Unable to Contact Congressman, Gwinnett’s SWAT Team Uses Surplus Military Equipment to Capture Suspect

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri drew the nation’s attention to the use of military equipment by the Ferguson police as a way of keeping the rioters under control. In Georgia, the Doraville police were called to task for a rather gruesome video of an armored vehicle posted on their home page.

All of this caused Georgia’s Fourth District congressman, Hank Johnson, to try to get support for a bill he introduced that would limit the ability of local police agencies to obtain military grade equipment from the federal government.

In Gwinnett County, Sheriff Butch Conway isn’t a big fan of Johnson’s bill. According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, Conway would like to see what Johnson would do in a situation where SWAT was called out on a mission.

“I don’t think I have Hank’s cellphone number,” Conway said this week, “but I would like to contact him the next SWAT callout we have and, instead of taking one of our armored vehicles to the location, I would invite Hank to walk up to the door and see if they’ll surrender their weapons and come out peacefully. Because Hank seems to think that’s all it takes.”

The Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office has received a number of items through the [federal 1033 military surplus] program over the years, most notably an armored personnel carrier known as an LAV150. Used primarily to transport SWAT team members to and from dangerous scenes, it contains no offensive weapons but is plenty daunting.

Conway called the LAV150 a piece of “vital equipment,” and it represents the most conspicuous acquisition any Gwinnett County law enforcement agency has made via the 1033 program.

The Gwinnett Sheriff's Department posted this picture of its SWAT vehicle on Facebook Friday.
The Gwinnett Sheriff’s Department posted this picture of its SWAT vehicle on Facebook Friday.
Thursday, Gwinnett’s SWAT team was called out to capture a murder suspect barricaded in a Lawrenceville home, and sure enough, the sheriff tried to contact the congressman. From a media release posted on Facebook by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office:

The LAV150 armored personnel carrier, provided to the Sheriff’s Office by the federal 1033 program, which allows the military to give law enforcement agencies a variety of surplus equipment, enabled SWAT members to safely gain close proximity to the home for peaceful negotiations and to maintain communication via the LAV’s speaker system after Jenkins’ cell phone died.

Sheriff Butch Conway was at the scene and, as promised, placed calls to Congressman Hank Johnson’s cell phone (which was discovered to be a wrong number) and office. He was advised by the Congressman’s staff that Congressman Johnson was not available and that the Sheriff’s message would be relayed. At the time of this press release, Sheriff Conway’s call has not been returned.

The murder suspect surrendered after a two hour standoff that included the department rescuing two children inside the home.

18 comments

  1. griftdrift says:

    I must have missed the part where they needed to use the APC to storm the house. Oh wait. That didn’t happen. They used it to gain “close proximity” to the house to negotiate with the suspect.

    Apparently negotiations in this modern age require police to be close enough to use a dixie cup and string.

  2. blakeage80 says:

    That Sheriff is an idiot not to have his full attention focused on the situation, preferring instead to try and start a peeing contest with a congressman. Sometimes it not that local LE has that equipment, its that there are some dummies in charge of using it.

  3. Jon Lester says:

    If you’re not old enough to remember the old “S.W.A.T.” TV show, you should look it up. The special weapons and tactics used back in the day were good enough.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      Parameters for the use of SWAT used to be much stricter, as well. I don’t so much have a problem with this particular instance. ‘Barricaded suspect’ calls are what SWAT units were developed for, and seems appropriate for catching this murder suspect.

      What irks me is when SWAT gets called out because Bobby has a joint in his sock drawer and the police go full-Waco on the residence.

      I say when it starts being abused, it should be taken away. But if you’ve ever looked at the gleam of joy in their eyes when the Pentagon hands out APC’s like parade candy, you know it’s gonna be hard to un-give what has been given to these departments. Sheriff Conway’s defensive tone serves as the example at hand.

      “My precious!”

  4. xdog says:

    I blame the North Hollywood shoot-out. Cops decided they wouldn’t be out-gunned again and started issuing tricked-out assault rifles and heavy sniper rifles. They also increased their capability to respond quickly with overwhelming force which required armored vehicles and personnel. Cops everywhere decided that approach suited them too. Like any other organization cop shops will resist reducing their capabilities and I can understand why they think doing so will make their jobs more dangerous.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout

    • Bobloblaw says:

      It is more likely the War on Drugs. The North Hollywood shooting may have had something to do with it also. But I think the trend of militarized police goes back to the 80s

  5. saltycracker says:

    Limiting the militarization of local police is a crime/population/proximity to larger, better trained support kind of thing. Believe we could cut a little slack for the sheriff office of Gwinnett County with 850,000 people. Duluth, Norcross, etc. can give them or the Guard a call if they need heavy backup.

  6. blakeage80 says:

    Let’s be clear. The 1033 program is just the most visual representation of this militarization trend. Until a couple of months ago, I worked at a place that sold a lot of full-auto weapons and other tactical gear to departments large and (very)small. They use DHS funds to get stuff they really have no business with and it becomes something they can’t wait to use. Suspect in a house? Bring out the big guns! At a house where a suspect might be? Throw in a flashbang! Cat in a tree? Ram the tree with a BEARCAT! I’l be honest, though. If I had cool stuff like that, I’d want to show it off too.

