Tactical Operations Liability, Part 2

By Slahor, Stephenie | Law & Order, May 2008 | Go to article overview
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Tactical Operations Liability, Part 2


Slahor, Stephenie, Law & Order


"It takes a staggering amount of money to defend against a use-of-force case," said Gene Ramirez, an attorney with the Law Offices of Manning and Marder, Kass, Ellrod and Ramirez, LLP of Los Angeles CA. He was a co-presenter with Lieutenant Ken Hubbs, San Diego Police Department and current president of the California Association of Tactical Operations (CATO), at a two-day seminar on tactical operations liability.

The CATO Tactical Operations Liability Course is intended for commanders, supervisors and team leaders of such operations as SWAT, K9, narcotics enforcement, gang enforcement, and fugitive apprehension teams. The course is offered twice a year.

Ramirez discussed the use of K9 assistance. If unreasonably deployed, he said, the dog could be considered a violation of the constitutional prohibition against excessive force. Training and supervision are vital to a K9 unit. Ramirez said special care is needed when the dog is allowed to attack. A suspect may seem to be resisting arrest when, in reality, he is actually resisting the bites of the dog.

"I'd actually prefer it if you work closely to the dog to see what's going on," he advised. "Judges are coming up to speed with you, so be careful." The dog must be well enough trained to come "out" immediately upon command. There should be a mandatory announcement that the officer has a dog and that the dog will be let loose. The dog should be called off immediately when it is clear that the suspect is not armed.

Supervisors of K9 units should review the bite ratios of the dogs in the unit, the race of suspects taken down by the dogs, the geographic location of sites where dogs are released to attack, the duration of the bite time, etc. This is done to be certain that there is no institutional bias against minorities or certain neighborhoods, and that the dogs are "ranked" on a use-of-force scale.

Next, Ramirez said recent criticisms of some tactical operations teams have focused on the "militarization" of those teams in which they lose their civilian law enforcement status and seem to become paramilitary units, even to the point of dressing as "soldiers" instead of "police." Compounding this perception is the fact that military surplus equipment is sometimes given to police agencies, and that training, intelligence and technology are sometimes shared between the military and the police.

Tactical operations units should not be for routine police work, and care must be taken to assure that tactical operations are used only in the rare, emergency situations in which a suspect presents an immediate threat to life or safety. Without care in the use of force, the public will clamor for more accountability in excessive force cases, botched raids, raids on the wrong address, and any lack of corroboration in intelligence gathering.

Ramirez added that the public watches more closely the demeanor and even the clothing worn by police officers, both on and off duty. "They watch what you buy at the snack shop in the courthouse," he said. "What you wear certainly has in impact on the people you meet," whether on duty or not. "We have to be careful about how we're perceived by other people."

Lieutenant Hubbs next addressed the gathering saying, "It used to be that if it was tactically sound, we were on good ground," but now litigants, their attorneys, witnesses and experts work to convince the judges and juries that the police should have done something else that was more in line with the "reasonable care" required for a specific action.

To that end, police agencies must carefully examine their "high-profile" units, whether those teams are SWAT, narcotics, gang enforcement, fugitive apprehension, K9, or other task forces. Each special team must be held to a higher level of training and expertise. There must be a rigorous selection process, a higher level of experience, and a honed professionalism in judgment, decision making and action.

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