A Special Report: Hooked on SWAT

  A Special Report: Hooked on SWAT

Posted by FoM on August 18, 2001 at 20:38:49 PT
By Steven Elbow 
Source: Capital Times 

On Oct. 5, about 50 miles north of Madison in the peaceful Green Lake County countryside of rural Dalton, the Olveda family was enjoying a quiet evening. Wendy Olveda, five months pregnant, was on the computer preparing lessons for the fifth-grade class she teaches at Markesan Elementary School. Jesus, her husband, was in the bedroom reading, and their 3-year-old daughter, Zena, was passing the time quietly on a couch. Suddenly the door burst open and several armed men in black uniforms burst into the home. 
Within seconds Wendy and her husband, Jesus, were thrown roughly face down to the floor and ordered to put their hands behind their heads. An officer kept a gun trained on their backs while Zena, still on the couch, watched in silence."I could hear my wife saying, 'You're at the wrong address,' but they didn't listen," Jesus said later. "When I lifted my head to say they were at the wrong address, one of them put a knee on my head and ground it into the floor."It was a textbook SWAT team execution of what's known in law enforcement as a no-knock drug search. The only problem was, the cops had the wrong house. The suspects were next door.When the police finally figured this out, they rushed through a garage door and ran across the Olvedas' property to the house next door. One officer had to return to retrieve the search warrant."This is a very traumatic experience for my whole family," Wendy Olveda said. "I don't know how I'm going to be able to sleep. How can such a thing happen to an innocent family?"The Olvedas filed a claim for $550,000 against the officials connected with the Green Lake County drug task force, including the Berlin and Markesan police departments and the Green Lake County Sheriff's Department, which supplied the men for the fiasco. The claim was rejected, and now the family plans to take the agencies to court.Except for the fact that they were not even suspected of a crime, the Olvedas' experience is not as rare as one might think. Throughout rural Wisconsin, squads of cops in black battle dress armed with military-style weapons and trained in "dynamic entry" are becoming increasingly active.Since January 2000 alone, six SWAT teams were put into action in the state, most recently in tiny Forest County, where only 18 patrol officers serve a 1,000-square-mile jurisdiction with a population of just over 9,000.A survey by The Capital Times located 83 SWAT teams in the state, 28 of them formed in the past 10 years, 16 of those in the last five.Since the 1970s, the state's urban centers have been a breeding ground for Special Weapons and Tactics teams. Today there are nine such teams in Milwaukee County alone, and seven in Waukesha County. But most of the new SWAT teams have cropped up not in urban centers, but in the backwoods of rural Wisconsin - places like Forest County and Rice Lake, where populations are small and tax dollars are scarce.Aware that the term SWAT (an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics) might scare citizens, most police departments use terms like "emergency response teams," "tactical units" or "rapid response teams."But SWAT is what SWAT officers call it, 1,200 of whom belong to the Association of SWAT Personnel-Wisconsin Ltd., which provides its members with information on equipment and training opportunities.In the course of exploring the SWAT team explosion, The Capital Times found several patterns:To sell local governments on the need for SWAT teams, police officials usually talk about preparedness for terrorist incidents or barricaded hostage situations.But once trained, SWAT personnel are most commonly used to serve drug warrants and make drug arrests.The federal war on drugs provides powerful incentives for stepped-up police activity, handing out money on the basis of the number of arrests scored.Some federal money meant for community-oriented policing actually goes to pay for SWAT officers.Despite the federal dollars, SWAT teams are money losers for the small communities that create them, and some are starting to pull the plug.SWAT-related mishaps resulting in injuries and accidents are rising along with teams and arrests.Ask law enforcement officials why they formed a SWAT team and they'll often talk about barricaded gunmen or the specter of terrorism."In today's society, you have to watch for terrorist activity," said Sheriff Orval Quamme in Jefferson County, which