A tool to facilitate questions about Triangle tactical team usage
Sunday, 17 August, 2014 — civics
Yesterday, David Forbes of The Asheville Blade tweeted the results of a records request he made to the local law enforcement agencies in Asheville. He also published a story on The Asheville Blade resulting from the records request:
The unrest in Ferguson, Mo. has raised a multitude of important issues, including systemic racism in law enforcement and the level of violence directed at African-American citizens, like the disturbing shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.
On Thursday, Aug. 14, I made records requests with the Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to disclose all the military equipment obtained under this program over the past decade. The Sheriff’s Office responded within 30 minutes and wrote that they are in the process of gathering the information.
A city spokesperson replied the next morning with a similar response. Later that day, they revealed that the only item the APD had obtained through the 1033 program since 2004 was an armored car in 2007. According to city officials, the vehicle is no longer in use.
Just seeing Forbes’ tweets, I was wondering about local to the Triangle research on the same topic.
Would love for a Triangle news agency to look at tac. team usage for local law enforcement agencies as @DavidForbes is doing for Asheville.— Nathan L. Walls (@base10) August 16, 2014
Years ago, we had the RPD tac team in our yard, pursuing robbery suspects. Dogs, rifles, told to stay inside. When else does that happen?— Nathan L. Walls (@base10) August 16, 2014
What situations called for tac. team deployment? What was the result? Is an incident report available? Who decided response level?— Nathan L. Walls (@base10) August 16, 2014
So, @newsobserver, @wral, @RalPublicRecord, @indyweek, etc. Who wants to run with this?— Nathan L. Walls (@base10) August 16, 2014
The New York Times has a worthwhile interactive map that Forbes referenced in his story. That’s a start. Going back to my brief story about having the (a?) Raleigh Police Department tactical team in our backyard, I can tell you it was incredibly stressful seeing multiple officers carrying rifles, bringing dogs and shining flashlights in the dark of the woods behind our house looking for one or more armed robbery suspects.
To me, this instance seemed an appropriate instance to have a tactical team present. However, I want to know other instances where this team would be deployed. So, I’m thinking through some questions I would like to have access to the answers to:
- Which Triangle law enforcement agencies – local, state or federal – have tactical/S.W.A.T. teams?
- How large is each agency’s tactical team?
- What equipment have these agencies acquired from the federal government that a reasonable person consider “war gear”?
- Are the tactical teams the only teams with access to this equipment?
- What rules govern the use of this equipment?
- Are agencies obligated to use the equipment or return it to the federal government?
- Under what circumstances is a tactical team activated?
- Who is responsible for activating a tactical team?
- Are these teams and equipment preemptively deployed to public events? When and why?
- How many times a month are these teams deployed?
- How many times a month is military-grade equipment deployed?
- Where are these deployments?
- Would less forceful tactics have been more or less effective? Why?
- What reports are available regarding these deployments?
- Were any complaints against officers filed in the wake of the incident?
- Can these deployments be correlated with news reports of the incident?
- What are the trends of deployment? Are they going up or down?
A local news agency would do well to ask these questions and report the answers. They would do better to get an ongoing update of records from area law enforcement agencies and get at trending data or look at particular incidents in more detail. This is in the ballpark of something I could expect to see from EveryBlock, a local Code for America brigade – the Triangle has several – or again, any of the local news agencies as a public-facing, web accessible application.
I’m thinking through these questions because these are sorts of questions I would like answered in the wake of the police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Mike Brown. I want you to think through questions of your own along these lines. These questions don’t replace community involvement in policing through oversight or review commissions. They don’t replace community policing. They don’t replace beat reporting. Instead, these questions that a tool helps answer should inform us for deeper conversations about what law enforcement agencies are doing in claim of protecting and serving the public. The goal should be to increase transparency and build trust that communities and governments understand where police powers are used, why they’re used and citizens believe these powers, when used, are used judiciously, proportionately, appropriately, equally and fairly.