Archive for the 'Police Militarization' Category

A Eulogy for Liberty

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Citizen M shared this post via CopBlock.org’s submit page.

The destruction of The World Trade Center rang the death knell for The Constitution and, by default, The Bill of Rights. Our President told us to remain strong, unwavering in the face of such carnage. We were encouraged to go about our day to day lives, unchanging.

Yet while we were being spoon fed what was needed to keep us calmly grazing, our government went about subverting even the broadest interpretations of Constitutional Law. The Patriot Act was only the opening volley against The 4th Amendment and the privacies it affords us. Under it’s umbrella, virtually every alphabet agency on the Government roster has expanded it’s reach, it’s authority and it’s ability to scrutinize virtually every aspect of an individual’s life. All this in the name of “National Security”, and it’s only going to get worse. Technology and apathy are going to combine to create the most closely monitored society to ever live.
The sheep always say “If you’re not doing anything wrong.” They never stop to think, the people who want unfettered access to your everyday details, are the same people who determine what’s right and wrong. Having access to these “Metadata” will only result in government enacting new laws and regulations based on statistics gleaned from every aspect of your life – what you watch on TV, what you eat, your health, to determine the ideal lifestyle most conducive to whatever it is they expect in return.
It’s already begun, with smoking bans in outdoor public venues, to entire towns being “Smoke Free.” Any public smoking is punishable by a fine. Buildings I understand, with as concentrated as people can become in a structure, simple human courtesy says don’t smoke, but outdoors, in any setting, is too far for law to reach. Unless you’re on my shoulders, my cigarette isn’t bothering you outdoors, or having any impact on your health. Cigarettes are just a focal point for a much larger constitutional debate about my individual choice being usurped by government for my own good.

Subtly, since the 9-11 attacks, police departments across the country have militarized in the name of either the “War on Terror” or the equally ludicrous “War on Drugs.” Police routinely carry military assault rifles, wear military clothing, and drive mine resistant vehicles designed for the battlefield, not local law enforcement. Every week there’s a new incident of law enforcement crossing the line, and every day there’s a new citizen shot video showing abuses of all kinds at the hands of heavily armed thugs who think their authority is absolute. From the police sworn to protect and serve to the President himself, sworn to uphold the Constitution, the abuses are criminal.

“Immigration checkpoints,” some as far as 100 miles from the nearest foreign border, manned by federal agents, stop and question people like you and I every day, all day. A constant, government-sponsored, violation of the 4th amendment. My presence in an airport with a camera was questioned, 5 days before Christmas, at an arrival gate, by a T.S.A. agent. Another alphabet agency brought about because of 9-11 and the sheep’s reliance on government to make a perfectly safe system safer. Now we’re forced to endure scrutiny at the hands of someone who, in all likelihood, was serving fast food 6 months ago and thinks the Constitution is an old boat.

I can’t even say I want my children to enjoy the same rights I have, because I’ve already lost too many to count. I want my children, and my grandchildren, to enjoy the rights my grandparents enjoyed, and my grandfather fought to protect. I want everyone to be able to travel freely throughout these United States without fear of being stopped and questioned and forced to show documentation. I want them to feel secure and protected when they see a police officer, not intimidated and fearful. I want them to know they can protect themselves and their loved ones. I want them to feel like a citizen, not a subject.

Citizen M

A Eulogy for Liberty is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Can You Stop The Government MRAP Deployment?

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Doc Liberty shared this post via CopBlock.org’s submit page.

Can You Stop The Government MRAP Deployment?

Note: The following is for educational and entertainment purposes only. These tactics are merely speculative and not meant to be exercised in any manner.

The Department of Homeland Security, along with over 2,700 law enforcement agencies across the United States of America have acquired Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles. These are vehicles designed to be used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where IED’s are commonly deployed in an attempt to kill US military personnel. I do not know why law enforcement in America need these vehicles, designed to resist explosions, bombs, fire, and can withstand fifty caliber bullets. There are gun and gas ports on these vehicles allowing operators inside to discharge weapons, deploy chemical agents, a turret on top to control automatic weapons that will lock on approaching targets automatically and destroy them. The ultimate question becomes, why does law enforcement in America need MRAP’s? When was the last time an IED was used in this country on a police vehicle? Why the need for the deep V shaped hull and explosion resistant, run flat tires? Why the need to carry eight armed operators inside? What is it our law enforcement agencies in America have planned for the citizens? See the map and ask your local officials who they plan on attacking with this vehicle, as it is not for protecting and serving the public.

Militia groups, neighborhood watch groups and people seeking to live free and throw of the chains of tyranny need to see the signs of the militarization of their police force and realize that MRAP’s are not for drug raids and crack heads, they are designed for the person with the Gadsden Flag, the NRA sticker, those silly notions about liberty, freedom, the Constitution and thinking for themselves. You will conform. You will believe. And, if you don’t, you better know how to stop an MRAP because it is not easy. They grease the axles of these things with terrorists around the world. Innovative American Freedom Fighters must be creative, active, vigilant and be willing to go as far as they must. Remember, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

No matter how good you are with the Poor Man’s James Bond or the Anarchist Cookbook, no matter how big a batch of homemade C4 you can cook up with Vaseline (Known in Germany as Veenerslicker) and match head paste, Caro Syrup and Moth Balls, the odds are not in your favor that you will damage an MRAP. Due to the superior armament, the ability to deploy operators, chemical agents, and bullets, other methods of managing MRAP’s must be identified and used.

Vehicle Traps:

The MRAP has a very high center of gravity and is prone to tipping. Well-disguised pitfalls (holes in the ground that are disguised) are very effective if done right. Due to the size of an MRAP the minimum size of the hole should be 18 x 8 x 4 and if covered with a desert camo tarp and dirt, attached to a thin PVC frame, when you lead the MRAP down the road, and it hits the pitfall, the V hull will cause it to roll to one side, preferably the right side, putting the driver in the air, partially pinning the door in the rear as an exit. Snipers, set up in advance, can use suppressing fire at points of exit, to gain surrender and submission of prisoners, without having to further injure fellow Americans.

Tip and Disable:

Luring the MRAP with a decoy vehicle your band of merry freedom fighters can use a variety of methods, but they all end tipping the MRAP. Get the MRAP to pursue a bait car, lead them to a confined spot where the bait car can slow at a blind alley/street/building and allow for a forklift or semi mounted with the lift/hitch used for hauling manufactured homes (modified with a fork or forks) or a crawler commonly used in the manufactured home industry, to engage the target from the side, turning it turtle, using gravity as a weapon, by lifting the near side and dumping upon the far side. Once again, sniper teams can engage as occupants attempt to exit, allowing for capture without injury, so that operators can be interrogated later (a subject that will be covered in great detail in an article to come later).

Undesirable Conditions:

Using heavy equipment, open/visible pitfalls, trap the MRAP, be creative, drop a concrete block behind it, whatever it takes, pin it in place, then make life uncomfortable for the occupants inside:

1. Deploy sniper and counter sniper teams.
2. Open any hydrants around the MRAP, flooding the street.
3. Drop power lines upon the MRAP & water.
4. Snipe the air tanks that control the devices that aid in opening the doors.
5. If they won’t surrender, light a flare, drop it in the fuel tank and walk away.

Knowing Before Doing:

Before you attempt to take down an MRAP during a time of tyranny, when the government has come for us – all of us – there are some simple rules that must be adhered to: Anyone you don’t know is a cop, all phones are monitored, all electronic communications are monitored, and always look up. When you deploy, first deploy sniper teams and counter sniper teams, not for MRAP’s but for drones. The eye in the sky will betray you if you do not get to them first.

Be safe. Enjoy. And, know that this is all in fun. Unless the government deploys MRAP’s and attacks the people, then it isn’t.

Doc Liberty – Freedom Fighter
http://www.paulreverepress.org/can-you-stop-the-govt-mraps/

 

Can You Stop The Government MRAP Deployment? is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Humble Cop Not So Humble in Denying Police Militarization

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Humble Cop Not So Humble in Denying Police Militarization
by Justin 165

About a week ago, PoliceOne.com, which touts itself as “revolutionizing the way the law enforcement community finds relevant news,” published an article titled, “Police militarization and one cop’s humble opinion” (1). I read this article with a mix of assumption and curiosity. I falsely assumed the article would be an exercise in apologetics; it is more denial than justification. On the other hand, I was curious about what I might learn from the justifications. Again, there were virtually no justifications, only denials and attacks on writers who warn Americans of the growing militarization of police forces and tactics.

I am not here to debate whether or not American police forces are increasingly militarized. You can read about it everyday, SWAT teams being sent out to handle code violations (2), to raid (3), and to arrest other non-violent suspects. A recent article (4) in The New Yorker details a SWAT raid to confiscate cars through civil asset forfeiture due a lack of permits for a party hosted by the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. No, I am not here to convince you. If you follow Oregon Cop Block (5) or any other police accountability groups then you need no convincing. I am here to explain why Officer Doug Deaton’s article is such a pathetic attempt at denial by the very police state whose existence he would deny.

The problems with this article begin with the title and Deaton’s claim to be just a “humble cop,” perhaps of the Andy Griffith variety. He makes this claim to humility then takes a thickly pseudo-academic tone throughout the article. Presumably writing from his most humble ivory tower, Deaton accuses Balko and Kraska of logical fallacies, for example, throwing around terms like post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning and confirmation bias while making vague references to “the available literature.” Meanwhile, he never cites any of that literature to back up his many accusations and claims.

That is, of course, the real problem here. Aside from his hypocritical lack of humility, Deaton accuses of cherry picking facts those who are writing about the militarization of police, yet Deaton himself makes spurious claims without offering any supporting evidence from “the available literature.” The fact that he says things like, “Police in the 1950s could — and did — use serious force much more often than modern officers,” without offering any supporting evidence for that claim shows Deaton betrays Deaton’s pseudo-academic tone. It is as if he expects us to just believe him on his own authority because he is a cop, and we all know anything a cop says must be true and trustworthy. Nice try… you almost slipped that argument ad verecundium (6) by us unawares. Very sly Officer Deaton, very sly indeed. You are a cop, not historian or a philosopher.

