The problem: home invasions
According to a 2006 CATO report, some 40,000 paramilitary police raids occur in America each year—over 100 per day. The report highlights one story after another of people being hurt or killed in these raids, and in many cases, the victims are completely innocent. Spouses, friends, even small children and beloved pets suffer the consequences of a SWAT team's deadly home invasion.
Utah is not immune to this national trend. The raid on Matthew David Stewart's house last year highlights the same growing trend in the Beehive State. The year prior, Todd Blair made headlines for being shot and killed unnecessarily.
Other examples exist, and they all point to one problem: rather than protecting people as peace officers, police are turning into "law enforcement officials" that intend to punish people for their alleged crimes. Unfortunately, this slow shift has had deadly consequences.
The concern: where's the line?
In many cases, home invasions in Utah are authorized by a warrant and conducted in pursuit of a person suspected of possessing some form of criminalized drugs. For example, this was the situation in Matthew David Stewart's case. He was suspected only of possessing marijuana—not distributing it, let alone engaging in any activity that threatened another person's life, liberty, or property.
The results of this raid are now well known. In enforcement of a law criminalizing marijuana, Stewart was shot, as were several other officers. One of the officers, Jared Francom, tragically died of his wounds. Stewart later committed suicide. Neither of these deaths were necessary.
Should the lives of Utah's police officers be put at such risk over so trivial a crime? It makes sense to authorize a home breach (what Utah law calls "forcible entry") when the suspect is believed to be abusing his child, or building a bomb, or actually putting somebody's life or property at risk in some material fashion. It does not make sense to create such dangerous circumstances (for both the suspect and the officers) when no grave risk exists. A line must be drawn, and Utah law currently does not have one.
The solution: officers of the peace
Legislation will be presented in the 2014 general session (beginning in January) to restrict the instances in which forcible entry may be authorized. Suspects and police officers alike should only be placed into dangerous, high-risk circumstances when absolutely necessary, such as when a violent crime is suspected. This procedural roadblock will help protect the lives of police officers by requiring them to employ force only in cases where somebody's life or property needs protection. Such a restraint will also divorce Utah from the nationwide trend of innocent people being harmed and killed in home invasions because of drugs or other non-violent crimes.
What can you do?
Share this page on Facebook, Twitter, and your email list. Stay updated on this legislation as it moves forward by providing your email address. Talk to your friends and help them understand the need to reform how warrants are served in Utah.
Utah needs officers of the peace, not heavily armed "law enforcement officials" that put innocent lives at risk. It's as simple as that.