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Balko on Police "Militarization":

The Cato Institute has published a paper by Agitator blogger Radley Balko on the increased use of paramilitary tactics by local polices forces, Overkill: The Rise of Paramiltary Police Raids in America. Here is the executive summary:

Americans have long maintained that a man's home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.

This paper presents a history and overview of the issue of paramilitary drug raids, provides an extensive catalogue of abuses and mistaken raids, and offers recommendations for reform.

There is an interactive map of botched paramilitary operations accompanying the study here. See also Balko's post on the study here.

UPDATE: Balko addresses early feedback to his study here.

Kevin P. (mail):
A terrific piece of work. Thanks for the link. We need to do something about this menace to our liberties before it visits our own homes.
7.18.2006 9:46pm
Reg (mail):
I'd say one big issue is that judges need to ensure the facts justify the paramilitary type raid. I don't blame the cops too much, their interest is in doing their job in a manner most conducive to protecting their own safety. The judge approving the warrant is supposed to be the neutral party ensuring the warrant is justified.
7.18.2006 10:00pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
This may surprise some, given my support of the NSA programs, but I see this as a major problem with our society today. Cops breaking down doors of innocent people, then saying, sorry. To me, that is a much bigger infringement on our liberties than the potential tapping of international calls to/from suspected terrorists. For one thing, if I don't call one of them, and, in particular, if I don't call overseas, I most likely won't be tapped, and if I am, BFD. But if the police mistakenly think that I am a drug dealer, or just get the addresses wrong, I can face an early morning intrusion that wakes me in the middle of the night to face a bunch of guys dressed in black, with hidden faces, and automatic weapons staring me in the face.
7.18.2006 11:01pm
John Jenkins (mail):
I too think that the NSA programs are appropriate intelligence-gathering tools, but Balko is right about these raids. For the most part, there is no reason for them at all.

These stupid no-knock raids create far more danger to the cops and to bystanders than standard raids ever could, all in the name of (1) safety and (2) preventing the destruction of evidence. (1) is a lie and (2) is not worth it. It's time for state legislatures to do something about no-knock raids.

Of course, these things don't happen in neighborhoods that legislators care about (ironically enough, that doesn't include the neighborhood around the statehouse here in Oklahoma) and they don't happen to people who can bring to bear any kind of political clout, so I don't expect anything to change.

All that will do, of course, is further the siege mentality that many people, particularly in poor neighborhoods, have toward the police. If the police, with impunity, can crash down your door at night without so much as an apology and you can't do anything in response without facing a potential capital crime, how the hell else ought you feel?
7.18.2006 11:18pm
Thief (mail) (www):
I was just watching a thing on Court TV showing a SWAT raid on a suspected meth lab(in Arizona, I believe.) Two things struck me:

1. The officers clearly announced their presence before making entry.
2. Two of the officers had helmet-mounted video cameras (you could tell from the perspective of the footage used.)
7.18.2006 11:57pm
Robert Racansky:
In this "Hit and Run" thread about Hudson vs. Michigan, Reason reader Jim Anderson declared "a new comedy subgenre: the no-knock joke."

Example:


NO-KNOCK

Who's th......

ON THE FLOOR, ***********! SHUT THE **** UP!!!
I SAID ON THE FLOOR NOW!
WHERE ARE THE DRUGS?

What dru....

I SAID SHUT THE **** UP!


