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Editorial: Rethink weaponry in police searches

Published June 8, 2014 1:13 pm

Shurtleff raises a valid point.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It would not be the proudest day for Utah's law enforcement establishment if the only thing that makes it stand back and take a look at whether its tactics for serving search warrants are needlessly violent is a raid on a rich white man with a lawyer.

Or a rich white man who is a lawyer. Who was, for 12 years, Utah's top lawyer. And who, because he is the target of multiple ethics and influence peddling investigations, is fully lawyered-up, full-throated in his denials and clearly not going down without a fight.

They should think about it anyway.

The fight that is in former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has not been of the you'll-never-take-me-alive-coppers variety. The history of the sad saga involving Shurtleff, his successor John Swallow and the shady business cronies who are rolling over on them suggested it would all be played out on paper, in the media and, ultimately, in court.

So it is understandable that Shurtleff is angrily telling all who will listen that the federal and local officers who served a search warrant on his Sandy home Monday were way out of line when — if — they came in with assault rifles aimed and laser sights pointed at his teen-age daughter.

The official responses to Shurtleff's charges have been rather generic, insisting that officers involved followed standard procedure and "utilized the minimum force necessary." Swallow, whose home was also raided Monday, said there was no such display of force at his residence.

Shurtleff, who should know, claims that white collar investigations such as his are not generally accompanied by such displays of heavy weaponry. Experts who are not involved in the case back him up, saying that such a show of force is only justified when there is reason to believe the person being served is likely to be violent.

But there are other examples of police raids where weapons were brandished in the homes of people who were clearly no threat to officers — because the officers were raiding the wrong home — or targets who only became a threat when confronted by an unknown mob of people with guns.

An example of the latter case is the 2012 botched drug raid on the Ogden home of small-time marijuana grower Matthew Stewart. One officer was killed in the needless firefight that followed the foolish incursion. Stewart was seriously injured and later committed suicide in jail.

We don't want our law enforcement officers taking a paper clip to a gun fight. But we don't want them starting a gun fight, or daring someone else to start one, where none is necessary. And they are very seldom necessary.