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Don’t give me grief about this one. I know: day in, day out, SWAT teams risk their lives in the endless pursuit of public safety. THEY are FAR more likely to be killed by perpetrators than kill anyone—including innocent bystanders. And those bystanders are often standing by and/or harboring dangerous criminals. Unlike the 34-year-old murderer the Detroit team was seeking, the officer or officers responsible for this horrible accident—where a seven-year-old girl lost her life—will face immediate investigation. There will be consequences for all the law enforcement officials involved. Now that I’ve provided context, before I scrape the details from the AP, I want to say one more thing: the press needs to get over this idea that guns “discharge” all on their own. Even if a gunshot is accidental, in 99.99 percent of the cases, a shooter pulled the trigger. The police shot and killed Aiyana Jones. Suggesting anything else is needlessly, perhaps even recklessly obsequious.

Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee said officers set off the flash grenade as they entered the apartment with their guns drawn about 12:40 a.m. Sunday with a warrant to look for a suspect in the Friday slaying of a 17-year-old boy. The lead officer’s gun went off after he encountered a 46-year-old woman inside the front room of the house and “some level of physical contact” ensued. Police do not believe the gun was fired intentionally, he said . . .

Family members identified the woman as the child’s grandmother and Charles Jones’ mother, Mertilla Jones, who has said she was not involved in a struggle with the officer. Police later said the officer may have just collided with the woman.

Strangely, there’s no word about the whereabouts of the suspect sought by the police in the fateful raid.

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  1. I have heard (andecdotally) that after police departments switched from the double-action revolvers that had been their primary weapons for most of the 20th century, to semi-auto pistols in the late 1980's, accidental discharges skyrocketed. It's not hard to see why. Many of the features that make a semi auto a great combat weapon make it, IMO, less than ideal for police. And when you combine lax initial training, little or no "reinforcement" training, and a casual or careless attitude towards firearms, you end up with potentially tragic results.

    Not saying that is what happened here but it wouldn't surprise me. I'm sometimes called upon by family and friends to give informal training on firearms and I always stress that guns never just "go off." There are two – and only two – things that can cause a properly functioning gun to fire: 1. Intention or 2. Negligence.

    "Accidental discharge" of a firearm is not possible, unless the firearm is malfunctioning. As Dan Aykroyd's hippie restaurant owner said in an old SNL skit, "There are no accidents, man!"


    From the comments to the article above:

    I had a conversation with a law enforcement colleague about why police departments do these things for drug raids. And he made an interesting point. Since the people associated with dealers are usually criminals, it is very difficult to make a case against a dealer by testimony alone (which is true, I once successfully defended a dealer in a case without a controlled but with the theme of "no cops, no drugs, no conviction"). So to make a case you either need a controlled buy or to catch the dealer with enough drugs to infer intent to distribute. Controlled buys are hard. It is hard to go undercover. It is dangerous. And dealers are whiley. Also, you have to rotate different people into undercover roles so they are not discovered. And very few cops really have the wherewithal to be a good under cover agent. But any monkey can kick down a door with an assault rifle. So most police departments have given up on doing undercover work and controlled buys. That is just in the movies. What they do instead is get tips from users and kick down doors.

    I have read that it is easier to arrange to invade an American home, than to invade an Iraqi or Afghani home.


    Outside the home, the department’s special response team was prepared to go in. Film crews with A&E’s “The First 48” reality show, which follows police departments nationwide during the crucial 48 hours after a homicide is committed, were taping the team for a documentary. Police spokesman John Roach said the tapes will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

    Survivor: Detroit

  4. This story (and the similar negligent discharge story from the Alston, PA SWAT team you posted last week) also go to illustrate the increasing prevalence of SWAT type units in US police forces. It would be nice to think that any decision to form a military-style assault team would be preceeded by a lot of serious thought and consideration, but I can't help but feel that there's a lot of "me, too" thinking going on here:

    IOW, if LA has a SWAT team, and Bogen County wants to be as "professional" as LA, then by God, Bogen County needs a SWAT team, too! And so does Resume Speed, Montana, Whitfield Parish, LA, and Dusty Township, Nevada. And of course, once you have that SWAT team, you better find a "mission" for them or pretty soon the city council will wonder why, in a time of budget cutbacks and across-the-board belt-tightening, the city should pony up for new smoke grenade launchers or laser sights.

    It's also easy to understand the attraction of the SWAT team. Being a SWAT guy is sexy and cool and badass all rolled into one. So Detroit has a SWAT team – but the million dollar question (probably several million by the time all the lawyers start their vulture-like circling) is: What kind of selection and training system is in place?

    And I think selection – deciding who gets to be on the SWAT team – is every bit as important as training. Wearing a black nomex suit and kicking in doors is so much cooler than being Barney Fife and handing out tickets, so it's easy to understand why a bored but enthusiastic beat cop might volunteer for the door kicker team. But is he really the best candidate for that job? He may be able to do 100 pullups and run the mile in 6 minutes flat, and maybe he can shoot a gnat's eye at 500 yards, but does that mean he'll exercise the correct judgment when the situation gets tense?

    In both of the SWAT negligent discharge cases, it's hard to imagine how the shooting could have happened unless one or both cops were violating the most basic safety rules of all: Keeping the finger off the trigger and keeping aware of where the muzzle is pointing at all times. And seeing as how those are skills that should be taught on day 1 of the police academy (long before they get to the SWAT team) one has to wonder, if they can't manage such basic weapons skills as these, what business do they have being on the SWAT team?

  5. At what point does "serving a search warrant" justify using flash bang grenades? Someone tossing a flashbang in my house would encounter dogs barking, cats howling, women screaming, kids yelling, and me cussing. Not the most conducive atmosphere to convey orders or get responses from law enforcement personnel. In fact, that's just the type of scenario where confusion (on both sides) and accidental discharges would be most likely. What happened to just knocking on the front door?

  6. Dodgeman: In most cases a warrant has to be served during daylight hours by knocking on the door, however, if in the affidavit, the officer shows that there is reason to believe that knocking on the door might cause the suspect to either destroy evidence or react violently, they can ask for permission to serve the warrant at night without notice. IOW the requirement for the warrant, itself, is not sufficent to get "no notice" authorization, there have to be further findings of fact beyond those justifying the warrant. At least that's how it's supposed to work.

    In practice, I think, in many jurisdictions the officer can put some boilerplate language to the effect of "XXXX is a suspected drug dealer and gang member who is known to be armed and violent" and that kind of language, by itself, can be justification for the "no-knock" service of the warrant.

  7. The suspect was arrested at the time of this tragedy. Get your story straight. Don't embellish. Don't hide, just report.

  8. The story doesn't specifically state that the suspect was arrested. Nor does it say he wasn't.

    Subsequent reports on this website go into detail about the reasons for the SWAT team's arrival and the dispensation of the wanted man.

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