Lawmaker wants to tighten requirements for SWAT raids

In this March 2017 file photo, St. George Police Department's SWAT team mobilizes for an early morning incident in the southwest area of St. George, Utah, March 26, 2017 | Submitted photo, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah legislators are considering a bill that seeks to tighten requirements for the use of forcible entry by police on private property. Sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, the bill passed committee Friday and is on the calendar to be debated and voted on by the full House.

Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, the sponsor of forcible entry and warrants amendments in the 2018 Utah Legislature | Profile photo courtesy Utah House of Representatives, St. George News

Roberts is sponsoring forcible entry and warrants amendments, designated in the 2018 Utah Legislature as HB 83 1st Substitute. The proposed legislation would require supervisory officials to review officer affidavits and perform risk assessments before conducting operations using forced entry.

“This bill just puts in checks and balances when seeking warrants, specifically for forcible entry,” Roberts said in the Friday hearing of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

Roberts said the bill would help prevent situations similar to a recent report of a SWAT team in Ogden forcing its way into the wrong home by codifying forced entry requirements for law enforcement agencies across the entire state.

“The intent here is to protect property and lives – lives on both sides,” Roberts said, noting that forced entry techniques can be dangerous.

Also speaking on the bill at the committee hearing was Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-Salt Lake City, who recounted an instance when a SWAT raid was performed to apprehend a suspect in a neighboring home. Weight said the incident was traumatic for bystanders.

“I witnessed the force entry into that house and there were three little kids there, so they were all screaming and crying,” Weight said. “It’s a very terrifying, incredibly terrible thing to witness.”

Weight said she supports extra consideration being made on the part of law enforcement before conducting such operations.

“I think we’re always looking for the least intrusive and least level of force,” said Tom Ross, Bountiful police chief and president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. Ross said the association does not believe the bill is necessary.

“Over 90 percent of these types of forcible entries are knock-and-announce,” Ross said. “Even on SWAT teams, we’re surrounding the location, we’re knocking, we’re asking them to come out, and only when necessary – hostage situations, things where we have life and safety – are we rushing in.”

The proposed bill would require top-level authorities, such as police chiefs and county sheriffs, to perform independent risk assessments to evaluate the circumstances of an officer’s investigation and ensure reasonable intelligence-gathering efforts have been made before a warrant can be sought.

While Ross said he doesn’t believe the bill is necessary, he also said he felt encouraged by the willingness of lawmakers to discuss the legislation with law enforcement officials, which led to the removal of a provision that would have required police seeking warrant to explain why an alternative to forced entry couldn’t be used to apprehend a suspect.

In this July 2017 file photo, the St. George Police Department’s SWAT team mobilizes early for an incident in the northwest area of St. George, Utah, July 21, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“I’m not here to say we’re in support of the bill,” Ross said, “but I can say with the changes that have occurred, it probably doesn’t fundamentally change a lot of what we’re doing.”

However, some policies regarding obtaining warrant for forced entry vary by agency. The legislation would unify the additional requirements for all law enforcement agencies operating in Utah.

“I think the Legislature’s willingness and preference over the past several years has been to codify best practices and statute rather than allowing the agencies to police themselves,” said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, a libertarian lobbyist group. “I think it would be a fair assessment that not every agency is doing this perfectly.”

In a policy review, Libertas said it supports the bill in order to ensure warrants are conducted properly and only when necessary for public safety and to minimize accidents and abuse.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also supports the bill. Marina Lowe, legislative counsel for the organization, said the following:

I think really the motivation for us comes to the fact that these are really dangerous situations, not just for the people upon whom the warrant is being served, but also for the officers that are undertaking this dangerous mission, and we want to make sure that we’re getting the right house, the right location, that the proper precautions are being considered, and so think that putting that into statute is good policy.

Following a 6-2 vote of favorable recommendation Friday by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, the bill is now scheduled to be considered in the House.

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9 Comments

  • Caveat_Emptor February 26, 2018 at 10:21 am

    If all this bill does is standardize the approach that all Utah LE agencies utilize to deploy their SWAT resources, that would be worthwhile. “After the fact” assessment by the public will sometimes question the wisdom of deploying military-style resources as overkill, but we still expect them to err on the side of protecting the officers, and innocent neighbors.

  • comments February 26, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    militarized police state is out of control. the worst part of it is when the militarized police enforcers “make mistakes” they are basically accountable to no one. And the leftists think these militarized police state enforcers should be the only ones with the guns…

    Yeah they break down the door and raid the house of an innocent family. Maybe you get a cute little apology letter and if you’re lucky they pay to fix the door. It doesn’t even begin to make up for being terrorized and traumatized by your own gov’t. Gov’t has been eroding rights of citizens extremely aggressively since 9/11. Once they grab the guns “1984” will not be that far from reality. Look at britain, they got video cameras watching everyone all the time. Privacy is gone but still there is plenty of crime. I bet the cameras are to protect gov’t power structure far more than to protect citizens. its nuts.

    • Striker4 February 26, 2018 at 4:37 pm

      Cameras are in place to watch people like you Bob

  • Brian February 26, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    I completely support this bill. Our police become more militarized every year, and while there are serious threats where SWAT tactics are need, I think the majority of time they’re deployed could be handled with traditional policing techniques and equipment. Using a shotgun to kill the flies in your house is a bad idea, but in many instances that is kind of the usage of SWAT.

    So checks and balances and oversight like this are a good thing.

  • SSTEED February 26, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    You know how a cop has to get tased before he gets his taser? Well all the members of the swat team should get their door shot off and a flashbang in their bed once a year so they can appreciate the authority they have been given. 365 days in a jar… its like secret Santa with a shotgun.

  • comments February 27, 2018 at 12:55 am

    Just look at the main image there. Good ol’ SGPD with full riot gear, an armored vehicle, fully militarized. If you’re terrorized or brutalized by police you have very little recourse or protection from the courts. These militarized police often too easily forget they are public servants, at least they’re supposed to be. 2nd amendment, at the end of the day, is all you have to protect from a self-serving and tyrannical gov’t. You people would be amazed at how quickly even a local police force would turn on the citizens if given the orders. People’s nature has not changed since the days of Hitler’s SS death squads. They were all just following orders. These police will follow the orders of those who distribute to them their paychecks. NEVER DEPEND ON POLICE AS YOUR FIRST LINE OF PROTECTING YOURSELF. THERE ARE SOME FANTASTIC COPS OUT THERE, BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY THEY ARE ONLY ACCOUNTABLE TO THE GOV’T. THERE ARE A FEW SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE BUT THEY DON’T ANSWER TO, NOR ARE THEY ACCOUNTABLE TO CITIZENS, AND SGPD ISN’T THAT BAD COMPARED TO MANY CITIES. gov’t needs to fear the citizens. And the only fear they have comes from an armed citizenry!

  • vintagehippie February 27, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Very good comments which I agree fully with. Something I think a lot of people don’t think of is that a lot of people have firearms, and that a sudden intrusion of an innocent household could easily result in a lot of bullets flying in BOTH directions.

  • McMurphy February 27, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    But what’s the point in having the macho vehicles and the black BDUs with all the battle rattle and the assault rifles if you don’t get to use them whenever you get the urge?

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