SWAT Reporting Bill Filed in Michigan

A bill that would impose reporting requirements on law enforcement SWAT teams has been introduced in the Michigan House. The bill, House Bill 4857, would require those specialized paramilitary units to file a report when they forcibly enter a home, discharge a weapon, or injure or kill a suspect.

The sponsor, Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) told the instate Livingston Daily he introduced the bill in part because of concerns stemming from a May 2010 Detroit police SWAT raid in which police shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyanna Jones. He said he was most concerned about the lack of information from SWAT teams, which use automatic weapons and grenades, as well as kicking down doors.

"These are areas where a little transparency wouldn't hurt," McMillin said. "I think it will raise some awareness of where reporters and other interested citizens may have additional questions. These are not your typical traffic stops," he added.

As introduced, the bill would apply to SWAT teams within the Michigan State Police, county sheriff's departments, and municipal police departments. That formulation is leading some law enforcement officials to say that it would not apply to interagency drug task forces, such as the LAWNET task force that raided the Marshall Alternatives medical marijuana dispensary in Fowlerville earlier this year.

Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, who presides over LAWNET, said the reporting bill wouldn't apply to task force actions and attacked the measure as a "political" effort to deal with isolated instances.

"We've got enough laws — so from that aspect, I disagree with what he wants to do," he said "The state can't come down and tell me how to run my department," Bezotte added. "What they end up doing is causing more problems than we originally had," he added.

Drug units deserve special consideration, Bezotte added. "It's not to try to get away with anything. I think if you've worked with a drug unit, you would understand you don't want anyone knowing who you are, especially if you're doing undercover buys," he added. "I would side with the drug units on that one in terms of secrecy."

But that interpretation didn't fly with attorney Denise Pollicella, who represents Marshall Alternatives. "It absolutely would apply to LAWNET," she said."I know, personally, of three different occasions and three different raids where they did not list all of the property and cash that they took on their inventory," Pollicella added.

The bill was a necessary "accountability measure," she said. "I think that if the public actually realized how prevalent these raids are, and how unnecessary the extreme force is and how traumatizing it is for the victims, there would be significantly more outrage," she said.

McMillin said he wasn't sure whether multiagency drug task force SWAT teams would be covered by the bill as written. He said the bill could become more agency-specific as it moves through the legislative process. It is currently in the House Judiciary Committee, with a hearing set for July 27.

The only other state to impose reporting requirements on SWAT teams is Maryland. That law passed only after a Prince Georges County SWAT team made the mistake of practicing its usual tactics on the mayor or Berwyn Heights, who was both innocent of any wrongdoing and in a position to be able to right the wrong inflicted on him.

– Article originally from Stop the Drug War.

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