In The Raid Van: June 1999

By Capt. Tom Dresner


In the dimness of the light, I noticed the sink. It and the surrounding counter top were moving. Undulating with a certain randomness. I hit the Laser Products 628 forend light on the MP. The counter top came alive, and in the same instant, the last remnants of my night vision departed. The sink was alive. Alive with roaches. Crawling over dishes and empty glasses that had occupied that sink for the last several weeks. Food stuck to plates now becoming new life forms. Some new genus and species for a scientist to someday name. Hopefully it won’t carry the plate away before I leave.

We call them smokehouses. Places that crack addicts gather to smoke crack. Infested with roaches, spiders and other multi-legged creatures, places that you would only happen upon in nightmares. This time, thankfully, there were no children. Usually, there are many. Cohabitation with prehistoric, disease carrying creatures that a nuclear explosion would not be able to extinguish. I am here, yet again, because of a judge’s signature.

Nothing is more important than the next rock. Nothing. Not eating a meal, feeling thirsty, getting some long needed sleep, or even having sex. Nothing compares to the feeling that the hard combination of cocaine and baking soda gives you. At least for the next 15 minutes to an hour. Then it all starts all over again. The hunt for the next rock. No matter what, it has to come. So much so that people will do anything to get the next rock. Women will prostitute for it. Men will steal for it. Either may kill for it. It matters not. Then, after a score, they may come to a smoke house to provide their brain with the chemicals it now thinks it needs to be function “normally,” if they can wait that long. It is only a temporary reprieve from the misery of their empty lives.

Briefing time, 9:15 p.m. I present the raid plan to the officers of the tactical team that I have called for the next two warrants. I am thinking as I write this article, how many is this for me? I really don’t know, since my group usually only does high risk warrants. I do know that we had served more than 60 warrants so far in 1998. We will probably have about 80 before the year is out. It is not really important. Ten years on the Team. 300 would be a conservative estimate. What is important is that no one has been injured, and that we have never hit the wrong address.

After the briefing, the familiar ritual takes place. In years past, it was a major hassle. However, of late, careful consideration of the SWAT accessories that will TRULY make our jobs easier has made gearing up quite easy.

We now have external tactical armor with pockets for all the “stuff” that we need on a given operation. It gets heavier every time I put it on. Modern specialized firearms in the form of MP5s and M4s are present as well.

I put the helmet on. It seems to get heavier faster than it did years ago. I take it off rather quickly after the scene stabilizes. Kevlar, PASGT. Personal Armor System, Ground Troop. The name for the standard issue military helmet, now ubiquitous among American tac teams. It should be PASGTDH, for Damn Heavy.

We are often asked after things calm down what kind of guns we are carrying. When you tell them, “It’s an MP5,” they usually give you a blank stare, and can’t believe they have never heard of it before. Sometimes they attempt a weak weapons knowledge by trying to identify it for you. “Dude gotta Uzi.” To the drug dealer, or Howard Metzenbaum, everything’s an Uzi. Personally, I hope that the notice of it has one further unquantifiable effect: To discourage any armed confrontation with us. I hope and pray that our presence results in what it has for most all of the last number of warrants, abject surrender.

Tactical teams must walk an extremely fine line between working for the benefit of the community at large, while focusing measured action against specific legally targeted addresses and suspects. We are but a small part of a community policing philosophy, and we must be careful that we do not alienate our community by doing or being something that they don’t accept.

We train for the worst, and hope for the best. We have been lucky, but acknowledge that the next breach could be the one that results in some kid trying to get a “rep” taking some shots at us. He might be 13 or 14. Whether he survives, or not, or whether one of us is hit, the questions will flow, even from within, as they must. You hopefully can see why my anxiety meter pegs when I order the breach.

Many cops love to execute search warrants. They are fun. We would be lying if we said that they were not. Given the choice of working a cold burglary or accident, or kicking a door, which would you pick? But when you move into the supervisory role, they just get scary. Do we have the right house? I am sure that we do because of the detailed steps that we take to be sure. How will my guys do under fire? They are disciplined in training, and make all the right moves. Practice ain’t race day though, is it?

Can you hear that? I didn’t think so.

It is silence, but it is the sound of innumerable tactical teams across the country doing their job correctly, without complaint, with consummate professionalism. That is the sound that you do not hear. I wonder how many search warrants are executed by tac teams across the U.S. in a given 24 hour period. It is the sound of silence. You know it is happening as you read this, but because the teams are the best that a police department has to offer, they are getting it right, time after time, night after night. You will probably only hear from the media when something goes wrong.

