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May 08, 2010

Comments

We need folks who can respond with precise and overwhelming force in those (rare) instances that require it.

How, even in an economy which (unlike the current one) allows decent budgets for local governments, does a police force afford a highly-trained team that's used only rarely?

Did they kill the corgie?

Why all that firepower to go after a small time marijuana dealer? They went after that family like they were raiding a sniper nest in Baghdad.

Yeah, they had all the skill and judgement of a bunch of amateurs. But isn't that part of the banality of evil, that arrogance? The guys that burst in the door were acting out a fantasy in their heads, playing the action figures in a drama that existed only in their imaginations. According to Kurt Vonnegut you are what you pretend to be. So those parttime SWAT guys are in fact jackbooted thugs since that's the role they decided to play. It's normal for the bad guys to bamboozle themsleves into thinking they are the good guys.

Mike: I imagine the best use of resources would be to contract with an out-of-town SWAT outfit. And then only use it for the sort of situations where you actually need a swat team, instead of shit like this.

But, please, let it not be a private for profit entity. Don't say that's illusory but remember that town (admin) that thought about abolishing the police department altogether and giving the job to a 'more efficient' private company in case of need assuming that would be cheaper.

Look at it this way: If I have to have a bunch of heavily armed cops break down my door at 2AM, who do I want doing it?

1. Regular cops who got grabbed off their normal duty of dealing with ordinary people on a comparatively civil basis.

or

2. A bunch of Rambo wannabes who volunteered to be kicking down people's doors at 2AM.

There are some jobs you shouldn't get, if you want them, if you get my drift.

There is some truth in what you say, Bret, but at the same time there's truth in what Von says. There needs to be a balance 'twixt depth of training and overspecialization. It's wishful thinking to believe you'll get it consistently (my own profession has comparable tradeoffs, so this is anecdata, rather than some mere idle speculation), but when you have need of special skills, you really tend to be better served by dedicated specialists rather than undertrained amateurs. Especially since the amateurs in a case like the one described are also like as not gonna be self-selecting Rambo wannabes. Given the choice, I'll take high speed Rambos over part-time ones.

However, since we're looking at the real world and not hypotheticals, I'll second Alan's assertion with Harmut's reservation.

Anyway, you don't want yahoos who shoot dogs and endanger kids, your problem isn't that they're half trained. Your problem is that they're doing a different job than you think they're doing.

SWAT don't exist in this country to handle dangerous hostage situations. That's a tiny fraction of their work, an afterthought.

SWAT exist in this country to brutalize and scare spitless people who engage in victimless crimes, because that's how you enforce victimless crime laws; By scaring people spitless enough that they'll be afraid to commit the crime even though the chance of their being caught is quite low.

That's why the BATF were stomping pets before Reagan, and after him. That's why drug raids get so nasty. That's why prostitutes get treated like sh*t. The terror is the point.

The only way you're going to have SWAT who don't go out of their way to be brutal and frightening is if you take victimless crime law enforcement off their agenda. Good luck with that.

Can't really argue with that, though I would continue to assert that professional pet-stompers are less likely to transition to kid-stomping than enthusiastic amateurs are.

Hmm. A stale warrant, break and enter, a dead pet and terrified family...

Gee, weren't they lucky they found some pot paraphernalia to charge the guy with? Can you imagine the cost to the county if there had been nothing illegal in that home after they had invaded?

Or is it possible they brought some with, just in case the home-owner had forgotten that important ingredient?

Noni

"Part time SWAT should not exist. We need folks who can respond with precise and overwhelming force in those (rare) instances that require it. But we do not need half-trained yahoos who shoot dogs and endanger kids."

There's two sides here, if you have "full-time" SWAT, most of the time there's not much to do. Or...you're encouraged to find things for your SWAT to do "Why are we spending X million a year for this and they just sit around 29 days out of the month when we could use them for something useful".

A part-time SWAT solves and raises several problems. The way my city works the same, its got specially qualified/trained SWAT, but they're not SWAT all the time.

If the raid's leader grabbed random schmucks off the roster and suited them up for this raid, then HE is negligent. If his SWAT were trained for this, THEY are at fault at the very least, and maybe the chief too.