started its team in 1998."It's always important to have the upper hand," says Chief John Johnson of the Muskego Police Department in Waukesha County. "It's like the Boy Scouts - you got to be prepared.""I think a lot of these trends started in Hollywood in the '70s," said Clyde Cribb, a captain with the Brown County Sheriff's Office, one of the state's larger sheriff's departments, which has fielded a team since the mid-1980s."Pretty soon, every little town with a department wanted a SWAT team."Criminologist Peter Kraska, one of the nation's leading authorities on SWAT teams, has a similar opinion."It taps into a lot of masculine fantasies about being a warrior," says Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University."Culturally, it can infect the mindset of the whole police department, or the whole police institution. It's insidious."In his 1997 study titled "Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond," Kraska found that between 1985 and 1995 the number of SWAT teams serving small jurisdictions nationwide increased by 157 percent, and that doesn't include teams with jurisdictions serving populations under 25,000. (Wisconsin has several teams in jurisdictions that are even smaller, such as Forest County, with a population of 9,212; Mukwonago, population 7,191; and Rice Lake, population 2,705).During the same 10 years, Kraska found a nearly tenfold increase in the use of SWAT teams. By far the most common use - 66 percent - was for executing search and arrest warrants."The problem is, when they set these things up, they don't just sit around and wait for another Columbine to happen," Kraska says. "They pretend they have a serious drug problem."Police officials would dispute that they're pretending, but when asked what they use their SWAT teams for, they talk about drugs.In Trempealeau County, the Sheriff's Department felt compelled to start a SWAT team last year because of, as Lt. Mike Wineski puts it, "some of the things nationally, and some locally, mostly at the schools."He later added, "We've seen drug search warrants increase over the past few years."In Forest County, which officially launched its team in April, Sheriff Roger Wilson persuaded the county to fund a SWAT team after a July 15, 2000, gun battle that ended in the death of two men, one of them Crandon Police Officer Todd Stamper.Asked what he plans to use the team for, Wilson replied, "Drug searches and stuff."In Green Bay, where "barricaded crises are happening less and less," according to Capt. Bruce Tilkens, the team still manages to keep busy. "We assist the drug task force on a regular basis."Lt. Patrick LaBarbera, who heads the Jackson County SWAT team and the West Central Metropolitan Enforcement Group, a federally sponsored multicounty drug enforcement cooperative, said of SWAT personnel, "Probably their most common involvement is drug search warrants."In Vernon County, where the Sheriff's Office launched a SWAT team early this year, the team has been called into action once. On June 21 they burst into a home next to a day care center and seized 12.5 grams of mushrooms, 0.9 grams of cocaine and 52.7 grams of marijuana.The teams can also be used to intimidate. Last fall, the Columbia County Emergency Response Team stood guard during last year's Weedstock in Sauk County, an annual event where hundreds of young people gather peacefully to smoke marijuana and listen to music.Bureaucratic support of SWAT teams reaches all the way up to the federal government, which rewards drug arrests with cash, the latest in military gadgetry and sometimes even an opportunity to train with elite military units such as the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs.Each year the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance disburses millions of dollars in federal funds to Wisconsin drug task force units, which routinely work hand in hand with SWAT teams. A fifth of that money is calculated on the basis of drug sales arrests, creating a powerful incentive to focus on the aggressive pursuit of drug activity.Here's how it works. Justice Assistance determines what federal funds are available for law enforcement and allots 20 percent - a little over $740,000 a year - to agencies based on drug sales arrests. That 20 percent serves as a guideline for the Office of Justice Assistance when it determines agencies' actual awards.Once the money is distributed to the task force, it trickles back to individual law enforcement agencies in the form of reimbursements for overtime costs related