SWAT Raids – Systemic Failures?

I have mentioned Reddit (an online community that is highly skewed toward software engineers who are a bit irreverent) before: Dell, Reddit and Customer Focus. The site highlights stories voted up by the community and so the makeup of the community has a huge impact on what is highlighted. The users are very willing to challenge authority (and in fact anxious to do so I think). So some topics are common: criticizing DRM, science, criticizing the United States’ role in the war in Iraq, programming, iconoclasts, xkcd, criticiszing stupid corporate behavior, Paul Graham, criticizing Fox.

Lately there have been a large number of stories on people being killed in raids by police on the wrong house: police in full swat gear storming the wrong house by accident and then killing occupants. The media in general sees these as “special causes” – isolated incidents. So while tragic the strategy is then to examine what mistake in this unique situation lead to tragedy. I believe that the readers of Reddit sense this is a systemic problem and therefore see the proper examination to undertake is to look at the whole system. That is, to use the common cause improvement strategy – when the tragedy is seen not as an isolated incident but the result of a system.

It seems to me the Reddit readers are right – I think the users natural tendencies (a willingness to question authority and a trained sense of what is a special cause and what is a common cause, even if they don’t use those terms) result in the stories gaining traction within Reddit. To limit future tragedy the system as a whole needs to be examined. Do not seek to find the special cause that led to the problem in one instance. Look to the system and see why this trend has increased. I don’t actually have good data – I am making a guess that this trend has increased in the last 20 years (getting some decent data on what is really going on is obviously one of the first things to do in looking at this issue).

To prevent future tragedies I hope those who are using the swat raid tactic examine the system and find ways to implement mistake proofing, system improvements, creative alternatives, perhaps changing the rules of the game… It seems wrong to condemn innocent people to death because the police see no alternatives, given the current situation, to using these raids. If it is a systemic problem trying to address it with a special cause problem solving methodology is going to be ineffective. Fourth Generation Management by Brian Joiner is a great book in general and for much more details on this idea.

Some articles highlighted on Reddit: Another SWAT Team OutrageSWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police ForceBotched Raids Not RareDeath raises concern at police tacticsThree MoreDaniel Castillo, Jr.: Good to Know

Others: Time to Curb Rise in Deadly Paramilitary Police RaidsAfter Atlanta raid tragedy, new scrutiny of police tacticsTwo Wrong Raids In A Row?Cato Map of Botched Raids (with a subtitle very much like my claim – “An Epidemic of “Isolated Incidents”):

Cato map of botched raids

Related: Epidemic of DiagnosesSystems Improvement ExampleDoing the Wrong Things RighterHealth Care CrisisSystemic ThinkingAckoff, Idealized Design and Bell LabsThe Public Sector and DemingTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution

3 thoughts on “SWAT Raids – Systemic Failures?

  1. Pingback: CuriousCat: Failure to Address Systemic SWAT Raid Failures

  2. Pingback: Crazy Watchmen at Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog

  3. More of my posts on the militarization of USA police:

    And the police state in general – the idea that the intrusive police and government bodies are justified in previously unthinkable ways contributes greatly to the acceleration of the militarized police force.

    Reply

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