But seriously, if the police are sincere about announcing themselves, and giving the occupant a reasonable opportunity to respond -- especially when the occupants are asleep in the middle of the night -- they could try using the telephone to make contact first.
7.19.2006 12:14am
Waldensian (mail):
Perhaps this sort of paramilitary activity is what Justice Scalia was referring to when he mentioned, in Hudson, the increasing "professionalism" of the police....
7.19.2006 12:35am
jota:
That Cory Maye is on death row is a travesty of justice. That thousands of similar situations occur every year (thank god not ending in tragedy) is infuriating. Sadly, the problem won't get the attention it deserves until it happens to non-marginalized members of society on a wide enough scale, which is unlikely, given that these sorts of problems are self-perpetuating and easy to ignore by those they're not perpetuated against. Hopefully this paper will be a strong step in the right direction.
7.19.2006 12:46am
ShelbyC:
He seems to be missing a pretty bad one from Lubbock, Texas in 2001, where the swat had someone's house surrounded for hours because the occupant refused to come out (he wasn't legally required to) when one of the officers' guns when off. Everyone started shooting, and an officer was killed.
7.19.2006 3:25am
fullerene:
My major problem with these "tactical" raids is that the police officers who carry them out are not well versed in the sorts of maneuvers they are attempting to perform. I used to live in a town of about 25k people whose police department loved these sorts of raids. On one such raid very close to my house, the police brought out the tactical vests and MP5's in the hopes of apprehending a suspect in an attempted murder. He wasn't around, but I unfortunately was. Because they were going for stealth (or their approximation of it anyway) the police did not bother to block off the very busy street fronting the house. This did not prevent them from taking up positions on the opposite side of the street, weapons drawn. As if muzzle sweeping a large swath of traffic was not bad enough, one police officer had positioned himself, kneeling and very visible, on top of a stone wall retaining wall that separated my yard from the sidewalk. He, too, had his weapon drawn and swept me as I walked past him to get into my house. In fairness, I did walk in front of him. Apparently, this town's SWAT-like team is so famous/infamous that it became the subject of a fictional story written for children about hostage taking at a bank. These guys would get dressed up to write parking tickets.
7.19.2006 3:38am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Reg:

I don't blame the cops too much, their interest is in doing their job in a manner most conducive to protecting their own safety.

Unfortunately, as the Cory Maye case brings to point, these tactics, more often than not, place the police in GREATER danger.
7.19.2006 3:56am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Unfortunately, as the Cory Maye case brings to point, these tactics, more often than not, place the police in GREATER danger.
How can a single incident illustrate what happens "more often than not"?

In any case, my reaction to the Balko report was similar to Bruce's; these contrast most unfavorably with the NSA programs. That's why I find it hard to take seriously the claims of Democrats about civil liberties. The War on Drugs has been a far greater threat for a far longer time than the War on Terror could ever hope to be.

Indeed, virtually all the issues with "no knock" warrants and such relate to the War on Drugs. Cops (and judges) automatically assume that anybody suspected of a drug-related offense is dangerous, and they further assume that drug evidence will be destroyed if they knock-and-announce. So they engage in overkill. Pun intended.

I don't want the government listening to my phone calls or even tracking who I call -- but I want to be tested for drugs even less. I want my door kicked in even less. I want my property seized because the government is suspicious even less.

And the liberal media, far from condemning this, is an eager participant in the War on Drugs. The New York Times has been stirring up meth hysteria left and right, with its current policy of running a continuing series -- based on no evidence whatsoever, mind you -- that meth is a significant factor in identity theft.
7.19.2006 5:10am
NickM (mail) (www):
It's not just small-town cops that make egregious errors in this. A friend of mine and his wife were awakened one night at about 3 a.m. a few years ago by the LAPD breaking down their front door and throwing a flash-bang grenade into their house. They were both rapidly handcuffed, dragged out to the street, and made to lie face down on the asphalt in their underwear in the middle of winter (thankfully, it was in L.A. and not somewhere that has real winters) while their house was searched. It was almost 5 a.m. when they were ordered released by a sergeant because no drugs had been found in the house. Only then were they shown the search warrant, which was for a house on a different street (they were at XXX YYYY Drive, while the warrant was for XXX YYYY Street), which was the next street over. They pointed it out to the officers, who proceeded to go back to the station rather than execute the warrant on the right property "because we lost the element of surprise".

Nick
7.21.2006 5:41pm