Further evidence of Deaton’s humility is the condescending tone he takes throughout his article. You can detect the stench as early as the first sentence with his cute use of literary finger quotes, which I have tried to reproduce in plenty throughout this response. The smell gets stronger in the second sentence where Deaton refers to “anger-filled” bloggers in some innocently modest attempt to paint his opposition as whiney armchair activist kids living in their parents’ basements and eating too much pizza. Surely this is the literary style of one with but a humble opinion to offer. Not to mention that the tactic of attacking a person rather than their argument is a logical fallacy called an argument ad hominem (7).I thought you would find that interesting Officer Deaton, since you are clearly fond of throwing around logical fallacies to show what a humble cop you are.

There are more concerning issues with Deaton’s denial of the growing militarization of American police forces, issues that are more serious than his hypocritical lack of humility. One of these issues is Deaton’s accusation that writers like Balko and Kraska ignore final court rulings regarding police abuse and misconduct in favor of “preliminary and anecdotal reports,” and that they therefore rely on “incomplete source material” when claiming that police forces are becoming increasingly militarized. Deaton is operating under the assumption that our system of “justice” is completely flawless and never makes mistakes in its omniscient judgement. He assumes, or hopes we assume, that from incident to courtroom police officers are always honest and never lie in the interest of preserving their paycheck. This is a dangerous assumption. It is precisely this widespread belief that cops are necessarily upright and honest that allows them so frequently to get away with breaking laws, abusing people, and lying about it under oath (If you have any doubt as to whether or not cops lie on a regular basis, Former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane wrote this article (8)for the San Francisco Chronicle, giving us important insight into the police culture of lying).

Officer Deaton continues with this line of disconcerting false assumption when he claims that court rulings about the right to have guns, and limiting search and seizure mean that police could not possibly be militarized. Again, he offers no evidence that this is the case, citing none of these court cases or the research that proves these cases have had the effect of preventing the militarization of police forces. But that is not the point. The point is again trust and honesty, that argument from authority of which we should always be wary. Are we really supposed to take Officer Deaton at his word that because court cases exist limiting search and seizure and affirming the right to gun ownership, that this means police are not finding loop holes to exploit, that cops do not ever break the law and then lie about it, that there is no massive increase in the use of SWAT teams and tactical force to serve warrants for non-violent offenses and code violations, that there is no increase in the stockpile and use of militarized weapons (9) and vehicles (10) among American police forces? I personally have witnessed cops lie under oath frequently enough to know better than to have such blind faith in the trustworthiness of tools for an institution who’s primary objective is not to serve the public, but rather is social control and the maintenance and preservation of a systemic status quo that inequitably distributes wealth and power to a small few(11).
Mention of the increase in militarized weapons among police departments brings us to one last claim made by Deaton that needs to be addressed. It is a strange turn of the screw, but after spending an entire article trying to deny the militarization of police forces, he then claims that all the militarized, or rather “specialized equipment” police are buying up is just protective, and actually isn’t really a big deal anyway because many industries use “military-inspired technology.” Deaton does give us some examples of such industries including trauma medicine, aviation, video games, GPS navigation, and SUVs but again, given his humbly drab academic tone I’m surprised he doesn’t cite any academic sources that show in exactly what manner these technologies are actually military-inspired.

The claim is flawed regardless of the tone. For one, most of these are products not industries, and police departments are not, nor should they be, industries. Therefore the analogy is flawed (since Officer Deaton likes to play school…). But the analogy falls apart for other reasons as well. People may drive SUVs and use GPS to find a route from home to the grocery store. People may play video games with war-inspired narratives or Air Force flight simulator-inspired graphics. However, the difference between these examples and the militarization of police is one of power and force. On the one hand we have games and cars. On the other hand we have tear gas, pepper spray, and mini-tanks. A family is not driving an SUV, a child is not playing video games, and a doctor is not performing surgery with the purpose of controlling and subduing people through force.

The only reason for police to use military-inspired technology is to increase their weapons capability and their ability to exert force on the communities they are tasked with patrolling and controlling. The whole purpose of a police department’s equipment is to impose violence, whether that violence is in the name of “justice” or not, and to protect themselves if and when people actually get fed up enough to fight back against state oppression. Domestic warfare is the purpose this technology serves, and that is the difference. It better equips police to surveil, track, engage, and exert power and force over undesirable communities because they, law enforcement agencies in general and not doctors or SUV driving parents, are granted a monopoly on the state-sanctioned use of force and violence.

Footnotes: Http://Facebook.com/oregoncopblockers

Http://www.youtube.com/oregoncoplock

(1) http://www.policeone.com/Officer-Safety/articles/6390637-Police-militarization-and-one-cops-humble-opinion/
(2) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/texas-swat-team-conducts-_n_3764951.html
(3) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/obama-marijuana-raids-rolling-stone_n_1451744.html
(4) http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/08/swat-team-nation.html
(5) http://www.copblock.org/tag/oregon/
(6) http://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/authority.html
(7) http://www.drury.edu/ess/Logic/Informal/Overview.html
(8) http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/openforum/article/Why-cops-lie-2388737.php
(9) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/20/local-cops-ready-for-war-with-homeland-security-funded-military-weapons.html
(10) http://www.policeone.com/police-products/vehicles/articles/5547356-Texas-police-to-get-armored-vehicle/
(11) http://www.southendpress.org/2007/items/87712

Humble Cop Not So Humble in Denying Police Militarization is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Drawing Down: How To Roll Back Police Militarization In America

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Mike Donnelly shared this post via CopBlock.org’s submit page.

I spend a lot of time in Baltimore city where I work in a pub in the Fells Point area, which is known for its night life, history, and beautiful harbor side views. Regrettably, it’s also known for its overabundance of police presence. These thugs clog the historic narrow streets and sidewalks with their illegally parked cars and street corner conferences. Without fail, there will be a forceful altercation involving the BPD nightly. I, myself, was handcuffed and written a ticket for loitering while recording an altercation earlier this summer.

I thought this article was an interesting read and relevant to the opinions you, the people that follow this site, and I all have in common.

A story by Radley Balko of www.HuffingtonPost.com

When the FBI finally located Whitey Bulger in 2010 after searching for 16 years, the reputed mobster was suspected of involvement in 19 murders in the 1970s and ’80s, and was thought to be armed with a massive arsenal of weapons. He was also 81 at the time, in poor physical health, and looking at spending the rest of his life in prison. Of all the people who might meet the criteria for arrest by a SWAT team, one might think that Bulger would top the list.

Yet instead of sending in a tactical team to tear down Bulger’s door in the middle of the night, the FBI took a different appraoch. After some investigating, FBI officials cut the lock on a storage locker Bulger used in the apartment complex where he was staying. They then had the property manager call Bulger to tell him someone may have broken into his locker. When Bulger went to investigate, he was arrested without incident. There was no battering ram, there were no flash grenades, there was no midnight assault on his home.

That peaceful apprehension of a known violent fugitive, found guilty this week of participating in 11 murders and a raft of other crimes, stands in stark contrast to the way tens of thousands of Americans are confronted each year by SWAT teams battering down their doors to serve warrants for nonviolent crimes, mostly involving drugs.

On the night of Jan. 5, 2011, for example, police in Framingham, Mass., raided a Fountain Street apartment that was home to Eurie Stamps and his wife, Norma Bushfan-Stamps. An undercover officer had allegedly purchased drugs from Norma’s 20-year-old son, Joseph Bushfan, and another man, Dwayne Barrett, earlier that evening, and now the police wanted to arrest them. They took a battering ram to the door, set off a flash grenade, and forced their way inside.

As the SWAT team moved through the apartment, screaming at everyone to get on the floor, Officer Paul Duncan approached Eurie Stamps. The 68-year-old, not suspected of any crime, was watching a basketball game in his pajamas when the police came in.

By the time Duncan got to him in a hallway, Stamps was face-down on the floor with his arms over his head, as police had instructed him. As Duncan moved to pull Stamps’ arms behind him, he says he fell backwards, somehow causing his gun to discharge, shooting Stamps. The grandfather of 12 was killed in his own home, while complying with police orders during a raid for crimes in which he had no involvement.

The Obama administration has begun talking about reforming the criminal justice system, notably this week, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes to how federal prosecutors will consider mandatory minimum sentences. If government leaders are looking for another issue to tackle, they might consider the astonishing evolution of America’s police forces over the last 30 years.

Today in America, SWAT teams are deployed about 100 to 150 times per day, or about 50,000 times per year — a dramatic increase from the 3,000 or so annual deployments in the early 1980s, or the few hundred in the 1970s. The vast majority of today’s deployments are to serve search warrants for drug crimes. But the use of SWAT tactics to enforce regulatory law also appears to be rising. This month, for example, a SWAT team raided the Garden of Eden, a sustainable growth farm in Arlington, Texas, supposedly to look for marijuana. The police found no pot, however, and the real intent of the raid appears to have been for code enforcement, as the officers came armed with an inspection notice for nuisance abatement.

Where these teams were once used only in emergency situations, they’re used today mostly as an investigative tool against people merely suspected of crimes. In many police agencies, paramilitary tactics have become the first option, where they once were the last.

“It’s really about a lack of imagination and a lack of creativity,” says Norm Stamper, a retired cop who served as police chief of Seattle from 1994 to 2000. “When your answer to every problem is more force, it shows that you haven’t been taught and trained to consider other options.”

Why can’t drug suspects be arrested the way Bulger was — with as little violence and confrontation as possible? One big reason is a lack of resources. Many police agencies serve several drug warrants per week. Some serve several per day. They simply don’t have the time or personnel to come up with a Bulger-like plan for each one. It’s quicker and easier for the police to use overwhelming force.

“There are just too many of these cases,” says Joe Key, a longtime cop who served in the Baltimore police department from 1971 to 1995 and started the department’s SWAT team.

Key adds that another reason police don’t want to set up a perimeter and allow drug suspects to surrender peacefully is that it would give them an opportunity to destroy evidence. That, of course, means that, perversely, genuinely violent suspects are treated less harshly than people suspected of nonviolent crimes.