  7. John Konop says:

    This is a 2 fold issues……when you combine that use of no knock warrants for non violent offenders with military type armed police it is a problem….We have seen this issue all over the country…..as well as here…..the line between a real terrorist threat and some dudes growing pot have been blurred……

    Below are a few examples:

    http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+dwi+police+hit+women&FORM=VIRE10#view=detail&mid=F810D9F44C74B55AFBA3F810D9F44C74B55AFBA3

    http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+dwi+police+hit+women&FORM=VIRE10#view=detail&mid=82C54CC2B76F3A87364982C54CC2B76F3A873649

  8. Kudos to every other contributor for pointing out the exact points I was about to.

    Other people thinking like me? Now THAT is revolution!

    I wonder what would have happened if the congressman had heeded the call and either

    A. actually successfully negotiated the surrender or

    B. been killed in the process of being bullied by a belligerent law enforcement official for doing that official’s job; an ELECTED LE officer by the way….

    I don’t think this man can think things through to a logical conclusion, which means he is dangerous to the community, given his authority.

    Like that Bert’s Farm incident, some men do not deserve authority. I think we should start seriously looking at consolidating counties, run by professionals, not inherited local positions by Daddy to Son Yay hoos.

    Retards at large with Badges: another reason to demilitarize the police.

  9. c_murrayiii says:

    If we’re gonna outfit the police like military units, why not just repeal posse comitatus and have the military patrol the streets? Saves on money and gives the soldiers something to do between deployments. There is no reason in the world for a county police department/sheriff’s office to have a LAV. If the situation is that bad, call in the National Guard.

  10. Will Durant says:

    Yes the Sheriff likes the 1033 program and if you look at the Congressman’s proposed bill he really isn’t asking a lot. He’s not even saying they can’t have a Barrett 50 caliber rifle he just doesn’t want to give them to have full automatics that are 50 caliber or above. Sounds fairly reasonable to me. Notice in the article as well that the Gwinnett Police Department has two APCs, one purchased in 2008 for $263,000 and one purchased last year for $400,000. The Gwinnett PD hasn’t utilized the 1033 program since we were real generous to the police department in the previous SPLOST. I’m not sure they’ve burned it all up yet as the BOC just approved $1.1MM for 29 SUVs to be purchased for the PD from the 2009 SPLOST.

    The 1033 program has clearly been abused and needs to be addressed regardless of how much the Sheriff likes his freebies. A one-cop town in Texas has received over $3MM in hardware from the program. Perhaps it is time we should examine the real intent of the never used 3rd Amendment that we not be occupied by a standing army which the founders considered a danger to Democracy. Professional non-elected police forces didn’t really show up for another 50 years or so after the Constitution was ratified and then only in the big cities.

    Something else to look at would be how the “surplus” is being generated in the first place. Can a debtor nation still afford to spend more than the next 10 nations on the list combined on “defense”?

  11. DP714 says:

    Yeah, I’m not a fan of police militarization, though I don’t think that it is a problem, in and of itself. That would be like opposing certain other technologies that most Americans have been wrongly accused of being fond of, because there is the potential for their abuse by careless, or even outright malevolent, actors. As long as there is law enforcement, and there is the need for them to respond to real threats, I’m all for them being able to use of weapons of military utility when needed.

    To that end, if the presence of an armored vehicle is beneficial to the resolution of a conflict with a violent individual and helps to convince him/her that resistance would be a fool’s errand, then by all means use it. As mentioned already, the situation Sheriff Conway referred to seems like it was a legitimate use of military technology.

    On the other hand, it would be grossly disproportionate use of it to apprehend someone suspected of a non-violent or victimless offense. Likewise, it would also be inappropriate to use it in just about any situation where a more reasonable alternative is feasible (like waiting to arrest an individual when he/she leaves their property to go to work, or run errands, or whatever else).

    Basically, it’s a mentality thing. There is a reason they were called “Peace officers” once upon a time, before the paramilitary mindset pervaded the local police/sheriff departments. The homeland isn’t a battlefield, so the battlefield mindsets should be left for their appropriate scenarios. And also, there should be more vigilance on the part of LE, and society in general, to keep in mind that a suspect is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and much restraint should be shown while arresting/apprehending a presumed innocent person, as is possible. This is even more important in recent times, being that violent crime is at an all time low, and yet militarized raids, the most of which being conducted in response to non-violent offenses, are disproportionately high.

    Finally, because things can be a tad boring without a little controversy :), I’d just like to throw this in here: If the cops can have it, so can the private citizens (note that this does not mean that everyone would all of a sudden go out trying to obtain an MRAP or LAV, nor could they afford to even if they wanted, since these things aren’t cheap, and are even costlier when the government isn’t subsidizing/discounting it).

    Anyway, I apologize if the post sounded too preachy, or if it stated things which are “easy to say” or sound good “in theory” but likely aren’t so simple practice. It was just a stream of consciousness type of thing, and just posted whatever came to mind, as it is a topic I’ve been mentally deliberating about a lot recently.

  12. bsjy says:

    The Soviet Union used vehicles like that to police its people. American police should not be allowed access to military weapons because American police should be forced to employ siege tactics rather than blitzkrieg tactics. Rather than “we are the police and we’re coming in” it should be “we are the police and we’ve cut off power and water to the building and we’ll wait until you just give up.” That’s the American way, and there is no need for a green city-fied tank for police forces that follow the American way instead of the Soviet way.

    • Jon Lester says:

      Most nations in the world have paramilitaries for police, and what’s really being threatened in this country is local civilian oversight of law enforcement, which is supposed to be unique to our way of life.

Comments are closed.