to drug enforcement. Police departments can request reimbursement for drug-related activities ranging from a full-fledged SWAT team raid to a traffic stop during which illegal drugs are found.Overtime costs stemming from non-drug related policing, such as a stake-out for a burglary case, are not eligible for reimbursement."From a manager's standpoint, when you're dealing with dollars and cents, it's an easier pill to swallow knowing you're recouping costs through the program," LaBarbera said.Office of Justice Assistance officials were not able to provide the actual awards because they are grouped in with other federal funding based on crime and population. But the OJA guidelines provide a sense of the dollar amounts attached to drug sales arrests, each of which in theory earns a task force about $153. For instance, Milwaukee County drug task forces were in line for $284,973 in 2000 for the 1,852 drug sales arrests made in the county. That was down from 2,122 arrests in 1999, theoretically representing a nearly $40,000 funding decrease.But as Milwaukee County's share decreases, rural counties with new SWAT teams are increasing their take. Between 1999 and 2000, Jackson County boosted drug sales arrests from 13 to 57, raising the amount of potential funds available to the drug task force from $1,987 to $8,770.In 2000 in tiny Forest County - which was still in the process of training officers for the SWAT team it launched this year - authorities made 35 drug sales arrests, putting the drug task force overseeing the county in line for $5,386. That more than doubled the previous year's total of 16 arrests for $2,446.And 2000 also marked the debut of the team in Crawford County, where drug sales arrests increased from nine to 14. Grant County, which began a team in 1999, increased arrests from 11 to 34. In Juneau County, which launched a SWAT team in 1998, drug sales arrests rose from 37 to 57 between 1999 and 2000. (Trempealeau County, which began its team in 2000, was the exception - it actually saw a decrease in drug sales arrests, from 15 in 1999 to 10 in 2000.)In fact, the proliferation of SWAT teams in rural Wisconsin corresponds with an increase in drug arrests across the board, including small-time marijuana possession, by far the biggest category. Factoring out the urban sprawl of Milwaukee County, marijuana sales arrests in the state increased from 1,368 in 1998 to 1,650 in 2000, a 20.6 percent increase. Drug arrests for simple marijuana possession reached 12,817 in 2000, an 18.9 percent increase over two years.In 1994 the federal government stepped up its practice of handing out free military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, making available everything from M-16 automatic rifles to armored personnel carriers. Several departments now possess grenade launchers, which can be used to deliver both tear gas and crowd-dispersing, non-lethal rubberized fragmentation grenades.Officials with two of the state's newer SWAT teams, in Vernon County and Jackson County, said the $10,000 to $15,000 cost of starting a team is almost completely covered by state and federal donations, either in cash or in kind. Those costs include a 40-hour basic SWAT training course, weapons, protective gear, uniforms, diversionary flash-bang grenades, tactical shields, surveillance equipment and break-in tools for no-knock raids.The federal government also indirectly funds military-style policing from an unlikely source: the Community Oriented Policing program, which throughout the 1990s has promoted a softer, gentler approach to law enforcement and has funded thousands of new community-oriented police officers.The two philosophies would seem to be at opposite poles of the law enforcement spectrum, but Kraska says the extra officers hired for community policing are often trained in SWAT operations."There's no doubt it's bastardizing the concept of community policing," he said.Vernon and Jackson counties, asked by The Capital Times to provide detailed budget information about their SWAT teams, both reported using officers funded with COPS grants on their teams.Despite the federal and state aid, SWAT teams are money-losing propositions for local taxpayers. LaBarbera, who heads Jackson County's nine-man team, estimated overtime costs for ongoing training at about $6,000 a year. Undersheriff Jim Hanson of Vernon County - where the Combined Tactical Unit includes 10 officers from the Sheriff's Office and the Viroqua and Hillsboro police departments - estimated that county taxpayers pay $7,200 and $8,400 a year for SWAT training. He pointed out that local taxpayers also contribute to the state and federal money pools that paid for the team's start-up costs."It's still tax money however you slice it," he said.The costs have prompted a few departments to pull the plug. In Marquette County, where there are only 10 county patrol officers, Sheriff Rick Fullmer disbanded the SWAT team in 1996 because, he said, it was simply not worth the money. Besides the start-up costs - which include a basic SWAT course for team members, protective clothing, equipment and weapons - he said it would cost his department a minimum of $10,000 a year for training.Fullmer said with Marquette County's narrow tax base - its 2000 population estimate was only 13,885 - the cost is too much, and budgetary concerns would compromise training."I said, this is ridiculous. All we're going to end up doing is getting people hurt."Now if he needs a SWAT team, he can call Columbia County, though he knows of only three instances in his 24 years with the department that the department resorted to SWAT action. Even if he didn't have access to another team, he said, he wouldn't start one.In Ashland, which employs eight patrol officers and where former Police Chief Page Decker disbanded the team, his successor, Dan Crawford, is trying to restore it.In both cases, disbanding the teams caused dissension in the ranks."I'm of a mind that you should be tactically ready and sound, ready to take care of business when you have to," says Capt. Mick Brennan, who is working with Crawford to reconstitute the team.Former Marquette County Sheriff Steve Sell has a different take."Quite frankly, they get excited about dressing up in black and doing that kind of thing," he said.If SWAT teams and arrests are on the rise, so is the number of SWAT-related mishaps, including deaths or serious injuries of citizens or officers.Between 1995 and 2000 there were at least 230 such incidents nationwide, including the 1995 accidental shooting of a Dodge County man as he was being handcuffed during a drug raid."All for what end?" Kraska says. "My data show almost all of the time it's for small-time drug cases. I would submit it's not worth the risk."In the Dodge County case, only a small amount of marijuana was found in the trailer.The city of Neenah and Outagamie County recently paid a $67,000 settlement for a 1998 drug task force raid during which an officer went to the wrong door. And a Muskego woman who was forced to the ground and handcuffed during a botched drug raid last Valentine's Day has filed a $1.2 million claim against Muskego and Waukesha County officials."It's a Catch-22," Muskego Police Chief Johnson says of sending in a SWAT team. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Obviously it's a traumatic thing, if you're a citizen."You don't have to tell that to Wes Jankowski of Fall River.On the afternoon of Dec. 5, 1997, Jankowski was awakened from a nap when he heard loud pounding on his door. When he got up to see what the commotion was, the door flew open and he was staring down the barrel of a machine gun."It looked like a short Darth Vader," Jankowski said of the diminutive officer wielding the gun, "but it was scary. He stuck an Uzi in my face and threw me on the floor."The intruders were members the Columbia County Emergency Response Team, which was acting on a single tip from a confidential informant that there were drugs being sold from the house. While the first officer forced Jankowski to the floor, holding a gun to his back, others piled in behind. In seconds, they were in every room of the house, looking through drawers, under beds, in cabinets.In addition to the 12 men in black battle dress uniforms and Kevlar helmets, other officers were outside at the perimeter, hiding behind trees, rifles trained on the house.After a search that lasted nearly eight hours, police uncovered 5.1 grams of marijuana, enough for about five or six marijuana cigarettes, and 12.6 grams of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, all of which belonged to Jankowski's roommate.Jankowski told The Capital Times he still has flashbacks from the episode."It still runs through my head sometimes," he said. "Especially the door coming open and the barrel of the gun sticking in my face." Note: Fueled With Drug Enforcement Money, Military-Style Police Teams Are Exploding In The Backwoods Of Wisconsin.News Article Courtesy of Mapinc. 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 Military Muscle Comes To Mayberry with SWAT Teams

