Extensive records from SWAT team raids in northeastern Massachusetts released today by the American Civil Liberties Union corroborate what police reform advocates have long insisted: that “Special Weapons And Tactics” units spend a majority of their time responding to low-risk situations that do not require SWAT’s quasi-military approach.
The documents include after-action reports from 79 SWAT operations between August 2012 and June 2014 by the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, or NEMLEC, a consortium of police departments covering 925 square miles in Middlesex and Essex Counties outside Boston. According to NEMLEC, its SWAT team exists to respond to “critical incidents,” mainly “active shooters, armed barricaded subjects, hostage takers, and terrorists.”
However, an examination of the records by the The Intercept demonstrates that such critical incidents are few and far between in Northeast Massachusetts. Nonetheless, SWAT teams frequently roll out in “NEMLEC Communities,” carried in BearCat armored response vehicles and armed with flash-bang grenades.
Just one of the 79 SWAT deployments in 2012-14 — assistance with the search for the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing — involved terrorism. Other SWAT actions during that period show no hostage situations, no active shooters and only 10 non-suicidal barricaded subjects.