette County sheriff in the early 1990s. "Police departments are always out there trolling for dollars," agreed Steven Brandl, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But he sees police departments' scramble to amass military weaponry as a dangerous trend. "In a lot of respects that's not really healthy," Brandl said. "It reinforces the idea that they're engaged in a war on crime." Particularly problematic, he says, is that while the federal government is arming police departments, it is also promoting a softer, gentler approach to law enforcement with the Community Oriented Policing program, which through the 1990s funded thousands of new community-oriented police officers. "Community policing initiatives and stockpiling weapons and grenade launchers are totally incompatible," Brandl said. Note: U.S. donates gear, grenade launchers. When SWAT Raids Go Wrong A sampling of SWAT mishaps shows what can, and often does, go wrong. Last Sept. 13 in Modesto, Calif., a SWAT team burst into the home of 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda to serve a drug trafficking warrant on his father. While rounding up his family, officers ordered Alberto to lie on the floor, face down, which the boy did. Seconds later, an officer accidentally fired a shotgun that was trained on Alberto's back, killing him. On Sept. 29, 1999, Denver SWAT officers killed 45-year-old Mexican immigrant Ismael Mena in what turned out to be a drug raid on the wrong house. The city paid the Mena family $400,000 to avoid a wrongful death lawsuit. On Aug. 9, 1999, 20 SWAT officers from the El Monte, Calif., Police Department raided the home of 64-year-old Mario Paz. While his wife, Maria, screamed, "My husband is sick! He's an old man!" a policeman shot Paz twice in the back. The five remaining members of his family living at the house later said they thought they were being robbed. On Feb. 13, 1999, at 1:25 a.m. in Osawatomie, Kan., police set off a flash-bang grenade before bursting into the home of Willie Heard, looking for cocaine. The explosion startled Heard's 16-year-old daughter, who screamed. Heard, in his bedroom and thinking his daughter was in danger, grabbed a .22 bolt-action rifle. When police smashed into the bedroom they saw Heard with the rifle and shot him dead. The entire incident lasted 11 seconds. On Oct. 14, 1999, at 1:30 a.m. in Albuquerque, N.M., Larry Harper - despondent and unemployed - called his brother and said he was going to commit suicide. The brother alerted police, and nine SWAT team members were dispatched to a picnic area, where Harper was sitting with a gun. After chasing Harper into a stand of juniper bushes, a sniper shot him dead after SWAT officers denied arriving family members the chance to talk to him. The city later settled a lawsuit for $200,000. The city dismantled the SWAT team after the incident. On July 12, 1998, acting on a single tip that Pedro Oregon Navarro was dealing drugs, a team of Houston officers charged into the apartment of the 22-year-old, who picked up a handgun. The officers unleashed some 30 shots, hitting Navarro 12 times, nine times in the back. No drugs were found. On July 11, 1997, 64-year-old farm worker Ramon Gallardo of Dinuba, Calif., was shot 13 to 15 times when police raided his home looking for a gun allegedly used in a murder. No gun was found, and a federal jury later awarded Gallardo's family $6 million. The SWAT team was disbanded after the incident. On March 13, 1996, in Oxnard, Calif., the deployment of a flash-bang grenade during a drug raid created such confusion that SWAT team commander Daniel Christian killed Officer James Jensen Jr. with three shotgun blasts to his side. The city later settled a lawsuit filed by Jensen's family for $3.5 million. On Dec. 16, 1996, Ralph Garrison of Albuquerque was awakened by the sounds of windows being smashed in at the house next door, which he owned. He dialed 911 and urged a dispatcher to send police because men were destroying his rental house. Eventually he said, "I've got my gun and I'm going to shoot the son of a bitch," and went to his back doorway with a .22 pistol. The vandals, it turned out, were members of the Secret Service, the Customs Service and local police, including two SWAT teams, looking for counterfeit driver's licenses, birth certificates and checks. The 911 tape ends with the sound of gunfire as police killed Garrison with AF-15 military assault rifles. Garrison's dog was also killed. On Oct. 12, 1995, at 2:30 a.m., Stephen Medford Shively, a college student in Topeka, Kan., was alarmed when several men battered down his door. He called 911, then grabbed a gun and fired through the door, killing an officer. Officers returned fire from the other side of the door, wounding Shively. A Kansas jury