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Comment #14 posted by CongressmanSuet on August 19, 2001 at 18:53:30 PT
Its all here....
 "Quite frankly they get excited dressing up in black and doing this sort of thing" This is powerful...this explains alot of the "human nature" involvment in the WOD. EGO, it makes the world go round, that and MONEY....
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Comment #13 posted by Ed Carpenter on August 19, 2001 at 11:25:48 PT:
Hooked on SWAT
"Despite the federal dollars, SWAT teams are money losers for the small communities that create them, and some are starting to pull the plug."Bravo!!!
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Comment #12 posted by dddd on August 19, 2001 at 10:44:35 PT

Excellent point Patrick
"Just Great! No money in the budget is allotted for preventing a crime that actually has a VICTIM as the end result of its commission." ..Huge amounts of money are allotted for chasing downterrified drug users,but the crimes with actual victims,are noteligible for enhanced enforcement funding.....After all,most burglars have nothing worth confiscating under forfeiture laws,,,and of course,I dont thinkthere are any forfeiture laws that apply to white collar crime,sothere's no need to go after them,,,so this makes drugs the cashkitty darling of law enforcement,,,and makes most cops into DRUGPIGS!dddd
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Comment #11 posted by Patrick on August 19, 2001 at 10:09:54 PT

"In fact, the proliferation of SWAT teams in rural Wisconsin corresponds with an increase in drug arrests across the board, including small-time marijuana possession, by far the biggest category."Let's see here,"Overtime costs stemming from non-drug related policing, such as a stake-out for a burglary case, are not eligible for reimbursement." Just Great! No money in the budget is allotted for preventing a crime that actually has a VICTIM as the end result of its commission. "But the OJA guidelines provide a sense of the dollar amounts attached to drug sales arrests, each of which in theory earns a task force about $153. "So when it all boils down to basics, for a paltry motivational sum of 153 bucks, the Olveda family's quiet evening at home was interrupted when the front door burst open and several armed police men in black uniforms burst into their home. "It was a textbook SWAT team execution of what's known in law enforcement as a no-knock drug search."Mr. Ashcroft & Mr. Hutchinson, let me spend my 153 tax dollars and quote the Constitution if I may…(Again!)Amendment IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons,etc.Well Mr. Ashcroft, Mr. holier than thou, oh supreme leader of the "free" (HA!) worlds law enforcement arm. What do you have to say to this juxtaposition? Oh wait. You have no reply? You will not post a reply here at You haven't the bullocks to defend the Constitution and honor your oath of office or do you? We the people will accept either your resignation or your solemn oath that this no-knock practice will cease and desist immediately.Extremely frustrated with your performance in this matter.
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Comment #10 posted by lookinside on August 19, 2001 at 09:55:23 PT:

fight, fight...
our little city has a swat team...our police are an exampleof the worst in police behavior...undertrained, big cityrejects with a big budget for weapons and vehicles...theyare over their heads in nearly any situation more complexthan a car running one of our 3 streetlights...bicycle andauto theft are son has had 5 bicycles stolenin the last 7 years...the cops take no interest...they won'teven write up a the surrounding countryside, methlabs and pot growersflourish...drug use among the city's teenagers iseverywhere..(no kids keep me filled in onwhat they see) is my belief that these cops are slow to respond toviolent situations because they might actually be in harm'sway if they respond before the guy with the gun leaves...this town has NO nightlife, because over the last 20 years,the police department has harrassed the bar patrons in thistown endlessly...parking outside bars and pulling overpatrons as they leave...i don't drink, but i think peoplehave the right to have a cold one with their friends withoutthe expectation of a night in jail...(alcohol IS legal,isn't it???)these cops will lie under oath..(personal experience)...i'd like to see them all in jail...(they all deserve it onconstitutional grounds) general population of course...idon't think even one of them is tough enough to survive afull week... 
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Comment #9 posted by Doug on August 19, 2001 at 09:43:56 PT

Can People Stil Think?
Here is another example of a trend that will be looked at with the utmost disdain and shock by the future. How could we possibly have let our country be turned into a police state with these SWAT teams forming in every part of the nation? It is obvious that if you build them they will be used.The answer is fear -- convince people that the rebels, terrorists, others, whatever, are going to get you and only we can protect you and the people will allow almost anything. It is good to see article such as this one that points of the dangers of SWAT teams. We need more information like this since, for the most part, the media has done a good job of instilling the fear in the populace that the police need to get away with things like this.
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Comment #8 posted by Gary Storck on August 19, 2001 at 08:30:55 PT

A 5 article special report!
The Cap Times definitely outdid itself with this one-day 5-article series. I am still waiting for the other two articles, not yet archived by MAP, but available linked from the original article at things are happening here in Madison. I hope articles like this and the impetus for drug policy reform being pushed by the local activists and some of the leading politicians in Madison will set an example to the rest of the U.S. to follow.
Drug Policy Forum of Wisconsin
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Comment #7 posted by The GCW on August 19, 2001 at 08:09:36 PT

Gestapo, anyone?
MDG and all!,Gestapo + SWAT members = SWATSTIKA!!!!!&! (simple math?)Police are here to serve and protect. SWATSTIKA, is primed to kill!Make it a household word for our own good... SWATSTIKA, and make sure we all know there "warm fuzzy (propagandic) names": "emergency response teams," "tactical units" or "rapid response teams." The use of the phrase SWATSTIKA will help put them in the proper CHILLING light.  
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Comment #6 posted by qqqq on August 19, 2001 at 06:18:37 PT