Can you imagine the cost to the county if there had been nothing illegal in that home after they had invaded?

Oh, I can. It would be exactly zero. No prosecutor in his right mind would ever bring charges, and any civil lawsuit would be rejected on the grounds of sovereign immunity or somesuch.

I agree with Von and Brett and ......... well, everyone.

I agree with the Jean Reno character in the movie "The Professional", who dispatches an army of Davids assembled into a SWAT team ("Bring me everyone!" the Gary Oldman character roars, knowing there's no time to train the part-time amateurs for the job) .....

.... but then I agreed (against my own taste and wishes) with the Charles Bronson characters, all amateurs who took it upon themselves .....

.... then there was Clint Eastwood who was a one-man SWAT team and who inspired the current crop of tough-talking, beer-gutted tough guy amateurs who go for heavy-breathing, heavy equipment jangling romps in the woods these days imagining the Goliaths they're going to dispatch ...

... thing is, it's like when Barney Fife deputizes Otis and Gomer for duty ... Andy's glad the tear-gas canisters sent down from Raleigh are hidden and with any luck spoilt from age.

Of course, America is infested now with amateurs wresting control away from the professionals, why you've got your faux-journalists (you even have the professional journalists now assuming the amateurish, clownish, sling-shot ways of the Davids), your radio personalities, your bloggers (who huff and puff up the basement stairs, having eaten too much of the survival cache of dried food they were saving for the Apocalypse, when amateurs ascend the throne) to fondle their militia equipment cause, dammit they saw Red Dawn and look what the amateurs can do if they get mad and they're not gonna take it anymore.

Course we never like the professional politicians -- we prefer the amateurs, who, when they screw things up, we then consider not amateurish enough so we drop down the I.Q. ladder another notch to find a more accurate slingshot.

Sarah Palin, the professional nitwit, utters the most meaningless, laughable, bad syntax tripe about the Constitution on the air to the huzzahs of the multiple clown posses out there and I just want to take my imaginary AK-47 and blow my brains out -- kind of a David slaying his own inner Goliath .....

... two birds with one slingshot stone.

.. why, we expect the professionals to trade their services for our amateurishly-raised chickens now, the way it used to be in the days of yore, when we were all amateurs.

A couple of things I noticed from von's link: First, the Columbia Chief's comments (as I read them) were a masterpiece of "non-apology 'apology'" of the vague "mistakes may have been made" variety (he claimed, btw, that the dog was "acting aggressively": well, DUH!!! It was a watchdog!). He addressed few of the salient issues, i.e. whether or not the raid itself was justified, nor the level of force used, nor the "justification" for shooting the dog, etc. I can understand his not wanting to open up his Department to any possibly liability (not that that would be likely to produce any results anyway), but Chief Burton's issue-ducking here is awesomely agile.

Second, reading the comments to the Missourian's article, I was vaguely heartened to see that (except for a couple of snark-asses) the locals - at least those motivated to comment - seem about as appalled at this idiotic raid as von (or I).

Sadly, though: I think it was the violent demise of the dog that pushed/pushes peoples' buttons: I can recall several cases in recent years (including one, I think from Missouri) where people have lost their lives in violent, weapon-laden bust-down-the-door SWAT raids over "marijuana dealing" with, AFAICT, absolutely NO negative repercussions, legal or administrative, to the officers involved.

Unfortunately, as long as we maintain outmoded attitudes towards certain "drugs" it is financially lucrative for law-enforcement agencies to wage the never-ending "War on Drugs", incidents like this will continue to occur.

Part-time, full-time, whatever.

What are the real-world situations that make SWAT teams necessary at all?

Are there no ways to address those situations other than what is virtually a military assault?

They broke into this guy's house, shot his dogs, and scared the crap out of his family, to serve a warrant.

Can't you execute a search warrant when folks aren't home?

Can't you watch the house for a day, or a couple of days, to see how likely it is that anybody there is armed or violent?

Can't you approach the guy when he's out mowing the freaking lawn, show him the warrant, and tell him you need to search the house? Why come in the middle of the night with the battering ram?

It's stupid, and unnecessary.

