SWAT Swat

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In today's New York Times, op-ed columnist John Tierney plugs Reason contributor Radley Balko's upcoming Cato paper on the increasing use of highly aggressive, paramilitary tactics by U.S. police departments:

It's hard to know how many botched and unnecessary raids there have been, because police don't systematically track their errors, and the victims often have little recourse. But in a forthcoming report for the Cato Institute, Radley Balko concludes that mistakes have been made in more than 200 raids over the past decade.

He finds that overzealous raiders caused the deaths of a dozen nonviolent offenders, like recreational marijuana smokers and gamblers. In a Virginia suburb of Washington earlier this year, an optometrist being investigated for betting on sports was standing unarmed outside his town house, offering no resistance, when a SWAT officer's rifle discharged and killed him.

Balko also finds that two dozen people died in raids who were not guilty of any crime, like a Mexican immigrant killed by Denver police raiding the wrong home. Some died because they understandably assumed the masked invaders were criminals and picked up weapons to defend themselves. Some were innocent bystanders, like an 11-year-old boy shot in Modesto, Calif., and a 57-year-old woman in Harlem who had a heart attack when police set off a flash grenade during a raid based on a faulty tip.

Balko's research is the basis of a forthcoming Reason article–which, unlike Tierney's column, will be available online even to nonsubscribers (after a suitable lag to give our paying customers some value for their money, so if you want to read it as soon as possible you really should subscribe).

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  1. Prepare, folks. The revolution cometh.

  2. Revolution? What revolution? The American people overwhelmingly favor getting tough on crime. While some of these unfortunate examples are tragic to be sure, cutting short the due process on dope smokers, illegal aliens, and other social parasites, is eagerly exchanged for the piece of mind that comes from SECURITY.

  3. I just saw in a magazine titled “SWAT” an article that I really liked. It was about the how cops, specially in rural areas are neglecting real crimes like burglary and murder to enforce non-crimes like seatbelt laws and drug stuff, because that way they get federal dollars for new police cars and cool toys.

    Really good article I wasn’t expecting in a magazine that I was expecting to be all about snow jobs to cops.

  4. I wonder where our breaking point really is. I don’t think it’s nonexistent, but, let’s face it, our relative wealth has definitely made us a little less willing to go to the mat over government encroachments. I think there’s two nexus (nexuses for you ingrates)–one where people get motivated enough to do something radical within the system, and one where, well, people get all Jeffersonian. I hope we don’t ever get to the latter stage, but if we let things go too far, that may be the only option someday.

  5. Power to the guys with the guns and ski masks.Nothing like our own gastapo. The american citizen should only worry about the liberty loving people. Since LIBERTY has long left the USA.

  6. Kwais, SWAT is owned and published by one Rich Lucibella, owner of a forum called The Firing Line

    While I’m not sure if he openly self-labels as a libertarian, he has been quite pro-freedom, and that was part of the reason he bought SWAT in the first place.

    I haven’t subscribed in a couple of years, but last time I thumbed through, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a column by none other than Claire Wolfe.

  7. Thanks for the link MG,

    Pro-liberty, My breaking point comes pretty soon when it comes to firearms prohibition, and regulation.

    And if they were to pass the income tax today, that would be my breaking point.

  8. The revolution doth not cometh.

    But a lot of cities have seen their federal and state community policing money vanish, to be replaced by expensive anti-terror equipment that never gets used.

    The hook here is the relationship between people and the police in the community they live in. That’s what Middle America can relate to. Not whether we should have police or whether they should enforce laws libertarians don’t like or the like. And certainly not by highlighting the recreational drug habits of the victims.

  9. “I think there’s two nexus (nexuses for you ingrates)”

    Or “nexi” even.

  10. Joe, I’m not sure I understand how federally mandated anti-terror equipment is to blame for loss of freedom.

    After all, the man behind the butt of that weapon must first possess the mindset that he can do as he pleases before abuse occurrs.

  11. If any folks here are interested in the increasingly widespread use of SWAT Teams by police departments, you should read Christian Parenti’s “Lockdown America,” particularly Part II of the book, where he does a lot of reporting on the rise of aggressive police tactics in the US.

    And rest assured, those of you who are bristling at the thought of reading Parenti and his marxist analysis of crime and crime control…Part II of the book doesn’t deal all that much with economics…it’s pretty much just straight reporting.

  12. The hook here is the relationship between people and the police in the community they live in.

    Yes, and so far as the police are concerned, there are two types of Americans: “cops” and “the enemy.”

    When you’ve got an abusive relationship, it’s the abuser who needs to change his behavior, not the abused.

  13. More realistically, there are two kinds of people:

    law enforcement officers and civilians.

    Not citizens.

    Civilians.

    To me that speaks volumes about mindset.

  14. joe –

    The trouble is, most people are quite happy with their relationship with the ninja-clad warriors.

