The Traumatogenic Potential of Law Enforcement Home Raids: An Exploratory Report

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Abstract

Reports suggest that tens of thousands of law enforcement home raids are conducted annually, disproportionally occurring in minority communities. Whether conducted by local police or immigration enforcement agents, raids generally involve numerous agents with military weapons entering homes. Because the targets of raids rarely live alone, there are often witnesses, including children. Emerging research shows that law enforcement presence and enforcement methods may contribute to the development of traumatic stress in these communities. Yet despite the frequency and the known paramilitary tactics used, no research of which we are aware has considered the psychological impact of home raids. We conducted a secondary analysis of narrative interviews of 4 individuals in an apartment that was raided by a Special Weapons and Tactics unit and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. We used content analysis to extract participant statements that aligned with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnostic criteria. Results suggest that the raid was highly traumatic for those in the residence, who wondered if they or their family members would be shot or killed. Interviewees described many symptoms that would likely fit within PTSD diagnostic criteria, including nightmares, suicidality, avoidance of triggering stimuli (e.g., government officials), and the inability to care for their children. A time frame for presentations of symptoms could not be assessed. This study suggests that individuals exposed to law enforcement home raids would likely meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD or complex PTSD symptoms. We discuss the implications of a law enforcement tactic with traumatogenic potential used frequently in minority communities.

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