Militarization of Police

LAPD Has a "Wrong Door" Team to Fix Botched SWAT Raids

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On the one hand, I guess it's a plus that they at least repair the damage they do to innocent people's homes. That's more than can be said for many police departments across the country.

On the other hand, it's unfortunate that mistaken raids happen often enough that they'd need one.  The fact that there's a permanent unit in place to deal with wrong-door raids (and the reporter's seeming nonchalance about it all) suggests that we've reached to the point where innocent people occasionally getting terrorized—and should they have the temerity to reach for a gun to defend themselves—possibly killed, is basically an understood and accepted consequence of fighting the drug war. That's pretty unsettling.

Note also that the article says there were at least eight wrong-door raids in L.A. last year. I don't remember reading about any of them—and I get Google News alerts, Lexis notifications, and reader emails just about any time a botched raid makes the news. More evidence that these raids are hitting the wrong house far more often than is reported in newspapers.

Incidentally, something similar happened in New York City in the late 1990s. Civil rights groups were becoming increasingly concerned about the number of botched raids showing up in the city's newspapers. NYPD insisted that "wrong door" raids almost never happened—until an internal memo was leaked that instructed officers how to quietly notify repair men and locksmiths to fix busted doors. The wrong-door death of Alberta Spruill in 2003 sparked promises of reform, but within a few years it was back to business as usual.

Thanks to Mike Lombino for the link. 

NEXT: Game Over, Man

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  1. This reminds of the moment in Broken Arrow where the guy says “I don’t know what’s more disturbing, that we’ve lost nuclear weapons or that it happens so often there’s a name for it.”

  2. Thanks Radley. When they record heroes of the 21st century, you’re up for your work on this.

  3. My neighbor was a victim of one of these “botched raids.” They not only blew open his door, they blew open his garage door as well. And they stripped the place bare.

    I think he had to pay for everything himself even though he was entirely exonerated. He even installed a metal gate in front of his door.

    It’s sad that we have to be more afraid of the police than criminals.

  4. “It’s really good in terms of the city image,” said Laura Filitoff, commanding officer of the fiscal operations division, which oversees the supply section in which Jenkins works.

    “Our cops go in, and they get the wrong door. We fix the problem. It builds good will in the community.”

    Nothing like breaking peoples stuff and fixing it to promote your image. It works so much better than just not breaking it in the first place. Methinks that Laura Filitoff is not the brightest bulb in the string.

  5. There’s a joke about broken windows and Keynes in there somewhere…

  6. If you libertarian assholes ever have your way and privatize everything including the police, I shudder to think of the sorts of raids we’ll be facing. Watch a few episodes of the Sopranos, and you’ll get an idea, fucksticks. The next time Balko needs a cop, I hope his phone doesn’t work.

  7. If you libertarian assholes ever have your way and privatize everything including the police, I shudder to think of the sorts of raids we’ll be facing.

    You’re right. Just look at how private security guards raid the homes in their gated patrol communities all the time.

  8. Kap —

    That’s all well and good in gated communities. Unfortunately, those situations would not reflect the reality of most of America.

    In mixed income neighborhoods, only *some* of the people will be writing the fuzz their checks. I imagine there might be some…um, discrepancies regarding treatment.

  9. “The next time Balko needs a cop, I hope his phone doesn’t work.”

    In which case he might need to haul the body to the dump himself…

  10. As the first city to have a SWAT team, and with the likes of Daryl Gates and his armored battering ram way back twenty years ago, my guess is that L.A. is well ahead of the curve on overdone police raids. Just give it another twenty years, and the rest of the country will have police forces as professional and esteemed as L.A.’s.

  11. Isn’t it arguable that they should have to fix it even if it is the RIGHT door?

  12. Nothing like breaking peoples stuff and fixing it to promote your image. It works so much better than just not breaking it in the first place.

    Now you’re catching on, J sub. They aren’t raiding those homes. They’re liberating them.

    Srsly, I feel sorry for the carptenter. I’ll bet he catches every bit of the flack the SWAT team earns when they raid the wrong house.