“Someone might say that’s an indication that we need to reconsider these drug laws,” Key says. “But that’s a whole different argument.”

Add to all of this a Pentagon program that gives surplus military equipment to local police agencies, a Department of Homeland Security program that cuts checks to police departments to buy yet more military gear, and federal grants specifically tied to drug policing and asset forfeiture policies, both of which reward police officials who send their SWAT teams on drug raids, and it isn’t difficult to see how we reached the point where SWAT teams are deployed so frequently.

The question is, how could the U.S. roll all of this back? I interviewed numerous former police chiefs, police officers and federal officials, all of whom were concerned about the militarization of America’s police forces. Here are some of their suggestions for reform:

End The Drug War

Holder’s announcement this week at least acknowledges the drug war’s role in mass incarceration. But the damage inflicted by the country’s 40-year drug fight goes well beyond prisons. It’s also been the driving force behind America’s mass police militarization since at least the early 1980s, and the best way to rein in the trend would be to simply end prohibition altogether.

Complete legalization is, of course, never going to happen. But even something short of legalization, like decriminalization, would take away many of the incentives to fight the drug war as if it were an actual war. The federal government could also leave it to the states to determine drug policy, and with what priority and level of force it should be enforced.

Your average small town SWAT team would probably continue to exist, at least in the short term. But these teams are expensive to maintain, and without federal funding, it seems likely that many would eventually disband.

End Anti-Drug Byrne Grants

Just ending the federal incentives for mass police militarization would help. The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, for example, distributes grants to agencies for a variety of criminal justice programs, many of them positive. But the grants can also go to police departments solely for drug policing. Even more destructive are grants that create multi-jurisdictional drug task forces, basically roving squads of narcotics cops that serve multiple jurisdictions, and often lack any real accountability. Even back in 2000, former FBI Director William Webster told NBC News that the federal government had become “too enamored with SWAT teams, draining money away from conventional law enforcement.”

End The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program

The federal HIDTA program is another inducement for more aggressive enforcement of drug laws. Once a police department reaches a threshold of drug arrests, the agency becomes eligible for yet more federal funding as a region with high illicit drug activity. This then becomes an incentive for police departments to desire the high drug trafficking label, which means they’ll devote even more resources to drug policing, which means more raids.

End The “Equitable Sharing” Civil Asset Forfeiture Program

Under civil asset forfeiture, police agencies can seize any piece of property — cash, cars, homes — that they can reasonably connect to criminal activity. In most places, the proceeds of the seizure go to the police department. Since civil asset forfeiture is used overwhelmingly in drug investigations, this has created a strong incentive for police to send their SWAT teams to serve routine drug warrants.

In some states, however, lawmakers have recognized the perverse incentives at play, and have attempted to get rid of them by requiring any forfeiture proceeds to go to a state general fund, or toward public schools. Under the federal government’s equitable sharing program, however, a local police agency can merely call up a federal law enforcement agency like the Drug Enforcement Administration to request assistance in an investigation. The entire operation is then governed by federal law. The DEA takes 10 percent to 20 percent of the seized assets, then gives the rest back to the local police agency. The effect is to restore the perverse incentives, and to thwart the will of state legislatures.

End The 1033 Program

The so-called 1033 program, passed in 1997, formalized a Pentagon policy of giving away surplus military equipment to domestic police agencies, which had been going on since the Reagan years. The new law also set up a well-funded, well-staffed office to facilitate the donations. Millions of pieces of equipment have since been given away — $500 million worth in 2011 alone. Once they get the gear — tanks, armored personnel vehicles, guns, helicopters, bayonets, you name it — police agencies in tiny towns have used it to start SWAT teams. Even seemingly innocuous items like camouflage uniforms can reinforce a militaristic culture and mindset. One longtime cop (whose father was also a longtime cop and former police chief) wrote to me in an email, “One of the problems we both saw in the early 90′s were departments leaving the formal police uniforms with leather belts and holsters in favor of the dark blue fatigues with nylon mesh belts and holsters. This put police in a more fighting posture.”

Some law enforcement officials have been warning of the problem for years. One former Washington, D.C., police sergeant wrote in a 1997 letter to The Washington Post, “One tends to throw caution to the wind when wearing ‘commando-chic’ regalia, a bulletproof vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on both sides, and when one is armed with high tech weaponry … We have not yet seen a situation like [the British police occupation of] Belfast. But some police chiefs are determined to move in that direction.” A Connecticut police chief told The New York Times in 2000 that switching to military-like garb “feeds a mindset that you’re not a police officer serving a community, you’re a soldier at war. I had some tough-guy cops in my department pushing for bigger and more hardware.”

It isn’t difficult to see how giving cops the weapons, uniforms, and vehicles of war might encourage them to take a more warlike approach to their jobs. That won’t end simply by shuttering the 1033 program. But it would certainly be a start.

Reform Department Of Homeland Security Grants

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has handed out some $34 billion in grants to police departments across the country, many for the purchase of battle-grade vehicles and weapons. This program has created a cottage industry of companies to take DHS checks in exchange for guns, tanks and armored vehicles. In effect, it has given rise to a police industrial complex.

There’s also little oversight. DHS can’t even produce a comprehensive list of police departments that have received grants and how they’ve used them. Though ostensibly for anti-terrorism efforts, the grants are going to places like Fargo, N.D., where they’re inevitably used for routine policing. (Or in the case of Fargo, an armored personnel vehicle with rotating turret has been used mostly for “appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.”)

The federal government has a legitimate interest in protecting the country from terrorist attacks. So at least in theory, anti-terror grants to domestic police agencies make sense. But it seems unlikely that the grants in their current form are doing much to prevent terrorism.

End Federal Medical Marijuana Raids

In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration set a dangerous precedent when it began sending federal SWAT teams to raid medical marijuana businesses in states that had legalized the drug for that purpose. By then, the use of SWAT teams to serve drug warrants was common, and the explosion in the number and use of SWAT-like teams had already happened. But until then, police agencies at least made the claim that the use of such force was in response to a genuine threat — that drug dealers were heavily armed, dangerous, and had no qualms about killing police.

The medical marijuana raids couldn’t be justified that way. These were licensed businesses, operating openly and in compliance with state laws. The show of force wasn’t about officer safety or community safety. It was about sending a message. These people were openly flouting federal law, and they were to be made into examples. This isn’t the sort of government action we commonly associate with free societies. And of course, these raids have continued ever since.

Return SWAT To Its Original Purpose

Legislatures or city councils could pass laws restricting the use of SWAT teams to those rare emergencies in which there’s an imminent threat to public safety. They could limit the use of no-knock raids or even forced entry to serve warrants only on people suspected of violent crimes. One policy might be to allow the deployment of a tactical team only when police have good reason to believe that a violent crime is in the process of being committed, or is likely to be committed imminently without police intervention.

Key, who started the Baltimore SWAT team, suggests a broader rule, but one that would still impose limitations. “I think you could limit SWAT teams and the dynamic entry tactics to those cases where police can obtain a no-knock warrant,” he says. “The courts impose more restrictions for no-knock warrants. You have to show evidence that a suspect may attempt to arm himself and attack police, or may destroy evidence if there’s an announcement.”

At the very least, lawmakers should demand an end to SWAT mission creep. It’s beyond comprehension that such violent tactics would be used to enforce regulatory law. SWAT teams also shouldn’t be raiding poker games, bars where police suspect there’s underage drinking or the offices of doctors suspected of over-prescribing painkillers. They shouldn’t be performing license inspections on barbershops, or swarming Amish farms suspected of selling unpasteurized cheese. Like the medical marijuana raids, these sorts of raids are straight-up abuse — for the sake of sending a political message.

Mandate Transparency

In 2008, the Maryland legislature passed a bill requiring all police agencies in the state to issue twice-yearly reports on how often they use their SWAT teams, for what purpose, what the searches found, and whether any shots were fired. It’s a simple bill that puts no restrictions on the use of SWAT teams, yet was opposed by every police agency in the state.

Other states could pass similar laws. And they could go further. Police departments could track warrants from the time they’re obtained to the time they’re executed, in a database that’s accessible to civilian review boards, defense attorneys, judges, and, in some cases, the media (acknowledging that the identities of confidential informants need not be revealed). Botched and bungled raids should be documented. These include warrants served on the wrong address, warrants based on bad tips from informants and warrants that resulted in the death or injury of an officer, suspect or bystander.

Police departments should also keep running tabs of how many warrants are executed with no-knock entry versus knock-and-announce entry, how many required a forced entry, how many required the deployment of a SWAT team or other paramilitary unit, and how many used diversionary devices like flash grenades. They should also make records of what these raids turned up. If these tactics are going to be used against the public, the public at the very least deserves to know how often they’re used, why they’re used, how often things go wrong, and what sort of results the tactics are getting.

It’s clear that there has been a huge increase in the number of SWAT teams and the frequency of their use. But we can’t have a real debate about police militarization without better data on its pervasiveness.

There are other policies that would make police departments more transparent. The remarkable advances in and democratization of smartphone technology have enabled a large and growing number of citizens to record the actions of on-duty police officers. Rather than fighting the trend, police officials and policymakers ought to embrace it. Legislatures could pass laws that clearly establish a citizen’s right to record on-duty cops, and provide an enforcement mechanism so that citizens wrongly and illegally arrested for doing so have a course of action. As many police officials have pointed out, such policies not only expose police misconduct, leading to improvements, but can also provide exonerating evidence in cases where police officers have been wrongly accused.

All forced-entry police raids could be recorded in a tamper-proof format, and the videos made available to the public through a simple open records request. This could be done efficiently and inexpensively. Even better, it wouldn’t be difficult to equip the officers participating in a raid with cameras mounted on their helmets, jackets, or guns. Not only would recording all raids help clear up disputes about how long police waited after knocking, whether police knocked at all, or who fired first, but the knowledge that every raid would be recorded would also encourage best practices among the SWAT teams. Additionally, recordings of raids would provide an accurate portrayal of how drug laws are actually enforced. It’s likely that many Americans aren’t fully aware how violent these tactics can be. Perhaps many would still support tactical raids for drug warrants even after being exposed to videos of drug raids. But if the drug war is being waged to protect the public, the public should be able to see exactly how the war is being waged.

