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Victim of Botched Pr. Geo.'s Raid Pushes SWAT Bill

Rosalind Helderman

Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo is in Annapolis today, advocating for legislation he helped craft that require state police agencies to issue monthly reports about their use of SWAT teams.

In July, Calvo's two dogs were shot and killed by members of a Prince George's Sheriff's Department SWAT team when his house was stormed in a botched drug raid. The Sheriff's SWAT team was called in because the Prince George's Police Deparment's squad was busy elsewhere.

Law enforcement officials have acknowledged that Calvo and his wife Trinity Tomsic were unwitting victims of a drug smuggling scheme that used FedEx drivers to ship pot and that they knew nothing about a drug-filled box delivered to their home. The case attracted national attention and outrage.

(The Post's magazine examined this story in a recent issue; Calvo and April Witt, the story's author, also did a live Q&A with readers on Feb. 2.)

Calvo said he believes police forces are using SWAT teams, paramilitary organizations, more and more often for ordinary police work. But he said he's been surprised to learn how difficult it is to get reliable statistics about how often teams are deployed, where, why and with what result.

The bill, which is being sponsored by Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) in the senate and Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George's) in the House of Delegates, would require that any police agency with SWAT team report on its usage monthly, a necessary first step to public debate on the topic, Calvo said.

"I see it as a good government proposal," Calvo said.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  February 4, 2009; 9:52 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , Prince George's County , Rosalind Helderman  
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Good luck with that bill, guys. I'm sure the trusty public servants in local law enforcement will be happy to cooperate...

Posted by: fonkyou | February 4, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

This is a great first step. In the past thirty years, we've seen a slow creeping militarization of the police. We now think nothing of seeing cops decked out like infantry soldiers in Baghdad, performing no-knock raids -- both things that were exceedingly rare just a generation ago.

Police do important work, but without effective checks-and-balances, even the most well-intentioned organization will start abusing its power.

What happened to Mayor Calvo happens to dozens of Americans everyday. It's just that the other victims of police abuse are usually part of the underclass, and are unable to make themselves heard in the halls of power.

Posted by: DupontJay | February 4, 2009 2:47 PM | Report abuse

dupontjay - agree 100%. It is very disturbing to see military wannabes decked out in bloused boots, ball caps and cargo pants pulling cars over on the highway.

The direction this needs to go is oversight, indictments and prosecution.

That will curb abuse. As it is - its just business as usual.

Posted by: VirginiaConservative | February 4, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Even this short overview seems to exaggerate the extent that County officials "admitted" any mistakes.

Posted by: Cossackathon | February 4, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

In the past 30 years we've also seen a creeping militarization of drug gangs. They shoot with real bullets every day, and have zero to lose.

When MS-13 leaves town, when DC isnt a global terror target, then swat should get reigned in.

No doubt these guys were knuckleheads. But the answer is 'coach em up' not 'shut em down'. I believe the problem lies in Homeland security tactical grants being handed out to every jurisdiction with swat. no Swat, no grants. Strong incentive for black coveralls and automatic weapons eh?

Posted by: mikey999 | February 4, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I'd like very much to see Mayor Calvo run for County Executive.

His negative experience with the county police could provide the necessary impetus for sorely needed reform.

Posted by: bjanna1 | February 4, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I really hope that this bill gets passed. There is no reason to use a SWAT team for police work and this very sad story is a great example of why it is a bad idea to begin with.

SWAT teams are a valuable resource, but they are not the same type of professionals as regular law enforcement officers. They are trained to start at 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 with maximum aggression and force, and this is just not how regular law enforcement should operate.

In my experience they also have a very black and white view of the world - there are the good guys and there are the bad ones, the bad ones are subhuman and you can treat them like animals. And everyone is a bad guy until proven otherwise. Even then, stay suspicious. That is why they refuse to back down fully and acknowledge exactly how wrong they were that night.

Posted by: justathought3 | February 4, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I think I heard on 88.5 today, that swat teams were deployed in PG 700 times in 2008. I think that's a lot, and warrants oversight. I too hope the bill passes.

Posted by: spikemilligan | February 4, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Oversight and citizen review after the fact is essential. This is the United States of America and we run things under the Constitution. Some will claim that this makes it weak. I disagree. Our Constitution, as Amended, and especially the Bill of Rights, are the true and wholesome strength of this nation. Without them we might as well just call it quits. One of the most celebrated amendments in the Bill of Rights was the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

When masked paramilitaries can burst into the house of an elected official who has no criminal record and no reasonable expectation of violent resistance, and shoot his family pets and abuse an old woman, it's long past time for We the People to remember that that kind of stuff just doesn't play here in the USA. Not in the heartland, not in the Capital, not in the suburbs of the Capital, not anyplace.

We have the State Police stalking peace activists and death-penalty protesters. We have SWAT teams that can't be bothered to even google the identity of their targets and set up raids even though they know they're about to attack a patsy. People, innocent people, can get killed or have their lives destroyed.

It's time to restore the Constitution to rightful prominence above the ridiculous and bizarrely failed "War on Drugs". It's time to make sure that the police have all of the equipment and training they need to do the right thing at the right time. Yet it is also time to make sure that if they do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons -- or do anything in the gray area that falls short of "totally justifiable" -- that they lost their jobs, lose their licenses, are barred from related employment, and do hard time in Federal prison if they reasonably should have known that they were p1ss1ng in the face of the Founding Fathers.

It's time to end the creeping Fascism of the Bush Years.

Posted by: thardman | February 5, 2009 12:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree almost completely with thardman, although I wonder whether SWAT teams are necessary at all. SWAT teams, it seems to me, are the local equivalent of weapons of mass destruction. As long as they exist, they'll be arguing for their value: "If we're just training and sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, why bother?" And there's the risk that they'll be deployed in situations where their mindsets are contrary to good police work. Why is it not possible to train a cadre of regular police officers who would perform normal police duties--until a true SWAT situation arose, at which point they would assemble and function as a SWAT team?

Posted by: jlhare1 | February 5, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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