  13. Another absurd revelation from the archives of the “drug war.” Its hard not to drown in your own cynicism these days. Good work Mr. Balko! To the person referring to himself/herself as “The Policemen’s Ball,” I humbly suggest that you read Radley’s study “Overkill” and do some research on the issue of drug war tactics and police militarization. If you take this step, I think you will realize that Balko isn’t just trying to slam the cops, he is trying to be a patriot in the truest sense of the word. I would also recommend that you check out the website of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition to see what contrarians (and, in my view, true heroes)within the law enforcement community are saying about the ruinous effects of the drug war on American policing. Sometimes you need to hear unpleasant truths from your own. Trust me, I know all about it brother.

  14. And they stripped the place bare.

    Jeez, they put so much energy into it. Normally, you’d have to pay someone a lot of money or buy them a lot of pizza to move everything out of your house.

  15. I remember being a kid in the late 70’s and my dad being, I guess you could call, mildly racist towards blacks. He himself escaped the poverty of being the son of an alcoholic mariachi by joining the army so his attitude didn’t come from a position of white privilege.

    On a trip to visit family in New Orleans, one of his brothers, a cop in the N.O.P.D. brought him to see the station he worked. After seeing the treatment of blacks, things we would consider torture and humilation, things that shocked my dad, a man who saw plenty of combat, he never had a racist thing to say after that day.

    What surprised him the most is that his very own brother would be so accustomed to cop attitudes the he assumed dad would approve and get a kick out of seeing it.

  16. So…when do we get a March Madness post. Though I find the term March Madness offensive to those with mental illnesses. We should relabel it March Slightly Excited.

  17. Since I expect my Alma mater to take the championship with nothing standing in their way, it may prove to more than just slightly exciting.

  18. Alan-

    Unless your Alma mater is KU I doubt it. 🙂

    Rock Chalk Jayhawk

  19. Dave Hummels

    So drop the war on drugs, but don’t hype the “brutal cop” bullshit. SWAT teams are made up of dedicated people who put their lives on the line every fucking day. They don’t make the laws; they enforce them. So fuck you.

  20. Policemen’s ball

    You know who put their lives on the line everyday? Roofers, so fuck you and your sense of entitlement.

    Sorry kcjerith, UNC is the better team and will prove it soon enough.

  21. I’ve long argued that hypocrisy is a good thing because it means people still feel the need to at least acknowledge what is right when they do wrong. Beware of when people feel no such needs.

    In the same way, this is not nearly as scary as the day when they don’t even bother to clean up after themselves. I’d say to beware of the day when cops start planting evidence to justify their break-ins but that day has passed.

  22. You know, it seems to me that it doesn’t actually say in the law code “warrants on non-violent drug offenders must be served by paramilitary assault teams knocking down doors at 3 AM”; that’s a choice made by the police departments involved.

    And yeah – the people who really take their lives into their hands every day when they leave for work, even when they don’t use operating procedures that increase the danger to everyone? Cab drivers. (Also fishermen, timber cutters, pilots, structural metal workers, construction workers, roofers – that’s for you alan, truck drivers and farmers; but at least those are mostly accidental deaths. Not so for cabbies.)

  23. “Policemen’s Ball”:

    Go fuck yourself. Sopranos my ass – the cops are the fucking Sopranos.

    I hope that your family never winds up “accidentally” killed by thug cops busting down the wrong door. It is the right of any armed law abiding citizen whose door is “accidentally” busted in to open fire on murderers who enter their houses. If the murderers are wearing shields, well I guess that’s just a bit more body armor for them.

    It’s time that the cops quit being treated as first class citizens and people start recognizing them as murderers when they kill unarmed people, “in the line of duty” or not. In fact, the punishment for a cop that kills should be worse than a civilian who commits a similar crime (as should really always be the case for crimes committed by government agents), and the punishment for killing a cop should be reduced to no greater than the same level as that for killing anyone else.

    We need to somehow put some incentives in the code of laws to encourage better behavior from these morons and killers, or encourage the stupid and bloodthirsty types who want a license to kill to not go into this line of work. Mr. Balko’s doing a good service by keeping the heat on the cops, but more needs to be done, from other quarters than just the press.

    I know I shouldn’t feed the trolls, but this fuck is really a worthless sack of shit.

  24. In these days of shrinking tax revenues and tight municipal budgets, the best solution would be for the LAPD to be fined several hundred thousand dollars each time they do a wrong door. That would clean it up fast.