Local police departments that receive federal funding should also be required to keep records on and report incidents of officer shootings and use of excessive force to an independent federal agency such as the National Institute for Justice or the Office of the Inspector General. Those that don’t comply should lose federal funding. Currently, while all police agencies are required to keep such data, that requirement isn’t enforced.

We also need easy-to-find, publicly accessible records of judges and search warrants (and where applicable, prosecutors). The public deserves to know if all the narcotics cops in a given area are going to the same judge or magistrate with their narcotics warrants, or if a given judge hasn’t declined a single warrant in, say, 20 years. As more courts use computer software to process warrants, it will get easier to compile this sort of information and make it available to the public.

Change Police Culture

All of these policies have infused too many police agencies with a culture of militarism. Neill Franklin is a former narcotics cop in Maryland, who also oversaw training at the state’s police academies in the early 2000s. “I think there are two critical components to policing that cops today have forgotten,” he says. “Number one, you’ve signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you’ve agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don’t get to start stepping on others’ rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it’s to protect those you’ve sworn to protect. But I don’t know how you get police officers today to value those principles again. The ‘us and everybody else’ sentiment is strong today. It’s very, very difficult to change a culture.”

But there are some practical policy changes that may work. Police today are given too little training in counseling and dispute resolution, and what little training they do get in the academy is quickly blotted out by what they learn on the street in the first few months on the job. When you’re given abundant training in the use of force, but little in using psychology, body language, and other non-coercive means of resolving a conflict, you’ll naturally gravitate toward using force. “I think about the notion of command presence,” Stamper, the former Seattle police chief, says. “When you as a police officer show up at a chaotic or threatening or dangerous situation, you need to demonstrate your command presence — that you are the person in command of this situation. You do this with your bearing, your body language, and your voice. What I see today is that this well-disciplined notion of command presence has been shattered. Cops today think you show command presence by yelling and screaming. In my day, if you screamed, if you went to a screaming, out-of-control presence, you had failed in that situation as a cop. You’d be pulled aside by a senior cop or sergeant and made to understand in no uncertain terms that you were out of line. The very best cops I ever worked around were quiet. Which isn’t to say they were withdrawn or passive, but they were quiet. They understood the value of silence, the powerful effect of a pause.”

Stamper adds that these things aren’t emphasized anymore. “Verbal persuasion is the first tool a police officer has. The more effective he or she is as a communicator, the less likely it is he or she is going to get impulsive — or need to.”

Franklin suggests that deteriorating physical fitness at some police departments may also lead to unnecessary escalations of force — another argument in favor of foot patrols over car patrols. “When I was commander of training in Baltimore, one of the first things I did was evaluate the physical condition of the police officers themselves,” Franklin says. “The overweight guys were the guys who knew very little about arrest control and defensive strategy. Being a police officer is a physically demanding job. You can’t be so out of shape. When you are, you’re less confident about less lethal force. It can get so that the only use of force you’re capable of using is a firearm. You also fear physical confrontation, so you’re more likely to reach for your firearm earlier. Getting cops in shape is a confidence builder, and it gets people away from relying too much on the weapons they have on their belt.”

Police should also be required to learn and understand the effect that power can have on their own psyche. They should be taught the Stanford prison experiment, the Millgram experiment, and similar studies. Having complete power over another person can be immensely corrupting. But simply being aware of its corrosive effects is an important step toward guarding against them.

Police departments and policymakers should also embrace real community policing. That means taking cops out of patrol cars to walk beats and become a part of the communities they serve. It means ditching statistics-driven policing, which encourages the sorts of petty arrests of low-level offenders and use of informants that foment anger and distrust. Community policing makes cops part of the neighborhoods they serve, gives them a stake in those neighborhoods, and can be the anecdote to the antagonistic us-versus-them relationship too many cops have with the citizens on their beats. (And the mentality usually goes both ways.)

More generally, politicians be should called out and held accountable when they use war rhetoric to discuss crime and illicit drugs. Words and language from policymakers have an impact on the way police officers approach their jobs, and the way they view the people with whom they interact while on patrol. If we want to dissuade them from seeing their fellow citizens as the enemy, political leaders — the people who set the policies and appropriate the budgets for those officers — need to stop referring to them that way.

Ultimately, we’re unlikely to see any real efforts to reform or rollback police militarization until politicians are convinced there is a problem and pay a political price for not addressing it. Today, domestic police officers drive tanks and armored personnel carriers on American streets, break into homes and kill pets over pot, and batter down doors to raid poker games. They’re now subjecting homes and businesses to commando raids for white-collar and even regulatory offenses. And while there has recently been some action from state legislators, there’s been barely any opposition or concern from anyone in Congress, any governor, or any mayor of a sizable city.

Until that happens, expect more tanks, more and bigger guns, more Robocob responses to protest, and more, increasingly violent raids for increasingly less serious crimes and infractions.

Radley Balko is a senior writer and investigative reporter for The Huffington Post. This essay is adapted from his new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

Drawing Down: How To Roll Back Police Militarization In America is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Why Have Police In America Turned Into Such Ruthless Thugs?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Michael Snyder published this article at EndOfTheAmericanDream.com on August 8, 2013.

Once upon a time, the police were one of the most respected institutions in America, but now most Americans fear them. Almost every single day there are multiple stories of police brutality or misconduct that make the national news. Just this week, there have been stories about police killing a baby deer at an animal shelter, about police killing a 95-year-old World War II veteran in a retirement home, and about police using legal technicalities to “legally” steal massive amounts of money from innocent citizens.

Why are police acting like this? Why have police in America turned into such ruthless thugs? In the case of the baby deer that was killed, 13 armed agents stormed the animal shelter up in Wisconsin where it was being cared for. Is this really the kind of country that we want our children to grow up in?

A country where Bambi is hunted down by armed thugs working for the government? Sadly, the story about that deer is not an isolated incident. The truth is that police all over the country kill animals every single day. In fact, police in Chicago have shot 488 animalssince 2008. No wonder people are so afraid to have the police come to their homes.

Increasingly, police departments all over the United States are being transformed into military-style units. These days, even very minor violations of the law can result in a SWAT team raid. The following is from a recent article by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute…

Consider that in 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US. By 2001, that number had grown to 45,000 and has since swelled to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. In fact, there are few communities without a SWAT team on their police force today. In 1984, 25.6 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. That number rose to 80 percent by 2005.

But it is not just local police departments that are being militarized. This is happening on the federal level as well. In fact, according to Whitehead even the Department of Education and NASA now have their own SWAT teams…

When it comes to SWAT-style tactics being used in routine policing, the federal government is one of the largest offenders, with multiple agencies touting their own SWAT teams, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Consumer Product Safety Commission, NASA, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the US National Park Service, and the FDA.

What in the world does NASA need a SWAT team for?

The police culture in America has fundamentally changed. In the old days, most police officers were extremely helpful and would give you directions or help you get your cat out of a tree.

But if you stop and ask a police officer for help today, you will be lucky if all you get is some dirty language. These days, police all over the nation are actually being trained to bark orders at you and to respond to the least bit of resistance with overwhelming force.

The results of this kind of training can often be extremely tragic. Just the other day, a 95-year-old World War II veteran living in a retirement home near Chicago was murdered by police just because he did not want to undergo high-risk surgery…

A 95-year-old man who served his country during World War II is now dead after police stormed his retirement home with riot shields, Tasered him and shot him with bean bag rounds – all because he adamantly refused to undergo high-risk surgery.

U.S. Army Air Corps veteran John Wrana, who was honorably discharged as a sergeant after he served in the India-Burma campaign, used a walker because family members said he was “wobbly” on his feet, according to the Chicago Tribune. The elderly veteran was shot down by enemy fire during the war.

On July 26, a doctor reportedly told Wrana if he survived surgery, he would likely be put on life support. The elderly man refused the operation, and paramedics attempted to involuntarily transport him for medical treatment. He was sitting in a chair, holding a cane and a shoe horn when police arrived at the Victory Centre senior living facility located just south of Chicago.

Why did the police have to act like that?

Is there any police officer out there that cannot physically handle a 95-year-old man?

That 95-year-old veteran survived fighting the Japanese, but he was not able to survive the thuggish behavior of our own police.

And most Americans don’t realize this, but when police pull you over they can take cash and property from you even if you have not done anything wrong. It is called “civil forfeiture” and it is one of the worst things about U.S. law. Civil forfeiture was described in a recent article by Becket Adams…

Did you know that the police can confiscate items such as cash and property from people who have never been convicted of a crime?

It’s true, and it’s all because of a little-known police tactic called civil forfeiture.

A product of the so-called “war on drugs,” civil forfeiture was part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 passed by Congress 29 years ago. The bill gives law enforcement officials a portion of the assets seized during drug raids and similar investigations.

The following are some examples of the abuse of civil forfeiture that were detailed in a recent article in the New Yorker…

-Police took the home of an elderly couple in Philadelphia because their son allegedly sold $20 worth of marijuana on their front porch.

-Police in Virginia pulled over a speeder and took $28,500 that was intended to be used to purchase a new parcel of land for a Pentecostal church.

-One town in Texas has actually been caught threatening to take children away from innocent couples if they don’t sign over the cash that they are carrying to the police…

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

If you have not read the new article in the New Yorker that goes into great detail about all of this, you can find it right here.

So why are police all over America acting like this?

Well, one of the primary factors is that they are just following the example that is being set on the federal level.

The entire country is rapidly being transformed into a “Big Brother” police state, and most Americans seem to like it that way.

And with each passing year, it just gets even worse. For example, we were originally told that the TSA would only be hassling us at our airports, but now they are everywhere. As the New York Times recently reported, TSA “VIPR teams” are now being deployed almost everywhere there are large gatherings of people…

With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals.

This “VIPR team” program is “growing rapidly”, and apparently these “VIPR teams” conducted 8,800 “unannounced checkpoints” last year…

The program now has a $100 million annual budget and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008. T.S.A. records show that the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year, including those at the Indianapolis 500 and the Democratic and Republican national political conventions.