Police forces are not armies. Their purpose is to maintain order, not wreak mayhem.

And for crying out loud, WTF is the issue with marijuana? Seriously, what? Of all the mood-altering chemicals in the known universe, how the hell does marijuana inspire hostility rising to the level of armed assault?

It's like bringing an army to eradicate toasted marshmallows, or chamomile tea.

Decriminalize recreational drug use and the lion's share of this crap will go away.

No 'decriminalization', that's just an excuse to keep the raids up. You need to legalize the whole supply chain to stop the distortions and the war.

They didn't go after this guy because they thought he was a user they did it because they thought he was a dealer. Decriminalization wouldn't have done squat for him.

And why does pot inspire this sort of hostility? Well, the drug warriors have already done an immense amount of damage, and declaring a cease fire would amount to admitting it was all for nothing. Admitting that the war is the problem, not the drugs, would make THEM the bad guys.

It's double down, or assume a load of guilt.

I tend to agree with russell here. The number of times where this kind of response is appropriate is vanishingly close to zero. The number of times that the entire state of Missouri might need such a thing is closer to one or two times a year than it is one or two times a month. The whole stupid Los Angeles conversion from hostage crisis SWAT to drug team SWAT is unnecessary. We don't need amateurs OR professionals doing this. And if we do, we should be talking like 2 teams for all of California, and one multi-state team for smaller states. These people would NOT be used in small scale raids. They would not be used for routine drug warrants. The routine nature of these attacks is horribly corrosive.

This puts a new light on the midnight raids causing so many issues in Afghanistan. Same tactics, same problems - except they're chasing suspected terrorists in Afghanistan. Why do low-level pot dealers warrant the same style of raid as suspected terrorists?

It smacks of the line from Alice's Restaurant: "...And they was using up all kinds of cop equipment they had lying around the police officer station." Lucky for Arlo they didn't have a SWAT team in Stockbridge Massachusetts - they'd have done a midnight raid on the church nearby the restaurant and shot Vatcha the dog

I agree 100% with both von and Brett. Pigs are surprisingly aerodynamic.

Especially:

SWAT don't exist in this country to handle dangerous hostage situations. That's a tiny fraction of their work, an afterthought.
...
That's why the BATF were stomping pets before Reagan, and after him. That's why drug raids get so nasty. That's why prostitutes get treated like sh*t. The terror is the point.

And that's why police sent out to do "crowd control" look like Stormtroopers (either edition). The terror is the point.

I think the only factor you guys aren't incorporating is the one from Evil "Liberal" Hollywood, which is absolutely consistent about portraying SWAT teams and similar as heroic, effective, necessary, and cool. I bet one reason this particular team was composed of part-timers is that they *wanted* to be on it, it has cachet and gives out many manliness points.

I don't know if you can change the public's mind unless storytellers -- TV, movies, video games -- start presenting agents of the police state as other than the Good Guys, who always win because of Protagonist Privilege.

The police deliberately create situations that are dangerous for everyone involved. Then they try to work the situations so that they are less dangerous for them than for everyone else.

And when something goes wrong, they use a double standard. When a SWAT team member, with situational awareness, wounds or kills an unarmed suspect or innocent bystander, their excuse is that even highly trained individuals can make mistakes in a highly volatile situation. Sh!t happens!

When an untrained, unsuspecting civilian is awaken in the middle of the night with seconds to figure out whether he is the victim of a "legal" or illegal home invasion and mistakenly kills a cop, he's a cop killer who should go to prison for life or be executed.

RepubAnon: This puts a new light on the midnight raids causing so many issues in Afghanistan. Same tactics, same problems - except they're chasing suspected terrorists in Afghanistan. Why do low-level pot dealers warrant the same style of raid as suspected terrorists?

This isn't an analogy -- this is the exactly the experience of thousands of families in Iraq and Afghanistan. Home invasions based on scanty evidence with little or no recourse against the invaders who cause great damage, sometimes loss of life.

What must they think of the invaders after seven years?

