'Dynamic Entry': Inside the Secret World of Deadly SWAT Raids

Fatal no-knock, and warrant-issued SWAT raids continue to target marijuana operations.

Most people will never wake up to the lights and sounds of law enforcement officers and SWAT team members kicking in their windows and doors. The vast majority of civilians will never experience the confusion and chaos of a “dynamic entry”––wording used to describe the typically violent uproar that ensues when SWAT teams enter locations where probable cause of criminal activity has been determined. Flash-bangs, battering rods, smoke grenades, sirens––complete bedlam.

recent investigation by the New York Times shows that the militarized tactics employed in such scenarios have resulted in dozens of deaths over the last half of a decade, on both sides of the law. This is particularly troubling because in the contemporary era of legal weed, fatal dynamic entries still regularly occur.

According to data obtained by the Times:

• From 2010 through 2016, 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers have died as a result of SWAT raids.
• Of these raids, 61 (70 percent) involved drugs
• Twenty of these raids took place in search of marijuana sales.
• An average of least 30 federal civil rights lawsuits are filed each year in protest of residential search warrants going down via dynamic entries.

Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) forces––the specially trained police teams which began seeing deployment in Los Angeles at the tail-end of the 1960s––exist to do things like bust drug-related operations. But our militarized cops operate with little transparency. Utah is reportedly the only state that requires disclosure of information related to SWAT raids, a policy put in place in 2014 after a botched marijuana raid resulted in five fatalities.

“This is kind of a secret world within a secret world,” Dr. Tom Nolan said to the Times. Dr. Nolan is a criminologist at Merrimack College in Andover, Massachussets, and a former member of the Boston Police Department’s SWAT unit. “They don’t open up,” he said.

"Even in 2017, playing with weed can lead to SWAT busting down the front door."

The Times data also shows that raids are conducted with little discrimination between their targets: dealers, users, manufacturers, and growers are treated equally despite known and material distinctions. Even low-level weed suppliers and compliant medical marijuana dispensaries are often targeted in SWAT operations. 

More than half of the United States have enacted some form of marijuana legalization. As laws change, enforcement and policing strategies must certainly evolve in tow. But matter-of-factly, even in 2017, playing with weed can lead to SWAT busting down the front door.