So where is the outrage?

A small minority of the American people have been sounding the alarmabout NSA snooping and other abuses, but most Americans don’t really seem to care about these things very much.

In fact, according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center,47 percent of all Americans don’t even want the media to report on secret government surveillance programs.

So not only do they not want the surveillance to stop, 47 percent of all Americans do not even want to hear anything about it on the news.

How sickening is that?

Sadly, this is not the first survey that has produced this kind of a result. For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “19 Surveys Which Prove That A Large Chunk Of The Population Is Made Up Of Totally Clueless Sheeple“.

In the end, we will get the government that we deserve. And according to the New York Times, at this point our government is even willing to manufacture fake terror threats in order to distract us from their surveillance activities…

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.

What in the world is happening to America?

Is there any hope for us?

 

Why Have Police In America Turned Into Such Ruthless Thugs? is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

All Things Warrior Cop

Monday, August 5th, 2013

originalSince I don’t regularly update this blog anymore, I figure it’s a good place to put up a post of my speaking schedule and various items related to my book. It’ll stay at the top of the page. So check back here often. We’re also still adding dates on the book talk/signing tour.

 

Public Events:

• October 14, Woody’s Roadside, 3008 Bienville Blvd, Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Sponsored by the Jackson County, Mississippi Libertarian Party.

• October 15, Time, Location TBA, Mobile, Alabama: Speech and book signing. Sponsored by the Mobile Federalist Society.

October 17, 5:30pm, Independence Institute, Denver, Colorado: Book forum. Sponsored by the Independence Institute.

• October 21, Time TBA, University of Colorado Law School, Boulder, Colorado.

• October 22, noon, University of Denver College of Law, Denver, Colorado.

• October 26, Time TBA, Students for Liberty Regional Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

• October 30, noon, University of New Hampshire Law School, Concord, New Hampshire.

• October 31, noon, Boston University Law School, Boston, Massachusetts.

• November 2, Time TBA, Students for Liberty Regional Conference, Boston, Massachusetts.

• November 12, noon, Loyola University College of Law, New Orleans, Louisiana.

• November 13, noon, Southern University Law Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

• February 20, 2014, noon, University of Hawaii School of Law, Honolulu, Hawaii.

 

(Previous Events)

• September 26, Time, Woodburn Hall, Room 120, 7:30pm, Bloomington, Indiana: Speech and book signing.

• July 9 — Book signing. Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 6:30pm.

• July 10 — Book release party. Mercy Lounge, Nashville, Tennessee, 7pm. With music from the Cold Stares and Kate Tucker and the Sons of Sweden.

• July 22 — Book release party. HR-57, Washington, D.C., 6:30 pm. With music from the Cold Stares.

• July 23 — Talk, panel, and book signing. Busboys & Poets, Washington, D.C., 6:30pm. Co-sponsored by the ACLU, the Cato Institute, the Huffington Post, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

• July 24 — Capitol Hill Book Forum, with Mark Lomax of the National Tactical Officers Association. Rayburn Office Building, Washington, D.C., 12pm. Sponsored by the Cato Institute. (Watch video of this event here.)

• July 27, 3pm: Talk, book signing at Big Blue Marble Book Store, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

• August 17, 2:20pm, Austin, Texas, Police Accountability Summit, sponsored by Peaceful Streets Project: Speech and book signing.

• August 24, 1pm, Libertas Found,  5430 West Chester Rd., West Chester, Ohio: Book signing. Sponsored by the Ohio Libertarian Party.

• August 29, 7pm Salt Lake City Public Library, Salt Lake City, Utah: Speech and book signing, sponsored by Libertas, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Utah.

• September 3, noon, University of Memphis Law School, Memphis, Tennessee:

• September 5, Time TBA, Indy Reads Books, Indianapolis, Indiana: Book signing, sponsored by the Marion County Libertarian Party.

•September 18, noon, University of Illinois College of Law, Champaign, Illinois.

• September 18, 6:15pm, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Avenue, Angel Reading Room, Chicago, Illinois: Speech, panel discussion, and book signing. Co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression, Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Mansfield Institute for Social Justice & Transformation (Roosevelt University), National Lawyers Guild (Chicago), People’s Law Office, Project NIA, TruthOut, Women’s All Points Bulletin

 

Book Reviews:

• A review from Kirkus Reviews.

• A review from Publishers Weekly.

• A review from the New York Journal of Books.

• A review from the Economist.

• Bruce Schneier’s review in the Wall Street Journal.

• Former Baltimore police officer and Cop in the Hood author Peter Moskos’ review in the Pacific Standard.

• New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield’s review at his Simple Justice blog.

Former NYPD Det. John J. Baeza’s review at the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition blog.

• Former Redondo Beach, California Lt. Diane Goldstein’s review at Huffington Post.

• L.A.P.D. officer and pseudonymous writer Jack Dunphy’s review for National Review. (Behind a 25 cent paywall.)

• Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner.

• Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy.

• Hal from the Right Thinking From the Left Coast blog.

• “Mad Rocket Scientist” at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen blog.

Phillip Smith’s review at the Drug War Chronicle.

• Nate Carlisle review in the Salt Lake Tribune.

• Mike Riggs’ review at the Weekly Standard.

Amazon reviews.

 

My Articles:

“Rise of the Warrior Cop,” in the Wall Street Journal.

“A Gallery of Notable Police Raids,” in the ABA Journal.

My “Raid of the Day” series at Huffington Post.

“7 Ways the Obama Administration Has Accelerated Police Militarization,” at Huffington Post.

“Former Cops Speak Out on Police Militarization,” at Huffington Post.

“Welcome to the Police-Industrial Complex,” at Huffington Post.

“The Marketing of Police Militarism,” at Huffington Post.

• “Too Many Cops Are Told They’re Soldiers Fighting a War. How Did We Get Here?” at the ACLU blog.

• “Senator Sam Ervin, “No-Knock” Warrants, and the Fight to Stop Cops from Smashing into Homes the Way Burglars Do,” at the ACLU blog.

• “ACLU Launches Nationwide Investigation Into Police Militarization,” at Huffington Post.

My response to PoliceOne: “SWAT Cop Says American Neighborhoods Are ‘Battlefields,’ Claims Cops Face Same Dangers As Soldiers In Afghanistan”

 

Excerpts:

Salon: Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

ABA Journal.

Alternet.

The Nashville Scene.

Business Insider.

TruthOut.

 

Other Coverage:

BBC video on police militarization. (This is one is a favorite. They did a great job.)

• “Uphold the Third Amendment,” by Glenn Reynolds at USA Today.

• “SWAT-Team Nation,” by Sarah Stillman in The New Yorker.

• “In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko tackles the dangers of militarized police units run amok on U.S. soil,” the Nashville Scene.

• “Family pets get it as Swat warrior cops go in all guns blazing,” in the  Sunday Mail U.K. (Paywalled.)

• “Overkill: Police SWAT teams sent to fight poker games, liquor violations,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (reporter blog).

• “SWAT Teams Save Lives,” Alfred Regnery at Breitbart.com. (Negative.)

• “Editorial: Does city need a BearCat? Think carefully, please,” Concord Monitor.

• “From Tom Paine to Glenn Greenwald, we need partisan journalism,” Jack Shafer at Reuters.

John Stossel’s column on warrior cops.

• The Heritage Foundation on police militarization.

• Coverage in the Greenfield, Indiana Daily Reporter.

Editorial in the Washington Times.

Blog post at the San Francisco Chronicle.

• A series of (mostly negative) responses on the website PoliceOne.

• Coverage in the Deseret Review.

• Coverage in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Blog post at the Washington Monthly.

• Op-ed by Rick Holmes at the Metro West Daily.

• Coverage of a Chicago book event from Huffington Post.

Interviews:

Text:

Interview with Vice.

Interview with Antiwar.com.

Interview with Salon.

• Interview with the Washington Times: Part One. Part Two.

Forum at Crooks & Liars.

Book Salon at Firedoglake.

My Reddit AMA.

Truthout.

 

Audio:

ABA Journal podcast.

Op-Ed News podcast with Rob Kall.

City Journal podcast with Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis.

The Sex, Politics, and Religion Show with Jamila Bey (and Ed Brayton).

think, with Krys Boyd on KERA in Dallas, Texas.

Free Talk Live.

The Peter Schiff Show (requires subscription).

Cultural Baggage, with Dean Becker.

Majority report with Sam Seder.

• Hour-long interview with KUER public radio in Salt Lake City.

Interview with Stansbury radio.

• Podcast interview with Matt Lewis at The Daily Caller.

 

 

Video:

• BBC narrative. (This one is really great.)

 

• “All-In with Chris Hayes” on MSNBC:

 

• Reason.tv:

 

• “The Real News,” on The Blaze TV:

 

• RT America:

 

• HuffPost Live:

 

• The Thom Hartmann Show, on RT.

 

• “Happening Now” on Fox News.

 

• “Morning Joe” on MSNBC:

 

• Debate with an Ohio sheriff on Fox Business News’ “Stossel.”

 

 

• “The Majority Report” radio show:

 

 

Radley Balko: “Once a Town Gets a SWAT Team, You Want to Use it.”

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

This article was originally published at Salon.com by Alex Halperin.

Radley Balko’s new book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” details how America’s police forces have grown to look and behave more like soldiers than neighborly Officer Krupkes walking the beat. This new breed of police, frequently equipped with military weapons and decked out in enough armor to satisfy a storm trooper, are redefining law enforcement.

How did this happen? For decades, the war on drugs has empowered police to act aggressively. More recently, 9/11 and school shootings enforced the notion that there’s no such thing as too much security. Since 9/11, the newly formed Department of Homeland Security has distributed billions in grants, enabling even some small town police departments to buy armored personnel carriers and field their own SWAT teams.

Once you have a SWAT team the only thing to do is kick some ass. There are more than 100 SWAT team raids every day in this country. They’re not chasing murderers or terrorists. For the most part they go after nonviolent offenders like drug dealers and even small time gamblers. As you’d expect when there is too much adrenaline and too much weaponry, there have been some tragedies. Suddenly goofball comedies where an elite squad invades a house to find a pot-smoking kid don’t seem so funny. (Balko’s book describes such incidents at length in excerpts Salon published here and here.)

