Archive for July, 2007

Isaac Singletary Update

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Singletary, you’ll remember, is the elderly man in Florida who, upon seeing drug dealers on his lawn, came out with a gun to scare them off.

Unfortunately, they weren’t drug dealers, but undercover cops posing as drug dealers. They shot Singletary dead. Even the police and town officials concede that Singletary was involved in no criminal activity, and was merely attempting to protect his property from what he thought were criminals.

I’ve explained in the past that I think Singletary’s death is drug war collateral damage. His death is the entirely predictable consequence of having crimes on the books that the police have to break in order to enforce, and of ratcheting up the stakes for those crimes by declaring a “war” on them.

It now looks like
the cops who killed Singletary won’t face criminal charges. I’m a bit conflicted on this one. But if there are no criminal charges, there should at least be some disciplinary action, at least if that “new professionalism” Justice Scalia was telling us about means anything at all.

The disturbing parts of this case:

  • The undercover narcotics officers were trespassing on Singletary’s private property. And they were doing so to engage in drug activity. I doubt this is legal. And if it is, it shouldn’t be. Unless they have a warrant, and are investigating Singletary himself (they weren’t).
  • The state’s attorney investigation found the police actions justified because Singletary “was an armed civilian who refused orders to drop his gun.” But the same report criticized the police for not announcing themselves as police before they fired on Singletary. If both of these things are true, then the state’s attorney is saying Singletary should have obeyed orders to drop his gun from armed men he understandably believed were dangerous, and trespassing on his property. If Florida’s new home defense law means anything at all, one would think it would mean the right to hold your ground when armed men are on your property.
  • Singletary was shot four times. Once in the back.
  • The state’s attorney chose to believe police accounts of who fired first (they say Singletary) over the account of a witness who says the police fired first, because the witness is a convicted drug dealer. Seems reasonable. Except when you consider that (a) one of the police investigators changed his story about who fired first, (b) attorneys for Singletary’s family have found four other witnesses who contradict the police account (why didn’t the investigator talk to these people?), and (c) police take the word of convicted drug dealers as gold all the time when it comes to securing warrants for drug raids, or to prosecute other drug dealers.
  • Just as an aside, why isn’t the National Rifle Association all over this case? I’ve been told they won’t get involved in the Cory Maye case because of the minuscule amount of marijuana (a burnt roach) found in Maye’s apartment. But Singletary was an innocent man gunned down for defending his home from what he thought were criminal trespassers. Isn’t what he did what the NRA is all about?

  • Accountability and Professionalism in Annapolis

    Sunday, July 29th, 2007

    Annapolis police are now refusing to release an internal report about what went wrong in a botched raid on an innocent family. Police broke down the door, deployed a concussion grenade, and kicked a man in the groin before realizing they had the wrong house.

    They’re now saying the public–for whom they work, remember–won’t get to see the report because the family is pursuing a lawsuit.

    After initially telling the media that wrong door raids happen “almost never” in Annapolis, they’re now conceding at least 15 incidents in the last 30 years, or once every two years. The most they’ll say is that this particular botched raid was the result of “misinformation and miscommunication.”

    I don’t care if the report might reveal details that will make it harder for the city to fight a lawsuit. If that’s the case, then the family deserves compensation. But more importantly, the people this department serves deserve to know what went wrong, and what the department is doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again in two years.

    More Professionalism from Chicago PD

    Friday, July 27th, 2007

    This is getting a little ridiculous.

    Three days after her name appeared in a Chicago Sun Times report about police harassment of residents in her public housing facility, a narcotics team raided the home of 63-year-old grandmother Carol Wallace.

    Carol Wallace, a 63-year-old grandmother, has no criminal record and said she has never had any run-ins with the police in her 10 years at the Dearborn Homes public housing complex. She accused the police of trying to silence her.

    "They did this just to harass me," Wallace said. "My nerves are shot, and I’m afraid. I feel like I’ve been violated."


    Wallace said about six of the officers dumped clothes from a dresser and closet on her bed and floor and rifled through her medications. Police also told a friend at the apartment that visitors weren’t allowed, she said.

    It may have been another case of a wrong-door raid, rather than retaliation. The description of the suspect in the warrant seems to fit one of Wallace’s neighbors.