    Unless they have an APC parked on their own lawn, they’re content to see SWAT thumping on “bad” people.

  15. Ahem..

    L. nexus is a fourth declension noun. It is spelled, but not pronounced*, the same when it is singular as it is when it is plural.

    “Nexes” might be the better plural, but “nexuses’ is OK. “Nexi” is just bad Latin.

    *(nex-us/nex-oos)

    /pedant mode.

    Kevin

  16. Pace kevrob, “nexi” is incorrect Latin, I admit, but on the other hand it sounds more elegant than “nexuses” and also immediately communicates that you are speaking of more than one “nexus”.

  17. SR,

    Except that “nexi” is more wrong than “nexuses”, which is at least acceptable English. “Nexi” is bad Latin. As Kevin stated, the plural in Latin is nex-oos.

    S.P.Q.R.

  18. No-one is innocent. You whiners are all perps who just haven’t been apprehended yet. We’ve got our eye on you.

    And as for our roving toll collection- I mean seat belt safety enforcement zones; we do it for the little tiny children.

  19. This is why people have governments, because in anarchy the gang with the most guns takes over.

    Er…wait…

    – Josh

  20. * After all, the man behind the butt of that weapon must first possess the mindset that he can do as he pleases before abuse occurrs.

    * When you’ve got an abusive relationship, it’s the abuser who needs to change his behavior, not the abused.

    If the cops at GlockTalk’s “Cop Talk” forum are representative of law enforcement officers in general, we’re in big trouble.

  21. mediageek, it’s the ideology that says that your local police should be more like a military force, and less like the neighborhood beat cop, that is to blame for the loss of freedom. Killing the COPS program and funding SWAT teams and anti-terror initiatives is an outcome of that ideology.

    “Unless they have an APC parked on their own lawn, they’re content to see SWAT thumping on “bad” people.” I think it takes less than that. Rude cops who look at you as a potential target first aren’t popular anywhere.

    Jennifer, ‘Yes, and so far as the police are concerned, there are two types of Americans: “cops” and “the enemy.”‘ No, there are many, many police officers and departments who most emphatically do not feel that way. But there is a vicious cycle wherein the police who do feel that way soon find that everyone except their fellow police are their enemy.

  22. Huh. I just read something in the Cato Daily Dispatch (citing a New York Times piece), which makes me lightheaded:

    “Of all the excuses for weakening the Fourth Amendment, the weirdest was the one offered by Justice Antonin Scalia last week in a Michigan drug case,” writes John Tierney in The New York Times. “He wrote the majority opinion allowing police officers to use evidence found in a home even if they entered without following the venerable rule to knock first and announce themselves. To reassure traditionalists, Scalia declared that unreasonable searches are less of a problem today because of ‘the increasing professionalism of police forces.’ ”

    Uh, huh. I’ll grant that the police have grown increasingly “professional” over the last hundred years. What else has increased along with that professionalism? Anyone? No, not accountability. No, not restrictions on their power. Really. Did anyone read the assignment?

  23. “If the cops at GlockTalk’s “Cop Talk” forum are representative of law enforcement officers in general, we’re in big trouble.”

    Indeed. The forum I frequent is much tamer, but there is still a distinctly distasteful trend of law enforcement people circling the wagons and claiming that they are beyond criticism.

    “Killing the COPS program and funding SWAT teams and anti-terror initiatives is an outcome of that ideology.”

    Joe, how does one federal program giving equipment and gear to cops protect my civil liberties, while the other results in door-kicking neanderthals?

    That just doesn’t compute.

  24. when a SWAT officer’s rifle discharged and killed him.

    I love the way the Times writers use passive voice so as to blame the gun instead of, say, the SWAT officer who couldn’t keep his booger hook off the bang switch. Makes it sound less like “manslaughter” that way.

    Oh, wait, I forgot: Fairfax Commonwealth?s Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. says that when a person fires a gun without malice and unintentionally kills someone, ?they do not commit a crime.?

  25. mediageek,

    “Joe, how does one federal program giving equipment and gear to cops protect my civil liberties, while the other results in door-kicking neanderthals?”

    First of all, the COPS program didn’t give equipment (and gear!) to cops.

    Second, I didn’t say that either program protected your civil liberties, just that one endangers them.

    Third, I didn’t say (and actively denied) that the programs are the cause the neanderthals the effect. I wrote that the neanderthal attitude is the cause, and the programs and door-kicking, the effect.

    Here, try again:

    “mediageek, it’s the ideology that says that your local police should be more like a military force, and less like the neighborhood beat cop, that is to blame for the loss of freedom. Killing the COPS program and funding SWAT teams and anti-terror initiatives is an outcome of that ideology.”

  26. I honestly don’t know much about the COPS program.

    However, your statement does ring true.

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