Botched Paramilitary Police Raids: An Epidemic of "Isolated Incidents"


Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America


There was one thing, (among many) that stands out, growing up in Los Angeles’ Wilmington neighborhood (The Port of Los Angeles)….and that was the constant mechanistic buzz and hum, at night, from helicopters.

They would swoop and focus, their bright white lights with neon blue outlines on weddings, parties, quinceaneras, or just a group of young men hanging out…, they reminded us that we were being watched…There was just a different relationship with The State (Federal or State) for people of color in urban areas…but now it seems to be consuming the suburban areas…Sebastian is right, Los Angeles has led the way….and don’t forget, L.A. is not a traditionally formed US/European city. It is ALL suburban…there was no traditional centralized urban area with outlining suburbs, it is a patchwork of connected, small towns/suburbs/villages…it was a great incubator to test the future of a police state.

One commenter pointed out that if American soldiers in Iraq were to carry out a raid like this, they would be subject to military discipline and they know it. Putting aside the question of whether the members of a SWAT team should be full time professionals, I don't think this team even had professional leadership like our troops have in Iraq.

Police waited a week to conduct the raid because they didn't want to pull people off other jobs, but according to police spokesman Jessie Haden, the team didn't want to delay the raid until the mother and child were out of the house because the drugs that the man was suspect of dealing might have been distributed by then. This strike me as a people living out Rambo fantasies rather than as serious police work. The case wasn't important enough to justify upsetting other department's schedules. The case wasn't important enough to justify staking out the house to observe whether the (nonexistent) drugs were being distributed. I'm betting that they decided to use the SWAT team by default, because they had it, and not after serious consideration of what the best approach would be.

I don't think most cities should have a SWAT team. I'm sure that if Columbia eliminated its SWAT team and then found itself in a situation where it really needed a SWAT team, the state of Missouri would provide one.

if American soldiers in Iraq were to carry out a raid like this, they would be subject to military discipline and they know it.

I don't think so. If a bunch of national guardsman on a raid in Baghdad mistakenly killed an entire family, the US Army might pay the survivors $10K. If that. And they'd probably not pay anything since Iraqis don't have rights and have nowhere to go. The Army would just claim that they found some (probably planted) weapons at the scene and then intimate that anyone complaining too loudly might end up in Abu Gharib since associating with insurgents is mighty fishy behavior.

The reason this video is shocking is that it shows how we treat Iraqis with the exception that during their pointless home raids, a lot more of them get shot and they have no justice after the fact. As Americans we're fine with that, but not when it happens to middle class white people that von can identify with. Jackbooted thugs bursting into people's houses for no reason just so they can powertrip is only OK if the homeowners don't look too much like von. Am I right?

I don't think you are being fair to von. I don't think he cares about the ethnicity or the income of the American family in this incident.

The larger issue that Americans in general are tolerant of thug tactics used against nonAmericans, but shocked when those tactics are applied here--well, sadly I think that is probably right.

"As Mayor Bob McDavid stood next to him, Burton said that the warrant to search Whitworth's home was "stale" and that he has changed department policy to conduct raids immediately after a search warrant is obtained."

So evidently he thinks the real problem was that "they missed." Missed the real big bunch of drugs he thinks was there before.

But doesn't the change, still raiding but raiding IMMEDIATELY, further reduce your time and chance to gain information about who's actually in the house and in harm's way - and about whether just knocking at the door with a search warrant might be better in this case? Which is relevant to everyone else's idea of what was wrong in this video?

I think this was a "training" raid. They don't have enough stuff to keep a swat team busy, but want to have teams that can function together. So, when an opportunity to practice arises, they take it. They just make sure it doesn't interfere with bowling night.

Glen Reynolds wrote a book? and people actually buy it?

In Iraq, they're worried about people planning to kill them. Sure, they make mistakes, but they don't even mind if someone owns an AK-47. The last thing they care about is some dope.

So it's at least understandable, even if you disagree with it, that they would be concerned about lethal force.

In this case, these guys have no reason to be scared. What percentage of marijuana dealers have guns and desire to kill cops? I'm sure it's greater than zero, but I'm also sure it's less than 1%.