As I stand in the kitchen, and see the empty paper plates with a long forgotten meal stuffed in the fridge, I pause to wonder if this is all worth it. I know that there are many of you who think that law enforcement has no business enforcing drug laws. I pause to wonder where I stand...

No. Granted, our beliefs are formed from our frames of reference, and mine should be clear to you from the last several columns that I have written. I am not willing to give up, as is so often suggested by the capitulators. Especially in the wake of some tragedy that can be directly linked to the “war on drugs.” I cannot see a world inhabited by a greater number of people addicted to hard drugs, made possible by the acquiescence of a country that decided, “We can’t win, so we should give up.” Some of the violence may subside, but legal crack would only create innumerable more zombies willing to live like the two we encounter here tonight. Crack addicts cannot be productive members of a society, unlike someone addicted to nicotine can. Legalization is an abject approval by the state, which would cause innumerable youth to try it, then immediately become addicted to it. “It is legal; it must be o.k.” No!

After the last warrant, in the roach motel, unfit for human habitation, but conceivably ok for the mere shells of humans who now inhabit it, we hit a second location. As we made entry, I ordered a young girl to the floor, as we do with everyone we encounter, for their safety as well as ours. As I called for a trailer, (an assist officer), she told me that her breasts hurt, because she had just had a baby two weeks ago. As the trailing officer cuffed and searched her, I helped her to sit up. I leaned her against some kitchen cabinets. I stared into the eyes of a child. She was 15, but a new mother. Her little girl was born just two weeks ago. I asked her who the father was, and she told me. I knew his name, which means that he is no stranger to us. I asked if he came to see the baby. She said, “No.” She said that she and her grandmother would be taking care of her. Alone.

The baby had slept through the entire noisy police incursion, but was now stirring. Skip McGuire, one of our senior tactical officers, went to her, and picked her up after moving his slung M4 around to his back. I stood watching as he picked up the baby’s bottle and lovingly started to feed her. His paternal instincts kicked in immediately. He was no doubt thinking of his four month old daughter, and lamenting the head start most children had on this precious one. What a juxtaposition. His appearance clashed harshly with the tenderness that he quite easily reverted to in the blink of an eye, after the danger had passed. This is the caliber of professional police officer that we expect not only in our city, but should be present everywhere.

I wondered about the chances this young baby girl would have, being born a little more than a year before the start of the next millennium. The odds are against her. I push it from my mind as we turn the scene over to the narcs, having successfully applied another band-aid, and head for the barn.

Back at the station, I stow the MP5. Maschinenpistole. The Germans are famous for long words, and even someone who does not know a lick of German can tell that this means “machine pistol.” My well practiced ritual is gone through once again. It is already on safe, having done so as soon as the team cleared from the primary and secondary search. Bolt back, usually so that I can catch the chambered round as it flies through the air. (A bad habit, no doubt.) Mag off. At this point I replace the caught round. 30 rounds exactly.

With my MP5, I have both stocks. Sometimes I put on the A2, though the retractable Ausfuhrung 3 (version 3) works fine too. Chamber checked again, even though I caught the flying Gold Dot. Then put to bed in the Eagle discreet case. Another successful mission, though the gear still has to get to the locker. It’s all getting heavier. As I stow the MP, I think of the prices for transferable ones. It is hard to believe that transferable MP5s are in the mid $6000 range, only 12 years after the ban. How high are they going to go?

Next, the vest comes off, but not before removing the bone vibration communications headset and attaching it to the vest.

Tonight I will sleep, though the uncountable roaches in the world will not. Feeding on whatever they happen upon, they will be here long after the human species has faded into oblivion. If only they could talk. What witness they could bear.

There are no easy answers to drug abuse in America. If there were, we would have thought of and implemented the solutions already. The legalization crowd would have us believe that the violence would disappear, and would free us to provide treatment to those who would try the drugs we just as a nation tacitly approved and made even more widely available. Numbers that they vigorously downplay. Can anyone argue the societal costs of our two legal drugs, nicotine and alcohol? Giving up, and deeming drug related violence to be worse than the result of legalization, is to hand over the country to those who Theodore Roosevelt blamed so eloquently in the early years of this century, the critics of the doers. His one statement, written when he was the police commissioner of New York City was destined to become a lawman’s creed. I will share it with you next time.

It is then too that we will examine SWAT in America through the published work of a college professor and former virulently anti-gun police chief, who will tell us why the growth of SWAT is such a bad idea. For reasons that only an academic and an academic with “former police chief” on his resume for added “credibility” will understand. Until next time, step on every roach you see, and never give in to anything that would make America a lesser place.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N9 (June 1999)
and was posted online on April 8, 2016


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