This problem defies the usual conservative vs. liberal calculus. As Balko sees it, Democrats love spending money on cops and Republicans want to seem tough on crime. In this fertile ground, the police-industrial complex has grown. Many of its excesses are almost impossible to defend, but it’s not going anywhere. Balko talked to Salon about the decline of community policing, the warrior cop mentality, why so many dogs get killed by police. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Few of us encounter the warrior cop phenomenon. How pervasive is it?



 There are several levels of militarization. The rise of SWAT teams nationwide, the number of annual SWAT deployments in the U.S., has gone from a few hundred in the ’70s, to 30,000 per year in the early ’80s, to 50,000 in 2005. That’s 100, 150 times a day in this country you have these heavily armed police teams breaking into homes, and the vast majority of times it’s to enforce laws against consensual crimes.

Beyond that, you have a military or soldier mind-set, and that, I think, goes beyond the SWAT team. They’ve been telling police officers for a generation now that they’re fighting various wars, but it’s also because the patrol car has isolated police officers from the communities that they serve. Police officers who live in the communities they serve is also less and less common.

So when you arm a cop like a soldier, when you dress ‘em like a soldier, when you tell ‘em to fight in a war and then send ‘em out into a neighborhood that he has no stake in and doesn’t consider himself a part of, you get a very antagonistic, us-versus-them relationship between the officer and that community. I think that is really pervasive, and the rise of the stop-snitchin’ movement, whatever you think of it, shows there are entire communities in this country that are more afraid of police than they are of the people that the police are supposed to be protecting them from. That is a pretty terrible development.

Before 9/11, what do you see as the main drivers of the equipment aspect of this phenomenon?

 The drug war, unquestionably. The drug war is what got us to a crisis point and Sept. 11 just kind of blew it out of the water. A Pentagon program hit its record in 2011 by giving away about $500 million of equipment. [Department of Homeland Security] grants in the last 10 years have given away $35 billion. DHS has accelerated the trend.

Politically, this is a fascinating issue because police seem to be totally untouchable. Everybody loves cops, even if cops are unrecognizable. Are there any reasonable political approaches to this issue?

 It’s tough. The interesting thing is in writing about this issue – and I’ve been writing about this for six, eight years now – is there’s almost no opposition when I write about this. Every so often, a prosecutor who has a blog or something will respond, but in terms of left, right, libertarian, everyone seems to agree that there’s a problem, but then you go to politicians and nobody cares. Nobody is interested. The Republicans want to be tough on crime, and Democrats, police unions are very influential with them. Also I think, on a bipartisan level, every congressman likes to put out that press release, announcing he’s just procured $500,000 for our local heroes in blue. The local newspapers write it up, and it looks good for the community. That’s a difficult thing to wean them off of.

Can you describe how this plays out at the local level? How do any number of small towns now have SWAT teams even as small towns are suffering? How does that training happen? And how does it get used?

 I think part of it is the Pentagon giveaway, the DHS grant; that gets them some of the hardware they need. And then they make the case for starting a SWAT team, and inevitably – I’ve watched this happen in towns – they’ll get the equipment and they’ll get the SWAT team. They’ll invoke Columbine or Virginia Tech or Newtown, now, and they’ll say, “This could happen here. This is why we need to be prepared.” And of course, as high-profile as those things are, they’re vanishingly rare.

Once a small town gets a SWAT team and starts one, it’s expensive to maintain and you want to use it, and the easiest way to use it is to send them out on drug raids. It’s not just that it’s easy – there are incentives. There are federal grants that are tied to drug policing. If you wait until you’re about to arrest a suspected murderer or rapist – which, in small towns, doesn’t happen that often – a SWAT team’s going to be a negative when it comes to revenue. Send them out on a bunch of drug raids, you get all this federal money; there’s also access forfeiture that is usually tied to drug crimes, and the SWAT team can actually generate money for the department.

So, it starts with the equipment. You just need unsupported justifications for why it’s necessary, and then there are all these incentives for police departments who are using it for pretty low-level crimes.

Training is another problem. At least in the big cities, when they have these SWAT teams, they’re usually well-trained. It’s usually a full-time position. In some of these small towns and little counties, there are cases where there’s a 15-man police department and they also have an eight-member SWAT team. These guys are part-time, and they’re not getting the training that they need to do this. I think even the well-trained SWAT teams are used too frequently, but it’s better to have a well-trained SWAT team than a bunch of guys who are kind of in it for the thrill.

Do you see this bad-ass thing they’re doing as a recruitment tool?

I don’t know how you would define using it as a recruitment tool.  I can say that the tanks and the armed personnel carriers – they roll them out at parades. You see them at various festivals and so forth.  The other thing that I find particularly disturbing is if you Google “police recruitment video,” you’ll get a lot of videos that these police staff send out to high schools and colleges to recruit police officers.

A disturbingly high percentage of them are [police] kicking down doors and siccing dogs on people and coming out of helicopters to heavy metal music or some kind of high-intensity music and that’s the very first step in the process in staffing a police department. You’re appealing to young people who are attracted to jobs that allow them to basically kick ass and take names and there’s no appeal to the [other] aspects of policing. If that’s your recruitment message, you’re sending a pretty strong message from the very start about what you think the proper relationship between police and the community ought to be.

Quite a few times, you mention incidents of cops killing dogs. Aside from the poignant aspect of it, what do those incidents demonstrate to you about police training or mentality?

It is another indicator of this battlefield approach that so many police officers have. If you think it’s appropriate to discharge your weapon in a public place –  like what we saw in this more recent viral video in a residential area –  if you think it’s appropriate to do this to prevent a dog from breaking your skin, that’s a mentality that says “police officers’ safety is to be preserved at all costs.”

I can name cases where police officers have shot dogs and missed and shot one another, shot bystanders. Even if you don’t particularly care about the dogs, it is dangerous. I’ve interviewed national spokesmen for the Humane Society who says they offer this kind of training to any department that wants it — it’s training that every U.S. postal worker gets and, you know, it’s training on how to read a dog’s body language, how to recognize a defensive dog from a vicious one and how to deal with these dogs in ways other than dealing with culpable force, and hardly any police agencies do this.

You talked just then and in the book about a lack of accountability being ingrained in police culture. Do you see any signs of any programs trying a different approach?

Yes and no. The fact that everybody’s armed with a camera in their pocket now is forcing a lot of police departments to become more accountable and to hold officers more accountable. Certainly more cops are going to be more aware of this and aware of the fact that they could be recorded at any time. That’s going to be an incentive to act better.

At the same time, though, police unions are some of the few unions in this country that are still powerful. That in part goes back to the fact that no politician really wants to look anti-police officer, and so the unions have negotiated in a lot of states the Police Officer Bill of Rights, which give rights to cops above and beyond what regular citizens get when they’re accused of a crime.

In theory, the Police Officer Bill of Rights only applies to internal investigations; it doesn’t affect criminal investigations. Problem is, criminal investigations usually don’t start until after the internal investigation is over and at that point the police officers have been given time to put a story together. A lot of times they’re allowed to collaborate with other police officers who are involved and the other thing it does is it gives cops within the department a handy way to get the charges against other cops dismissed.

The Houston Chronicle just launched a new series this week about how difficult it is [to fire a cop]. Cops who are accused of assault and sexual assault and domestic abuse just think they can get their jobs back. Even when they do get fired, another police department ends up hiring them because part of the contract that they negotiated may bar the police department from giving them a bad reference for future law enforcement jobs.

You say in the book that it’s not an anti-cop book. Is there a way for good cops to fight this culture in an effective way?

It’s difficult. I tell a couple stories in the book of cops who try to turn in other cops for this conduct, and usually they end up being the ones disciplined. So, yeah, it’s tough. And there’s a reason why groups like LEAP [Law Enforcement Against Prohibition] is almost exclusively retired cops, because you just can’t make these kinds of points while you’re on the job. There have been a few police chiefs who I mention in the book who have successfully reformed individual police performance.

I guess my point in saying that it isn’t an anti-cop book is that you can rail against cops and call them names, and attack the police culture all you want, but that’s not going to change anything, and as long as you have these bad policies you’re going to attract the wrong personalities because cops are either going to quit in frustration, turn bad or just, you know, hate their jobs. So, until we can get politicians and public officials to start making actual policy changes and insist on holding police accountable, I just don’t think it does any good to rail against police officers.

However, many of the trends you’re describing seem to be accelerating. You say that Obama has stepped up raids, for example, on medical marijuana dispensaries. What sort of indications, if any, do you see of the federal government reining in the incentives for police militarization?

I don’t think so. I look at police militarization under Obama, and surprisingly, the Bush administration was phasing out two of the programs that were really driving a lot of this. The Byrne Grant program, and the COPS program. These are both federal spending programs, so it’s easy to understand why the Bush administration would put it in the back, and then why Obama would then re-fund them. But, you’ve got to look at the consequences.

Just saying we need to spend more money on police officers and then throwing money at them, and then not really caring or following up or having any concern about how that money is being spent, is a problem. Obama restored the Byrne Grant program at record funding shortly after taking office. I think there’s just this notion on the left that, with leftist politicians all federal spending is good, and so you see this re-funding of this program.

I’d like to see these programs phased out entirely, but again, you get the same problem where the right wants to look tough on crime. The left, sort of defensively also, wants to look tough on crime.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised from the reaction to the book among people who aren’t politicians. Across left, right, libertarian, I think most people who are familiar with the issue recognize that it’s a problem and something needs to be done about it. But you know Congress always lags behind public opinion. And on this issue, it’s just difficult to get them to care. I’m optimistic about how the public is coming around on this issue, but I’m skeptical that we’ll ever get any reaction from politicians.

What sort of solutions do you see? What can be done?

At the local level, I think people could pressure local officials to rein in SWAT teams, and have them only used in the emergency situations and stop sending them on drug raids.