They are completely covered in bullet proof armor, they crash a door open at 3 am, they kill one dog and injure another. Even if this guy had 10 tons of pot in his garage, is that justified? Even if they had concerns about the dogs or that he might have a gun, haven't they already addressed those concerns with their armour? Shouldn't they accept some VERY MINOR level of risk in order to NOT KILL AN INNOCENT PERSON?!?!?! A warrant does not mean guilty.

"If I even think for a second you might cause me injury I have the right to kill you after I break open your door at 3 am," does not sound like a reasonable police policy to me.

So evidently he thinks the real problem was that "they missed." Missed the real big bunch of drugs he thinks was there before.

Yes. In the Mayor's opinion, being able to point to a large enough stash of pot to call Whitworth a dealer would justify shooting the dogs, terrifying the spouse, endangering the child, and all the other thuggery that took place.

"What percentage of marijuana dealers have guns and the desire to kill cops?"

My old pappy always told me, "When they take yer guns away, only cops will be smoking the good weed."

Legalize drugs, make gun possession illegal except for medicinal needs, and then every town in America can have a bonfire in which the citizenry and the SWAT teams who are afraid of the citizenry man-down by throwing their guns and their ammo and their RAMBO costumes into the flames.

I went and commented at the newspaper story (probably too late to ever be read). I was too narrow in my comment before. A policy of raiding on search warrants but now raiding IMMEDIATELY, and the reduced chance to get information, would increase the chance of any mistakes and of things going wrong in any way.

Has everyone seen Radley Balko's interactive map of police paramilitary raids gone bad? (Unfortunately only updated through 2008.) http://www.cato.org/raidmap/

In Iraq, they're worried about people planning to kill them. Sure, they make mistakes, but they don't even mind if someone owns an AK-47. The last thing they care about is some dope.

This is very naive. In Iraq, night time house raids are often made on the basis of anonymous paid informants. Informants who use their relationship with US forces to settle old scores. The issue isn't whether the Army cares about Iraqi dope: the issue is that US forces often raid the homes of totally innocent people who have done nothing wrong. But even if you've done nothing wrong, raids sometimes go bad and it is easy for trigger happy soldiers to panic and put a bullet in your pet or daughter.

By the way, you may wish to speak with a police officer at some point. Police officers do believe that drug dealers may try to kill them. That's why they wear body armor when they raid houses in the middle of the night.

So it's at least understandable, even if you disagree with it, that they would be concerned about lethal force.

As it is for the police.

In this case, these guys have no reason to be scared. What percentage of marijuana dealers have guns and desire to kill cops? I'm sure it's greater than zero, but I'm also sure it's less than 1%.

What percentage of marijuana dealers deal exclusively in marijuana? And percentage of informant tips are completely accurate in every detail?

Even if this guy had 10 tons of pot in his garage, is that justified? Even if they had concerns about the dogs or that he might have a gun, haven't they already addressed those concerns with their armour?

Body armor is not magical. It protects against some attacks but not all.

"By the way, you may wish to speak with a police officer at some point. Police officers do believe that drug dealers may try to kill them. That's why they wear body armor when they raid houses in the middle of the night."

Finally. Yes, drug dealers have guns. They carry valuable drugs and reasonably large sums of money almost all the time to what are, often, dangerous locations. The police officer coming through the door is not why they carry guns, it is other drug dealers and crazed drug users that they carry guns to protect themselves from.

Unfortunately, they often have trained attack dogs for the same reason.

As cruel as this particular raid seems, the police are at risk anytime they enter a house, for any reason. They, rightfully, have to expect the occupant to have the means to defend themselves.

There is also a perfectly good chance that the SWAT team that does it part time has perfectly adequate training and mental view to do this work.

IMHO, in addition to being worried about the cops, we should spend some time condemning the parents for placing their children (and their dog) at risk by breaking the law. Many people who see no real reason for drugs to be illegal have avoided them for that very reason. perhaps just another view to consider.

"Body armor is not magical. It protects against some attacks but not all."

Which is perhaps an excellent reason not to send the police into people's houses at night for stupid reasons?

"IMHO, in addition to being worried about the cops, we should spend some time condemning the parents for placing their children (and their dog) at risk by breaking the law."