Relevant reading
here's a good article
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Comment #5 posted by dddd on August 19, 2001 at 04:43:34 PT

good point Ethan
Most of these SWAT teams,are just hangin' out withnothing to do,,,not many hostage situations happeningin smaller cities,,and like some purebred hunting dogs,who have been locked in a kennel for months,their masterscut them loose,,,,not on some pheasants,ducks,or grouse in the field,,,but on some relatively innocent,rowdy old chickens who wereinvolved in a squabble down at the coop.....dddd 
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Comment #4 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on August 19, 2001 at 04:23:32 PT:

Form Them, and They Will Transgress
SWAT was originated by our friend, Gates, from LA, the paragon of Amerikan policing gone mad. Some of these people are merely Gestapo wannabe's, born in the wrong time and place.When the real terrorists come, it will not be in rural Wisconsin, or hundreds of other municipalities where these teams have been formed.Let me tell you a story. Last summer, there was a local furor smoldering because the Hell's Angels held their convention just outside of town in peaceful little Missoula, MT. A huge task force was formed and put in place including outside talent and muscle for an anticipated donnybrook with the potential berserkers. That never occurred. For the most part, the H.A's behaved themselves. However, in downtown Missoula, a crowd of looky-loos in the bars to watch the carnage decided not to disperse at 02:00, and the assembled hirelings were already equipped in riot gear anyway, so----. That's right, the tear gas got lobbed, the mace got fired, and lots of people got arrested. I am not going to dissect this too much, and most normal people thought that there was some blame to attribute to both sides. The point I will make is that anytime you expect the worst from people and prepare for a war, the temptation to utilize the investment is impossible to ignore. The same is true with SWAT in every little town. There are just not enough hostage crises in banks to satisfy them.Our country needs to study the cosmic balance sheet, and realize that the costs of such programs are unbearable, not the least on the moral front, wherein we are all collectively dragged into the muck. If we're lucky, we merely get dirty, but all too often innocents die. We should all be dreadfully sick of it. END THE WAR! 
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Comment #3 posted by smileysmiles on August 19, 2001 at 04:18:26 PT

it wouldn't surprise me if...
... someone with a burning rage for revenge set up a booby trap bomb and called in the SWAT. They could then be called SPLAT.
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Comment #2 posted by dddd on August 19, 2001 at 04:14:46 PT

top cops
..Think about it,,,,what would be the logical aspiration of acop,who goes through the academy,and gets a job on the force?,,,,Of course,,it would be to be in the ranks of a SWAT team...After all,,where else could a cop get to play with all the newestlaw-enforcement toys?,,,You get to dress up in these anonymous black ninja outfits,,and enjoy the thrill of traveling with a statesanctioned armed GANG,and experience the glory of terrorizingthe "bad guys",like some kindof "make my day"Dirty Harry wannabes.Most of these guys are the equivilent of cult members.Their traininghas much in common with cult indoctrination,evil vs. good concepts,and alliegance to the organization that they serve......This is one branchof law enforcement that is here to stay,,,like the article says,under theexcuse of anti-terrorism......but in actuality,,these SWAT teams,arethe true terrorists,,and it's even more terrifying to realize that theirbrand of terror is sponsored by the powers that be.....Quite frightening,to say the least.,,,,dddd
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Comment #1 posted by MDG on August 18, 2001 at 23:53:09 PT

I recall a few years ago, a person was living in a very bad neighborhood. He was being frequently assaulted and his house was constantly being burglarized. So, he set up a booby-trap shotgun, and the next time someone busted in his house: BANG! Guess who's in jail? Not the guy who got shot. But, the real reason there are laws against booby-trapping one's own home is so that SWAT teams won't be killed by a pneumatically-driven sledgehammer when they bust through the front door.Can anyone say "Trigger Locks save lives?" They aren't meant to save the lives of anyone but Gestapo SWAT members. NEW MEMBERS WANTED! SIGN UP FOR FUN AND EXCITEMENT!GAT: Gestapo Attack Team.
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