You can do an open record collection of the police department to find out how many times the SWAT teams had been out, for what reasons, and what the result was. Most times you’re going to find it was sent out, let’s say 200 times in the last year, and you’re going to find that maybe 40 of those cases are over criminal charges. Those are good numbers to put out, and just to spark a debate on whether this is an appropriate use of this sort of force.

I think all these raids should be videotaped and should all be subject to open record requests. When an officer makes a negligent error that results in a SWAT team terrorizing an innocent family, you know there should be consequences, and a family should have recourse in court, to collect damages, and right now it’s very, very difficult to sue a police officer in court.

A lot of other recommendations in the book, like ending the drug war, aren’t going to happen any time soon, but there are incremental reforms that can be made to at least kind of get a handle on the problem even if you can’t rein it in completely.

Radley Balko: “Once a Town Gets a SWAT Team, You Want to Use it.” is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

“Rise of the Warrior Cop” by Radley Balko – exceprt

Friday, July 12th, 2013

The following is an excerpt from Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko, senior writer and investigative reporter for the Huffington Post. It was posted to AlterNet.org on July 10, 2013.

riseo-of-the-warrior-cop-radley-balko-copblock

Betty Taylor still remembers the night it all hit her.

As a child, Taylor had always been taught that police officers were the good guys. She learned to respect law enforcement, as she puts it, “all the time, all the way.” She went on to become a cop because she wanted to help people, and that’s what cops did. She wanted to fight sexual assault, particularly predators who take advantage of children. To go into law enforcement—to become one of the good guys—seemed like the best way to accomplish that. By the late 1990s, she’d risen to the rank of detective in the sheriff’s department of Lincoln County, Missouri—a sparsely populated farming community about an hour northwest of St. Louis. She eventually started a sex crimes unit within the department. But it was a small department with a tight budget. When she couldn’t get the money she needed, Taylor was forced to give speeches and write her own proposals to keep her program operating.

What troubled her was that while the sex crimes unit had to find funding on its own, the SWAT team was always flush with cash. “The SWAT team, the drug guys, they always had money,” Taylor says. “There were always state and federal grants for drug raids. There was always funding through asset forfeiture.” Taylor never quite understood that disparity. “When you think about the collateral effects of a sex crime, of how it can affect an entire family, an entire community, it just didn’t make sense. The drug users weren’t really harming anyone but themselves. Even the dealers, I found much of the time they were just people with little money, just trying to get by.”

The SWAT team eventually co-opted her as a member. As the only woman in the department, she was asked to go along on drug raids in the event there were any children inside. “The perimeter team would go in first. They’d throw all of the adults on the floor until they had secured the building. Sometimes the kids too. Then they’d put the kids in a room by themselves, and the search team would go in. They’d come to me, point to where the kids were, and say, ‘You deal with them.’” Taylor would then stay with the children until family services arrived, at which point they’d be placed with a relative.

Taylor’s moment of clarity came during a raid on an autumn evening in November 2000. Narcotics investigators had made a controlled drug buy a few hours earlier and were laying plans to raid the suspect’s home. “The drug buy was in town, not at the home,” Taylor says. “But they’d always raid the house anyway. They could never just arrest the guy on the street. They always had to kick down doors.” With just three hours between the drug buy and the raid, the police hadn’t done much surveillance at all. The SWAT team would often avoid raiding a house if they knew there were children inside, but Taylor was troubled by how little effort they put into seeking out that sort of information. “Three hours is nowhere near enough time to investigate your suspect, to find out who might be inside the house. It just isn’t enough time for you to know the range of things that could happen.”

That afternoon the police had bought drugs from the stepfather of two children, ages eight and six. Both were in the house at the time of the raid. The stepfather wasn’t.

“They did their thing,” Taylor says. “Everybody on the floor, guns and yelling. Then they put the two kids in the bedroom, did their search, then sent me in to take care of the kids.”

Taylor made her way inside to see them. When she opened the door, the eight-year-old girl assumed a defense posture, putting her- self between Taylor and her little brother. She looked at Taylor and said, half fearful, half angry, “What are you going to do to us?”

Taylor was shattered. “Here I come in with all my SWAT gear on, dressed in armor from head to toe, and this little girl looks up at me, and her only thought is to defend her little brother. I thought, How can we be the good guys when we come into the house looking like this, screaming and pointing guns at the people they love? How can we be the good guys when a little girl looks up at me and wants to fight me?And for what? What were we accomplishing with all of this? Absolutely nothing.”

Taylor was later appointed police chief of the small town of Winfield, Missouri. Winfield was too small for its own SWAT team, even in the 2000s, but Taylor says she’d have quit before she ever created one. “Good police work has nothing to do with dressing up in black and breaking into houses in the middle of the night. And the mentality changes when they get put on the SWAT team. I remember a guy I was good friends with, it just completely changed him. The us-versus-them mentality takes over. You see that mentality in regular patrol officers too. But it’s much, much worse on the SWAT team. They’re more concerned with the drugs than they are with innocent bystanders. Because when you get into that mentality, there are no innocent people. There’s us and there’s the enemy. Children and dogs are always the easiest casualties.”

Taylor recently ran into the little girl who changed the way she thought about policing. Now in her twenties, the girl told Taylor that she and her brother had nightmares for years after the raid. They slept in the same bed until the boy was eleven. “That was a difficult day at work for me,” she says. “But for her, this was the most traumatic, defining moment of this girl’s life. Do you know what we found? We didn’t find any weapons. No big drug operation. We found three joints and a pipe.”1

***

POLICE MILITARIZATION WOULD ACCELERATE IN THE 2000S. The first half of the decade brought a new and lucrative source of funding and equipment: homeland security. In response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, the federal government opened a new spigot of funding in the name of fighting terror. Terrorism would also provide new excuses for police agencies across the country to build up their arsenals and for yet smaller towns to start up yet more SWAT teams. The second half of the decade also saw more mission creep for SWAT teams and more pronounced militarization even outside of drug policing. The 1990s trend of government officials using paramilitary tactics and heavy- handed force to make political statements or to make an example of certain classes of nonviolent offenders would continue, especially in response to political protests. The battle gear and aggressive policing would also start to move into more mundane crimes—SWAT teams have recently been used even for regulatory inspections.

But the last few years have also seen some trends that could spur some movement toward reform. Technological advances in personal electronic devices have armed a large percentage of the public with the power to hold police more accountable with video and audio recordings. The rise of social media has enabled citizens to get accounts of police abuses out and quickly disseminated. This has led to more widespread coverage of botched raids and spread awareness of how, how often, and for what purpose this sort of force is being used. Over just the six years I’ve been covering this issue, I’ve noticed that media accounts of drug raids have become less deferential to police. Reporters have become more willing to ask questions about the appropriateness of police tactics and more likely to look at how a given raid fits into broader policing trends, both locally and nationally. Internet commenters on articles about incidents in which police may have used excessive force also seem to have grown more skeptical about police actions, particularly in botched drug raids.

It’s taken nearly a half-century to get from those Supreme Court decisions in the mid-1960s to where we are today—police militarization has happened gradually, over decades. We tend not to take notice of such long-developing trends, even when they directly affect us. The first and perhaps largest barrier to halting police militarization has probably been awareness. And that at least seems to be changing. Whether it leads to any substantive change may be the theme of the current decade.

***

BY THE MID-1990S, THE BYRNE GRANT PROGRAM CONGRESS had started in 1988 had pushed police departments across the country to prioritize drug crimes over other investigations. When applying for grants, departments are rewarded with funding for statistics such as the number of overall arrests, the number of warrants served, or the number of drug seizures. Those priorities, then, are passed down to police officers themselves and are reflected in how they’re evaluated, reviewed, and promoted. Perversely, actual success in reducing crime is generally not rewarded with federal money, on the presumption that the money ought to go where it’s most needed—high-crime areas. So the grants reward police departments for making lots of easy arrests (i.e., low-level drug offenders) and lots of seizures (regardless of size), and for serving lots of warrants. When it comes to tapping into federal funds, whether any of that actually reduces crime or makes the community safer is irrelevant—and in fact, successfully fighting crime could hurt a department’s ability to rake in federal money.

But the most harmful product of the Byrne grant program may be its creation of hundreds of regional and multijurisdictional narcotics task forces. That term—“narcotics task force”—pops up frequently in the case studies and horror stories throughout this book. There’s a reason for that. While the Reagan and Bush administrations had set up a number of drug task forces in border zones, the Byrne grant program established similar task forces all across the country. They seemed particularly likely to pop up in rural areas that didn’t yet have a paramilitary police team (what few were left).

The task forces are staffed with local cops drawn from the police agencies in the jurisdictions where the task force operates. Some squads loosely report to a state law enforcement agency, but oversight tends to be minimal to nonexistent. Because their funding comes from the federal government—and whatever asset forfeiture proceeds they reap from their investigations—local officials can’t even control them by cutting their budget. This organizational structure makes some task forces virtually unaccountable, and certainly not accountable to any public official in the region they cover.

As a result, we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get more money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line. In 2009 the Justice Department attempted a cost-benefit analysis of these task forces but couldn’t even get to the point of crunching the numbers. The task forces weren’t producing any numbers to crunch. “Not only were data insufficient to estimate what task forces accomplished,” the report read, “data were inadequate to even tell what the task forces did for routine work.”

Not surprisingly, the proliferation of heavily armed task forces that have little accountability and are rewarded for making lots of busts has resulted in some abuse.

The most notorious scandal involving these task forces came in the form of a massive drug sting in the town of Tulia, Texas. On July 23, 1999, the task force donned black ski-mask caps and full SWAT gear to conduct a series of coordinated predawn raids across

Tulia. By 4:00 AM, forty black people—10 percent of Tulia’s black population—and six whites were in handcuffs. The Tulia Sentinel declared, “We do not like these scumbags doing business in our town. [They are] a cancer in our community, it’s time to give them a major dose of chemotherapy behind bars.” The paper followed up with the headline “Tulia’s Streets Cleared of Garbage.”

The raids were based on the investigative work of Tom Coleman, a sort of freelance cop who, it would later be revealed, had simply invented drug transactions that had never occurred.

