COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department has made more adjustments in its SWAT team policies, Chief Ken Burton announced at a news conference Monday afternoon.
"We did some things wrong," Burton said. "And I'm telling you, it won't happen again."
The use of the department's SWAT team in conducting a drug raid will now:
- Require the approval of a captain in the department in charge of the area where the raid is to take place
- Require that a location be under constant surveillance once the warrant has been issued
- Not take place when children are present except "under the most extreme circumstances," Burton said.
Burton called the new policy "probably one of the most restrictive in the country."
The department has faced criticism — and even received death threats — since a video of a Feb. 11 drug raid on a Columbia man's home was posted on the Internet. The video captured the sound of Jonathan Whitworth's pit bull, Nola, being fatally shot by SWAT team officers. The Whitworths' Welsh corgi was also shot during the raid, which took place with Whitworth's wife and 7-year-old son in the home.
The raid came eight days after police obtained the warrant on tips from two confidential informants. Police suspected Whitworth of dealing a large amount of marijuana but only found a pipe and what police described as a misdemeanor amount of marijuana.
Whitworth later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia and was fined $300. He has not filed a lawsuit or a complaint with the department, though his lawyer said Monday that Whitworth was still considering all his options.
Monday's news conference was the department's second in less than a week. On Thursday Burton answered reporters' questions with Mayor Bob McDavid at his side to dispel false rumors about the incident and also to announce that raids would now be served within eight hours after police obtain a warrant.
Still, the department's policies on the treatment of dogs and suspects remain unchanged, and Burton defended the actions of the officers involved. The department's internal review of the incident would be completed later this week, Burton said.