Just because you can get a warrant doesn't mean that the person is actually guilty. The police make mistakes on warrants all the time: they raid wrong houses; they raid the right house on wrong information so it turns out the person is innocent; they have drug informants lie to them. This happens ALL THE TIME. We even have cases of innocent people being killed in these types of raids. The police tactics make this very dangerous even for innocent people caught up in it, and in my opinion unnecessarily dangerous even for the guilty. 'Guilt' doesn't automatically mean that all possible government responses are ok. Having an ounce of pot (which is all they actually found) shouldn't subject you to this kind of assault. Yes, they suspected him of being a huge pot dealer with hundreds of pounds of pot. But he wasn't. So he was innocent of the thing that was the purpose of the raid...

What Seb said.

we should spend some time condemning the parents for placing their children (and their dog) at risk by breaking the law.

How is that appropo in this situation, where it looks like the homeowner did nothing like "breaking the law"?

Which is perhaps an excellent reason not to send the police into people's houses at night for stupid reasons?

Absolutely. My point is that body armor does not make one invulnerable. Breaking into people's houses in the dead of night for stupid reasons is a bad idea by definition.

Also, what Seb said.

IMHO, in addition to being worried about the cops, we should spend some time condemning the parents for placing their children (and their dog) at risk by breaking the law.

This guy had an ounce of pot, which in that jurisdiction was apparently a misdemeanor.

Apparently, mistakes were made. Which is kind of the point, at least one of them.

Really though.

Since when is committing a misdemeanor cause for such opprobrium and blame in such a context?

I mean, what if it was some jaywalking, or unpaid traffic tickets? Or loitering?

"How is that appropo in this situation, where it looks like the homeowner did nothing like "breaking the law"?"

No one here knows whether the guy was a dealer or not. It doesn't follow from any information we have that:

So he was innocent of the thing that was the purpose of the raid...

It could just as easily mean they just didn't catch him.

He did have pot, and yes sometimes police make mistakes. The exception doesn't make the rule wrong, sorry.

In those cases where they get no knock warrants to capture drug dealers it is much safer for them to do it this way than send a few cops to serve a warrant.

What I object to here is the gross generalization that sending SWAT to innocent peoples house is the norm rather than the exception, and that somehow, if they are right, it still doesn't justify them using appropriate caution and force to protect themselves.

I agree that drugs laws in general are wrong, but like many things, it doesn't mean we shouldn't expect them to enforce the ones we have.

No one here knows whether the guy was a dealer or not.

And yet you assume guilt, rather than innocence, in blaming him for putting his children and pets at risk.

I agree that drugs laws in general are wrong, but like many things, it doesn't mean we shouldn't expect them to enforce the ones we have.

There are different ways to enforce said laws. This is not a good one.

In those cases where they get no knock warrants to capture drug dealers it is much safer for them to do it this way than send a few cops to serve a warrant.

The problem is the low hurdle for probably cause. They should take more time to corroborate tips before undertaking such extreme measures.

What I object to here is the gross generalization that sending SWAT to innocent peoples house is the norm rather than the exception

You should check out Radley Balko's site for more information on just how frequent this type of thing is.

He is a conservative libertarian, for what it's worth, but he - oddly enough for conservative libertarians these days - takes umbrage at police overreach.

Jeff; How is that appropo in this situation, where it looks like the homeowner did nothing like "breaking the law"?

In a police state, you're guilty of breaking the law if the police raid your house. Otherwise the police would have done something wrong by raiding your house, and in a police state, the police can do no wrong.

If they shoot your dogs, you're guilty of child endangerment because the cops could have shot your children instead, and as you're guilty of breaking the law because the police broke into your house, you are guilty of risking the police killing your children, because it's your fault the police broke into your house. Otherwise it would be the fault of the police, and in a police state, that's impossible.

It reminds me of the justifications the Met went through after they killed Jean Charles de Menezes for the crime of being sort of brown-skinned and living in the same apartment block in London as four terrorist suspects.

Two armed thugs jumped on to the Tube train where Menezes had just taken a seat, and shouted at him. They didn't identify themselves as police, according to at least one surviving witness, and they didn't look like police, to anyone used to British cops. Menezes stood up from his seat, and a moment later he'd been shot in the head.