acquitted him of murder charges, saying that he acted in self-defense, and an appeals court concluded that officers used misleading information to obtain a warrant. On April 15, 1995, a Dodge County team raided the trailer of Scott Bryant, a 29-year-old technical college student who was living in Beaver Dam with his 8-year-old son. As the first officer to smash through the door was placing Bryant on a couch to be handcuffed, Detective Robert Neuman rushed in and delivered a fatal bullet to Bryant's chest. A small amount of marijuana was found in the trailer. While no charges were ever filed against the detective, the county paid $950,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Bryant's family. On Aug. 9, 1994, in Riverside County, Calif., 87-year-old Donald Harrison and his 77-year-old wife, Elsie, were asleep in their mobile home when deputies smashed in looking for a drug lab. Donald died of a heart attack four days later. It turned out that police had the wrong place, despite a detailed description of the suspect home, which was a different color than the Harrisons' trailer. At Their Best, SWATs Rescue Victims and Save Lives Few people deny that highly trained paramilitary police squads are essential in the event of domestic terrorism or crazed gunmen. "You damn well better have a team in place to handle those situations," says criminologist Peter Kraska, an authority on SWAT teams. Indeed, while SWAT team mishaps make the headlines, there are plenty of instances in which teams nabbed a dangerous subject, provided backup, defused a dangerous situation or stood in position - just in case the worst happened. For example: On July 2, 2000, the Columbia County emergency response team aided in apprehending Thomas Kowalski Sr., who took his wife hostage at a Wisconsin Dells campground after killing her boyfriend and shooting another man. On Oct. 18, 1999, the Muskego SWAT team was called to disarm a reportedly drunken man who began to fire rounds from his 20-gauge shotgun inside his apartment. The SWAT team fired chemical irritants into the apartment and took the suspect, 31-year-old Frank Falkner, into custody. On May 28, 1996, at a Burger King outside Green Bay, 20-year-old Matthew Baumann held a female assistant manager at gunpoint during a 16-hour standoff. Baumann eventually surrendered. Brown County officials credited the county SWAT team with the peaceful resolution. In Madison, "barricaded subjects" have prompted police officials to field the entire emergency response team four times in the past four years, according to Madison police Capt. Jeff LaMar. On July 28, 1999, 39-year-old Sylvester Phillips, wanted on a parole violation, surrendered after a seven-hour standoff when emergency response team officers shot tear gas into his Ellen Drive home. Phillips told police he was not going back to jail and asked them to shoot him. On May 28, 1998, police closed off a downtown neighborhood in Iota Court after 31-year-old Ty Schissel threatened to set off explosives. Schissel, who was wanted for beating and threatening his ex-girlfriend and their 3-year-old son, surrendered after several hours. On Jan. 21, 1997, Steve Post, a 19-year-old armed jail escapee, held police at bay for several hours at the east side Select Inn motel in a 15-hour standoff during which Post fired a gunshot in his room. He eventually surrendered peacefully. On March 29, 1997, 23-year-old John Henry High surrendered after barricading himself for hours in his Schroeder Road apartment. Police converged on the apartment house after receiving reports that High had fired shots at two women with whom he'd had an argument. A smaller contingent is called out roughly "a couple dozen times a year" for dynamic entry situations, including drug searches, LaMar said. For instance, last Jan. 4, emergency response team officers raided an apartment at 123 E. Johnson St. to arrest three people suspected in a series of violent home invasions. The team came under scrutiny for that incident because an 18-year-old suspect was burned when the officers fired a diversionary "flash-bang" grenade in the apartment. LaMar said small-town police departments could face similar situations, so there's some logic in those departments fielding SWAT teams, if they keep them properly trained. "If they equip those people and train them as a team, they are frequently more suited to handle these situations than a regular police officer," he said. Source: Capital Times, The (WI)Author: Steven ElbowPublished: August 18, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Capital TimesContact: tctvoice madison.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Drug Policy Forum of Wisconsin Special Report: Hooked on SWAT with SWAT Teams
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