By Lucy Steigerwald
Six police officers were shot by Matthew David Stewart on January 4, one of them died. Officer Jared Francom was laid to rest today with thousands of mourners in attendance.
Police are being pretty button-lipped about some of the basic questions about the case, though there have been strange reports in the last few fays that Stewart had a "possible bomb" in his house.
"There was a device that was fashioned in a way that concerned those who found it that there were materials that could have been used as a bomb," Weber County Attorney Dee Smith told reporters.
But over at the Agitator, Radley Balko is skeptical. It's certainly possible that Stewart had something strange rigged up, but Balko notes an ATF spokesman who said to The Salt Lake City Tribune, “to characterize it as a bomb or device is not accurate at this time.” [Balko's italics] It seems entirely likely that this was something involving fertilizer, perhaps involved with Stewart's grow operation. A supposed photo of a bearded Stewart in a suicide-vest was "a Halloween costume," according to his father.
It's a weird, terrible story. But even if Stewart turns out to be a bomb-building nutter after all, that was notwhat this raid was about; cops saw their armed invasion of Stewart's home as another opportunity for the "Narcotics Strike Force team" to go in and do its thing.
However, this extremely unnecessary tragedy is getting a few cops to consider rethinking the terrible tactics which lead to their brother-in-arms being shot.
According to USA Today:
"It's time to change our thinking," says Pat McCarthy, who advises police agencies across the country. "Cops are exposing themselves to increasing danger many times over, and it's just not necessary."
Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Trainers and Educators Association, said the group is urging its 4,000 members to "look at everything" in an effort to avoid potentially dangerous complacency on the streets.
"Police work can be 99% boredom and 1% panic," Hedden said. "Routine can be the most dangerous of all. We need to go back to the basics."
Federal and local officials have been troubled for the past two years by the number of firearms-related fatalities. Gun-related fatalities last year were up 15% from 2010. So far in 2012, four officers have been killed by gunfire — one more than at the same time in 2011....
Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said that the incident and the officers' actions remained under investigation and that the activities of the strike force are "on hold" because about half of the unit was involved in the shooting.
McCarthy said the deadly confrontation underscores a need for police to rethink their tactics.
"The days of knocking down doors in drug cases should be over. Given what's going on now, you have to consider other options," McCarthy said.
He said law enforcement officials should focus more on attempting to lure suspects out into the open or simply "wait them out."
Libertarians, or Agitator aficionados might draw a different lesson from the shooting beyond drug raids endanger cops, but certainly going "back to basics" and not treating every drug user or even dealer as a potential Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold would be a great step in preventing this kind of waste of life.
Radley Balko in 2011 on the over-hyped "war on cops." Reason on the militarization of police.