The first trials resulted in convictions—based entirely on the credibility of Tom Coleman. The defendants received long sentences. For those who were arrested but still awaiting trial, plea bargains that let them avoid prison time began to look attractive, even if they were innocent. Coleman was even named Texas lawman or the year.

But there were some curious details about the raids. For such a large drug bust, the task force hadn’t recovered any actual drugs. Or any weapons, for that matter. And it wasn’t for a lack of looking. The task force cops had all but destroyed the interiors of the homes they raided. Then some cases started falling apart. One woman Coleman claimed sold him drugs could prove she was in Oklahoma City at the time. Coleman had described another woman as six months pregnant—she wasn’t. Another suspect could prove he was at work during the alleged drug sale. By 2004, nearly all of the forty-six suspects were either cleared or pardoned by Texas governor Rick Perry. The jurisdictions the task force served eventually settled a lawsuit with the defendants for $6 million. In 2005, Coleman was convicted of perjury. He received ten years’ probation and was fined $7,500.3

The following year, it all happened again. In November 2000, SWAT teams from the Byrne-funded South Central Texas Narcotics Task Force rolled into Hearne, a town of about five thousand people in Robertson County, to wage another series of coordinated raids. The raids netted twenty-eight arrests—twenty-seven of the suspects were black. One of them was Regina Kelly, a single mother. Kelly wasn’t home when her house was raided, she was waiting tables at a local diner.

The police marched her off the job in handcuffs and tossed her in a jail cell. She first thought she had been arrested for unpaid parking tickets. Kelly’s court-appointed attorney encouraged her to take a plea bargain. Plead guilty, and she’d get eighteen years’ probation. She’d get no prison time and wouldn’t lose her kids. She refused. “I wasn’t going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do,” she told me in a 2007 interview. The attorney went back to DA John Paschall, who then offered five years’ probation. Kelly again refused, and told her attorney to ask for the evidence they had used to indict her. Her attorney brought back a tape recording the DA’s office claimed was evidence of her drug sales. The tape recording was a conversation between two men. There were no female voices, and Kelly’s name was never mentioned. Kelly’s bail was then reduced from $70,000 to $10,000. Her parents were able to post bond, and she never had to go to court again. She was eventually cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

In part because of Kelly’s courageous refusal to accept a plea bargain for a crime she didn’t commit, we now know that all twenty- eight indictments were based on the word of a single confidential informant. Paschall’s office was forced to admit that the informant had both tampered with evidence and failed a polygraph test. At the civil trial for the lawsuit brought by Kelly and other defendants, the informant testified that Paschall had given him a list of twenty black men. He promised leniency for the informant’s own burglary charge if he helped Paschall convict the men on the list. The informant also testified he was promised $100 for every suspect he helped convict beyond that list of twenty. The lawsuit was settled in 2005. Of the twenty-eight people charged, seventeen were later exonerated. The 2008 movie American Violet was based on Kelly’s experience after she was arrested.

But similar mass round-up raids had been going on in Hearne for fifteen years. “They come on helicopters, military-style, SWAT style,” Kelly told me. “In the apartments I was living in, in the projects, there were a lot of children outside playing. They don’t care. They throw kids on the ground, put guns to their heads. They’re kicking in doors. They just don’t care.”

In the following years, there were numerous other corruption scandals, botched raids, sloppy police work, and other allegations of misconduct against the federally funded task forces in Texas. Things got so that by the middle of the 2000s Gov. Rick Perry began diverting state matching funds away from the task forces to other programs. The cut in funding forced many task forces to shut down. The stream of lawsuits shut down or limited the operations of others. In 2001 the state had fifty-one federally funded task forces. By the spring of 2006, it was down to twenty-two.

Funding for the Byrne grant program had held steady at about $500 million through most of the Clinton administration. Just as it had done with the cops program, the Bush administration began to pare the program down—to about $170 million by 2008. This was more out of an interest in limiting federal influence on law enforcement than concern for police abuse or drug war excesses.

But the reaction from law enforcement was interesting. In March 2008, Byrne-funded task forces across the country staged a series of coordinated drug raids dubbed Operation Byrne Blitz. The intent was to make a series of large drug seizures to demonstrate how important the Byrne grants were to fighting the drug war. In Kentucky alone, for example, task forces uncovered 23 methamphetamine labs, seized more than 2,400 pounds of marijuana, and arrested 565 people for illegal drug use. Of course, if police in a single state could simply go out and find 23 meth labs and 2,400 pounds of marijuana in twenty-four hours just to make a political point about drug war funding, that was probably a good indication that twenty years of Byrne grants and four decades of drug warring hadn’t really accomplished much.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama criticized Bush and the Republicans for cutting Byrne, a federal police program beloved by his running mate Joe Biden. Despite Tulia, Hearne, a growing pile of bodies from botched drug raids, and the objections of groups as diverse as the ACLU, the Heritage Foundation, La Raza, and the Cato Institute, Obama promised to restore full funding to the program, which, he said, “has been critical to creating the anti-gang and anti-drug task forces our communities need.” He kept his promise. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act resuscitated the Byrne grants with a whopping $2 billion infusion, by far the largest budget in the program’s twenty-year history.

***

EARLY IN THE MORNING OF SEPTEMBER 13, 2000, AGENTS from the DEA, the FBI, and a Stanislaus County, California, narcotics task force conducted raids on fourteen homes in and around Modesto—the culmination of a nineteen-month investigation. One of the homes was that of Moises Sepulveda and his family. According to the Los Angeles Times, the DEA and FBI asked that the local SWAT teams enter each home unannounced in order to secure the area ahead of the federal agents, who would then come to serve the warrants and search for evidence. Federal agents warned the SWAT teams that the targets of the warrants should be considered armed and dangerous. When local police asked if there were any children in the Sepulveda home, the feds answered, “Not aware of any.”

There were. Moises Sepulveda had three children—a daughter and two sons. After the police forcibly entered the Sepulveda home, Moises, his wife, and his children were ordered to lie face-down on the floor with their arms outstretched. They were then told to remain still as officers pointed guns at their heads. Eleven-year-old Alberto was doing just that—lying still under the gun of Officer David Hawn. But shortly after the raid began, Hawn’s gun went off. The boy died instantly.

There were no drugs or guns in the Sepulveda home. A subsequent internal investigation by the Modesto Police Department found that the DEA’s evidence against Moises Sepulveda—who had no previous criminal record—was “minimal.” The city of Modesto and the federal government settled a lawsuit brought by the Sepulvedas for the death of their son for $3 million.

In response to the incident, California attorney general Bill Lockyer assembled a blue ribbon commission to review the procedures, guidelines, and performance of the state’s hundreds of SWAT teams.

The Modesto Bee reported in 2001 that the commission would look at the way SWAT teams were deployed, the use of intimidating clothing and equipment, and, in the words of one commissioner, the “overbearing-type attitudes” of SWAT teams.

Unsurprisingly, the commission found that while SWAT teams were generally justified, defended, and regarded as responders to emergency situations like hostage crises and terror attacks, they were most commonly being used to serve drug warrants. Nevertheless, the panel’s final recommendations did little to address the number of SWAT teams, how they were being used, or police militarism in general. The panel’s chief complaint was that SWAT teams were undertrained and underfunded, suggesting that local, state, and federal government should be throwing more funding and resources at SWAT teams, not less. The other recommendations consisted largely of standardizing procedures, definitions, and guidelines and communicating better with the public. The commission didn’t address any of the more urgent problems that had plagued the state’s SWAT teams over the previous twenty years, such as SWAT teams launching raids based on uncorroborated tips from informants, asset forfeiture incentivizing the use of aggressive policing, or prosecutors and judges neglecting their duty to scrutinize the warrants authorizing these violent raids.

In the end, even if every SWAT team in the state had implemented the panel’s recommendations (and they were by no means obligated to), it’s unlikely that much would have changed. In fact, if the suggestions had been implemented in the 1990s, it seems unlikely that they would have prevented the death of Alberto Sepulveda, the reason for Lockyer’s panel in the first place.

Back in the early 1970s, nationwide outrage over a series of wrong-door drug raids had inspired furious politicians to hastily call congressional hearings; as a consequence, the law that had authorized those raids was repealed. Now, in 2000, an eleven-year-old boy had just been obliterated at close range with a shotgun as his parents and siblings lay on the ground beside him. And even that wasn’t enough to stop his own town from discontinuing the aggressive tactics that caused his death. The mistakes, the terrorizing of innocents, and the unnecessary fatalities would continue.

_____________________________

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko is one of the many solid pieces of content included at CopBlock.org.Library

“Rise of the Warrior Cop” by Radley Balko – exceprt is a post from Cop Block - Badges Don't Grant Extra Rights

Scenes from Militarized America

Friday, November 16th, 2012

From a drug raid in Wilson, North Carolina.

 

 

 

Morning Links

Thursday, November 15th, 2012
  • I'm overcompensating.Your drug war at work: St. Paul, Minnesota cops stomp a man’s head, then fire a flash grenade at his disabled mother curing a cocaine raid. She suffered third-degree burns. They found three grams of pot and a legal handgun. Taxpayers, not the cops, will pay the two a $400,000 settlement.
  • Man attempts to become the walking embodiment of New York Times trend stories.
  • LDS elders get swept up in a SWAT raid while at the home of two drug suspects they were counseling.
  • Last night, Reason’s Nick Gillespie debate former DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson on drug legalization. You can watch here.
  • The federal courts continue to shield even egregious prosecutorial misconduct from any real accountability. Smart lawyerly people: I haven’t read the 11th Circuit opinion yet, but given that absolute immunity is judge-made law, wouldn’t the Hyde Amendment, which is statutory law, take priority in this case?
  • Headline of the day.
  • Striking photos from the Munich subway system.
  • Naomi Klein: People who oppose corporate welfare are just shilling for corporations. Or something like that.
  • The photo is from a series of raids on backyard marijuana gardens in Santa Rosa, California. Best line from the article: “O’Leary, the sheriff’s lieutenant, said the show of force by authorities and their tactics were deliberate, selected in part because there is a heavy gang presence and lots of children in the neighborhood.” Ah, so there are children nearby. Well then let’s make the raids as volatile as possible!