    Another Isolated Incident

    Friday, July 20th, 2007

    I actually spent much of the last week very near where this one happened:

    Two Lafourche Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics agents burst into the wrong house during a raid in Galliano earlier this week and now face possible disciplinary action.

    Sheriff Craig Webre classified the mistake as "very rare" and said the agents, Lt. Chet Caillouet and Deputy Robert Mason, likely used the wrong two-story house as a reference point.

    No drugs. Just an 83-year-old woman and her son.

    Posse Comiwhatus?

    Friday, July 6th, 2007

    Via my reason colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward, the alterna-weekly in Salt Lake City visits the annual meeting of the National Sheriff’s Association, and finds the convention hall populated with–surprise!–an abundance of military gear, and booth displays from military outfitters.

    Come Be a Badass With Garner PD

    Thursday, July 5th, 2007

    There’s so much wrong with this story:

    It’s a recruiting video created by high school students to attract their peers to the Garner Police Department.

    The 30-second video spot features a pounding electric guitar spliced over footage of officers in SWAT gear, a revving police chase and lots of guns. The Garner Police Department hopes to use the video to attract high school and college graduates.

    Dawson Harris, a senior at Enloe High School and 1 of 5 students who created the video, says young people like to see SWAT-team action. The high schoolers worked for seven months in a video production class to produce a commercial that appeals to people in their early 20s.

    Not that Garner is struggling with a crime problem. The suburb of Raleigh is enjoying its lowest violent crime rate since 2000 and hasn’t had a homicide since 2005.

    You can watch the video here.

    In researching Overkill, I interviewed one former police chief who’s quite wary of the whole SWAT phenomenon. He told me the following:

    “The best way to staff your SWAT team is to get your department together and ask for volunteers. Then you write down the name of every guy who raises his hand, then you make sure those guys are never on the SWAT team. Not only that, but you keep an eye on them. Guys who are attracted to that kind of thing shouldn’t even be cops, much less SWAT guys.

    Now watch that video again. A few things come to mind.

    (1) You’d think that the Garner police chief would be disturbed that local high school kids think the best part about being a cop is kicking down doors, toting big guns, and loosing dogs on suspects. Instead, he’s flattered.

    (2) Not only that, he’s using the video as a damned recruiting tool. Think for a sec about the mindset of the guy who watches that video, then gets so revved up, he decides he wants to be a cop, and heads down to the police station to sign up. That’s the guy to whom you want to hand over a gun and a badge?

    (3) I’ll make my usual point here about why a town that hasn’t had a murder in three years and has virtually no violent crime needs a SWAT team in the first place, much less needs to make the SWAT team the focal point of its recruiting video.

    Read My Testimony

    Monday, July 2nd, 2007

    Over at reason, you can now read the testimony I gave on police militarization a few weeks ago before the House Crime Subcommittee.

    The event wasn’t nearly as entertaining as the Internet gambling hearing (and by “entertaining,” I mean, there weren’t any laughably stupid questions from dim politicians).

    One thing that did come up in the Q&A: A woman in the gallery asked for renewed funding for Bill Clinton’s COPs program, which provided federal grants for community policing. I’m a big fan of community policing, which aims to put cops on walking beats, ingrain them in the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, and generally foster a less confrontational, more civil relationship between the police and the people.

    The problem is that community policing is really only effectively implemented at the local level. Like lots of other attempts at good policy that come from the federal government, COPs grants often ended up funding endeavors that were a far cry from what advocates intended.

    The Madison Times, for example, found in 2000 that COPS grants in many Wisconsin jurisdictions ended up funding–you guessed it–SWAT teams. Which are sort of the opposite of community policing. In fact, when criminologist Peter Kraska interviewed several police chiefs in the Midwest for his large study of paramilitary police units, they told him that a SWAT team was a vital component of any good community policing program.

    So the question at the hearing gave me the opportunity to point all of this out. Rep. Bobby Scott, the committee chair, seemed taken aback. He asked me, “Are you telling me that the COPs grants we handed out in the 90s were actually used to start SWAT teams?”

    I confirmed that while I didn’t know of any large-scale studies, Kraska’s work and the Madison newspaper’s investigation seemed to confirm that this was indeed the case in at least several communities.

    He replied, “Well that’s certainly not what we had in mind.” And the room filled with laughter.

    It was kinda’ cool to be be in a position to give an influential congressmen a lesson in unintended consequences.