Although the British judicial system creaked its way on and found that the Met were in dereliction of duty, the thugs who jumped aboard the train and killed Menezes were never publicly identified and suffered no legal penalty. The named officer responsible was promoted. The British justice system creaked on, the Menezes family got financial compensation eventually, and refused the Met's "we're sorry we messed up but we're not going to penalize anyone" half-assed apology. Good for them.

I go into this at length because British police don't ordinarily carry guns, ever. In my understanding of it, armed police are a specialist subgroup: you volunteer for training, and if you're accepted, you undergo special training in the use of firearms and - supposedly - when not to use them. The local police can then summon a trained/armed response team if they think their situation justifies it.

But although British police may kill fewer civilians than US police (I haven't checked the stats: it's just a patriotic/educated guess) and we do use the suggested system of trained response teams, still: hand a man a gun and tell him he can kill and won't ever face trial for it, and you will get innocent people being killed.

I told a friend (who serves as a Deputy Constable in the Met) that I thought that when a police officer kills someone in the line of duty, they ought to face trial for murder. That the jury might, having heard the evidence, decide to acquit or convict on a lesser charge, but that all police, armed or not armed, ought to know that if they killed one of the people it's their job to protect, they'd be facing trial. No exceptions and no anonymity allowed.

As you might expect, my Deputy Constable friend didn't take kindly to that suggestion: the conversation ended with his telling me that if I was blown up by a suicide bomber because the police hadn't shot him, he'd say he told me so. (I told him that if he was shot by a cop who thought he was a suicide bomber because he was living in the same apartment block, I'd do the same.)

But I still think the police ought to be held to a higher standard of public safety than civilians, not to a lower standard.


it still doesn't justify them using appropriate caution and force to protect themselves.

I think the crucial word here is "appropriate".

What I object to here is the gross generalization that sending SWAT to innocent peoples house is the norm rather than the exception

How "exceptional" does it have to be before we get to say it's stupid, unnecessary, and unproductive to launch military assaults on private individuals' homes to enforce the law?

What do we get out of it? Is it worth killing 1,000 people unnecessarily each year? 100? 10?

This guy had one ounce of pot, a corgi, and a pit bull in a cage. Also, a wife and child.

I know wealthy professional people who keep guns in their home. Some of them have alarm systems tied to professional security agencies that provide 24/7 response.

If you broke into their homes in the middle of the night unannounced, you'd likely run into some resistance. But if we enforced white collar professional crimes with SWAT teams, folks would sh*t a freaking brick.

A friend of mine who was once on the local SWAT team said, in reference to a UC Berkeley proposal that the SWAT team members paint their guns pink so they didn't look so menacing (or something like that), that a big part of the purpose of a SWAT raid is to get in and subdue a potentially dangerous suspect with minimal resistance, and that SWAT was good for that because when 10 guys bust through your door carrying AR-15s you're not likely to resist.

But part of that purpose is defeated by doing the raid in the middle of the night in the dark when the suspect is asleep and disoriented. And, of course, dogs aren't going to react that way any time of the day, so you can just shoot them and say you felt threatened later, knowing that everyone on your team will back you up.

Cops know what words to recite when justifying their actions, it's just the rare instance when they're caught on tape doing the exact opposite of what they say happened in the police report. It really makes me wonder how often it goes on when there isn't a fortuitous video of the whole thing.

it still doesn't justify them using appropriate caution and force to protect themselves.

this was what I was getting at in (I think) the prior thread on this topic, mainly that "officer safety" has become a big part of whether a search/seizure, stop and frisk, no-knock warrant, was appropriate/reasonable. That is, the likelihood, actual or perceived, that a police officer may be put in jeopardy is not a sufficient justification for denying, or downgrading, a suspect's rights.

And yet it pretty much has been, and officers know this and take advantage of it, up to an including mimicking the language of statutes and case law in their reports.

Jes: I told a friend (who serves as a Deputy Constable in the Met)

There is, in fact, no such rank as Deputy Constable in the Met. But I'm sure that the rest of Jes' knowledge of the British police is 100% accurate and well researched. I was saying so just the other day to my friend the Egregious Professor of History at Oxford.

