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Panel urges use of guidelines for SWAT team activation.

Byline: Rebecca Nolan The Register-Guard

Leaders of Eugene's Metro SWAT team are working on a set of guidelines to help figure when serving a warrant is risky enough to require SWAT involvement.

The criteria, called an activation matrix, probably will be modeled after the one used by the Portland Police Bureau before each planned SWAT operation. The matrix would not be required in emergencies.

Team leaders past and present have wanted to draw up specific guidelines for a while, Eugene police Lt. Pete Kerns said. The idea has yet to be approved by Eugene police command staff or the city attorney, he said.

"Using a matrix as a guideline is probably a good idea given the liability we're exposed to every time we (deploy)," he said during a recent meeting of the Eugene Police Commission's SWAT review committee.

Team leaders already discuss the need for SWAT assistance when serving search warrants and arrest warrants before activating the team, but using risk-assessment criteria would formalize the process, he said. The team will be able to point to the document whenever SWAT involvement is questioned by the public, Kerns said.

In the Portland model, investigators requesting SWAT assistance assign points to questions such as whether the suspect has a violent criminal past, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, a history of mental illness, membership in a criminal organization, and friends or associates with violent pasts.

They also are asked to evaluate the danger posed by the location and the likelihood that guns will be present. Finally, the Portland form asks whether children, pregnant women or disabled people are likely to be present.

The officers tally the overall score to determine whether the situation merits SWAT involvement.

The Oregon State Police uses a similar scoring method.

Adopting a matrix in Eugene also would limit the amount of work that currently falls to SWAT leaders, said Tim Laue, chairman of the police commission, which encouraged police to pursue the idea.

"It would require the person that is making the request to do their own assessment and present it to the team," he said. "It forces people to think about making a request for SWAT activation."

It also can save money by preventing unnecessary, expensive SWAT call-outs, he said.

The Metro SWAT team is run by Eugene police and includes Lane County sheriff's deputies. The team responds to crises and events throughout the county.

It was unclear who would complete the matrix when other departments such as Coburg police or Cottage Grove police request assistance with planned activities.

The police commission decided to review some SWAT policies, including the team's participation in serving search warrants, after public outcry over a September 2002 raid on three adjacent houses in the Whitaker neighborhood.

More than 50 officers and other police personnel participated in the raid at West Fifth Avenue and Adams Street, which terrorized the residents and their neighbors.

Officers were looking for evidence of a previous marijuana growing operation. No one was ever charged in the case.
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Title Annotation:A scoring method similar to the Portland bureau's is suggested for the metro team; Crime
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 10, 2003
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