Why the raid?
The Maryland State Police did not notify town officials or Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore, who learned of the raid after it began, when it requested the use of his SWAT Team and Bearcat. The MSP also set up a command center at a campground within the national park without notifying the Park Police. Bills have since been introduced in the Maryland legislature by Washington County Delegate Neil Parrott (HB 0219) and State Senator Chris Shank (SB 0259) to require notification of local law enforcement before any outside agency serves a warrant.
A meeting following the raid attracted 60 concerned Sharpsburg citizens and leaders. Sharpsburg Vice Mayor Bryan Gabriel characterized the raid as “overwhelming” and said it “could have put a lot of people at risk.” Erin Moshier, a citizen who attended the meeting, added, “We all felt there was excessive force involved, and we felt that a member of our community was victimized and we wanted to get to the bottom of it and get some answers.” Both Gabriel and Sheriff Mullendore have issued statements of support for Porter, who they know personally. Citizens created a “Friends for Terry” website to help with his legal costs.
When asked why the police did not simply detain Porter in town or at a traffic stop, MSP Hagerstown Barracks Commander, Lt. Thomas Woodward, said the police only had a property search warrant and had no authority to arrest Porter. However, police do have authority to “detain the property owner for 24 hours” when executing a search warrant, so Porter could have been intercepted elsewhere, but police chose to execute that authority as part of the raid.
Lt. Woodward said the state police have a good working relationship with Sheriff Mullendore. If that is the case, why didn’t they consult the sheriff first? If Porter were really that dangerous, wouldn’t it be helpful to get more information from a trusted source better acquainted with him? Mullendore said they usually do give notice. Reportedly several state police who personally know Porter reside in Sharpsburg. Why were they not consulted?
Does the Maryland State Police detail SWAT automatically for gun search warrants? Some other police forces do. For example, in one fatal Florida SWAT shooting, a 21-man SWAT team was called in merely because the target had a concealed-carry permit. Are SWAT raids to become the order of the day for gun owners?
If Porter is indeed adjudicated a felon in possession of firearms, then he was in violation of the law. He didn’t help his case by bragging to the undercover officer about his doomsday preparations, especially the Saiga — which turned out to be nonexistent.
There is nothing wrong with being prepared, or even describing the actions you might take in a hypothetical “doomsday” situation, but in fairness to police, with all the lunatics coming out of the woodwork these days and the heightened atmosphere of mutual distrust between law enforcement and citizens, the MSP might be excused for presuming the worst. But 150 police?
Recent events such as the kidnapping/bunker standoff in Alabama, and cop-killer Dorner, provide apt examples. Police never know what to expect. Still, in this case at least, it seems a little more investigation and consultation with local authorities could have resolved this issue quietly and with much less risk and cost.
Cost of the operation
Neither the FBI nor the MSP have publicly disclosed how many of their officers were involved in the raid. However, Senator Shank and Delegate Parrott were told in a meeting with top MSP officials that the total, including federal, state, and local police, exceeded 150. From public information requests it is known that the Washington County Special Response Team (SRT) sent 17, including four snipers, two medics and their Bearcat driver. Only two of these actually participated, the driver and a sniper who accompanied him.
The FBI personnel were training nearby and when their assistance was requested, many, if not all, chose to participate. A witness on the scene guessed there were approximately 40 officers at the campground where the FBI staged. Assuming a total of 150, that would leave 93 MSP. The following table, based on police salaries gleaned from public sources, provides a rough estimate of the personnel cost for this operation.
The MSP argued that only variable costs—those directly related to the operation — are relevant. By this logic, the operation cost very little, as salaries and other fixed costs are incurred anyway. But the personnel and resources involved would otherwise have been engaged elsewhere: tracking down criminals, enforcing other laws, and assisting in emergencies. There are clearly other, potentially more beneficial activities they could not simultaneously perform. This is called opportunity cost and must be considered.
This raid cost approximately $11,000 per hour, which dramatically illustrates one reason government spending is so wildly out of control. If agency managers considered the true cost of their decisions, they might work harder to prioritize their activities and not waste valuable resources on errands of questionable value.
High visibility events like the Sharpsburg raid present a one-sided picture of police as out-of-control, wasting time on seeming trifles. But their daily efforts, which go largely unreported, paint a much more balanced picture. For example, the MSP Gang Enforcement Unit has aggressively investigated violent street gangs, one of the largest sources of gun violence.
Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the Gang Unit made 621 gang arrests and seized 94 firearms. This does not include their extensive work with multi-agency task forces. Here, they have participated in successful operations against such violent gangs as the Crips and Bloods, Wise Guyz, B-6, the Black Guerrilla Family, Juggalos, the Dead Man Incorporated crime syndicate and others, and have brought many of these offenders to justice.