Way to focus on what's really important, ajay.

There is, in fact, no such rank as Deputy Constable in the Met.

You're right; I misremembered the term used for the job. My friend's a Special Constable.

Donald: Way to focus on what's really important, ajay.

Oh now. I'm a nitpicker myself from way back. And actually, it is relevant: my friend isn't a career police officer, he's a volunteer who works 25+ hours a week unpaid for the Met. Hence his attitude, versus mine.

Incidentally, ajay, if you want to know about armed police recruitment in the UK, or specifically the infamous CO19 unit (this is the unit that provided the thugs who murdered Menezes) I can do links for that, too.

dogs aren't going to react that way any time of the day, so you can just shoot them and say you felt threatened later

If you feel threatened by a corgi, you probably shouldn't be a cop at all, let alone part of a SWAT team.

The surprise to me is that a college town of 100,000 feels the need to provide their police with SWAT training. Shouldn't the need for that be rare enough that you can delegate it to the county sheriff or the state police?

It's a bad idea anyway. The CPS or the Procurator-Fiscal gets discretion on whether to charge anyone else with murder; why take that away from them with regard to the police? Whatever else went wrong in the de Menezes case, it certainly wasn't a CPS screw-up.

And this:

hand a man a gun and tell him he can kill and won't ever face trial for it, and you will get innocent people being killed.

is wrong as a description of how British armed police work. There have been many police shootings - lethal and non-lethal - that have been followed by the officers involved facing trial; and many others in which the shooting has been examined by a jury in a coroner's court.

It's a bad idea anyway. The CPS or the Procurator-Fiscal gets discretion on whether to charge anyone else with murder; why take that away from them with regard to the police? Whatever else went wrong in the de Menezes case, it certainly wasn't a CPS screw-up.

I'm not overly familiar with the British criminal justice system, but in my experience, all over the world, police officers and prosecutors develop altogether too chummy a relationship. There are structural reasons for that chumminess, but I trust I don't have to explain them for the moment.

If you think the prosecutors didn't screw up, then that seems to bolster Jes' argument: the police murdered an innocent man, the prosecutors did absolutely nothing, and this is all perfectly legal. If the prosecutors did nothing wrong, then a mandatory trial should be pro forma, right?

is wrong as a description of how British armed police work. There have been many police shootings - lethal and non-lethal - that have been followed by the officers involved facing trial; and many others in which the shooting has been examined by a jury in a coroner's court.

Ah, so the shooting Jes mentioned was some sort of aberration?

The CPS or the Procurator-Fiscal gets discretion on whether to charge anyone else with murder; why take that away from them with regard to the police?

Because the police should be held to higher standards of public safety than anyone else, not lower.

"What I object to here is the gross generalization that sending SWAT to innocent peoples house is the norm rather than the exception, and that somehow, if they are right, it still doesn't justify them using appropriate caution and force to protect themselves."

I'm not totally sure what you mean by the 'norm', but it definitely isn't uncommon in the sense of it being unexpected, strange or particularly unlikely. The only reason it seems shocking is that it doesn't get reported much except by Balko.

Further, I don't agree that *even if they are right* about their target being your average drug user or small time drug dealer that this is an appropriate show of force/method of serving a search warrant.

If these warrants were used a handful of times a year against only the most verifiably super-dangerous suspects I wouldn't be as concerned. But they aren't. They form a completely routine method of serving drug warrants, and it is ridiculous. (And that is completely apart from the other problems endemic in the system, like the notorious unreliability of the 'reliable' drug informants.

This raid and hundreds of others like it every year found at the very most evidence of a misdemeanor. The police trumpet his ounce of pot as if it justifies everything. But similarly, if you raided someone's house as a suspected murder, shot his dogs, endangered his kids, and then found out that you just had evidence of him being guilty of tardy traffic ticket payments, it wouldn't 'justify' the dangerous home invasion just because he was sort of a wrongdoer.

"The only reason it seems shocking is that it doesn't get reported much except by Balko. "
And it tends to happen more often in inter city neighborhoods to people with excessive tans.

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