  25. peachy, thanks, but I’m not a roofer 🙂

    I did work with a crew to rebuild the roof of a church one summer in my teens so I know how dangerous it is as a profession.

    BTW, I’m a graphic artist, and a former tattoo artist, former print shop troll, former warehouse manager, former education bureaucrat (hiss, hiss, boo, I was once the enemy), former paralegal. With the current economy, I may go back to roofing.

  26. Douglas Gray:
    That plus particularly harsh sentences on any cops involved in a civilian death would be good for a start. Maybe first-degree should automatically kick in as an option when a cop does the killing. “Enforcing the law” is no excuse for murder.

  27. SWAT teams are made up of dedicated people who put their lives on the line every fucking day.

    Yeah, because we all know that rousting pot heads in a house basement at 4am, or executing a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary is an activity just utterly fraught with peril.

    They don’t make the laws; they enforce them. So fuck you.

    So were the NKVD.

  28. Sorry kcjerith, UNC is the better team and will prove it soon enough.

    Fuck that. The title belongs to Mason.

  29. This morning, I snorted a bowl of basketballs, and then I ate one with maple syrup on it. A few hours ago, I pooped up basketballs. Why would I do all of that? Because I’m from North Carolina, and we breathe, eat and shit college basketball.

  30. Fuck that. The title belongs to Mason.

    Lol. I had to double check. George Mason, rank 89?

  31. So were the NKVD.

    A *little* extreme of a comparison. Just a little. I mean, there’s the Soviet Secret Police, and then there’s the LAPD. You’d have to be…I dunno, Obama’s church preacher to confuse the two.

  32. Just saw an old “Monk” episode where a wrong door raid (hurried by the sound of a flushing toilet) was used to routine comedic effect. Later, when the character who did the raid is worried about it, the Captain tells him not to, “They always settle.”

    Yawn.

  33. “They don’t make the laws; they enforce them. So fuck you.”

    Isn’t this about how sloppily these laws are being enforced, and about the collateral damage caused by carelessness? That they shouldn’t be law in the first place is just subtext.

  34. To Policemen’s Ball:
    You cannot necessarily separate police brutality and the drug war. Actually the drug war promotes brutality, corruption and “stretching the rules.” It also happens to distract officers from what they should be focusing on (think index crimes, major disturbances, DUI, etc.) Look, I was a criminal justice major, I have been a police intern and I work in a public safety occupation (I need to remain vague). I know what its like on the street, I know what its like to be verbally abused, bitten, spit on, kicked, etc. I see death, grief,the aftermath of violence and substance abuse on a daily basis. I know many cops and I was even raised by one. My intent is certainly not to enable knee-jerk, anti-cop morons. In most cases, these individuals marginalize themselves. My intent is to radically reform a field that I care deeply about. It is past time for this reform and we have to take drastic steps now! I think this is what Balko is trying to do by focusing on criminal justice issues and what most of the commenters hope for. By engaging in name calling, you also marginalize yourself.

  35. Someone Who Doesn’t Want to Lose His Job

    “I hope that your family never winds up “accidentally” killed by thug cops busting down the wrong door”

    You stupid fucking moron. How many families do you think that happens to? One in one hundred fucking million. Kiss my ass.

  36. Dave,

    You were raised by a cop? I’ll bet he ashamed of you, you fucking traitor.

  37. Go fuck yourself, shithead.

  38. The fucking assholes who do it should still be put away for good.

  39. I know, I know, don’t feed the troll. This is the most vitriol I’ve ever pumped out on here. I mean this guy is dumber and more obviously useless as a human being than even Dondero.

  40. Policeman’s Balls-

    Cops don’t even make the top ten of most dangerous jobs. Can the hero bullshit. The guy who trucks my produce takes a bigger risk on the job than SWAT. Look, it’s easy – don’t raid the wrong house. Think of it as self preservation. You bust in my house in the middle of the night and I’m going to come up shooting. Simple?

  41. You know who really put their life on the line?
    Siegfried and Roy!

    Wait, that should be “in the lion.”

  42. FYI, “Policeman’s Ball” more commonly posts here as “Edward.”

  43. Just wait Alan. Just wait. 🙂

  44. FYI, “Policeman’s Ball” more commonly posts here as “Edward.”

    Figures.

  45. *High fives Radley*

    Harro Adwiieeeerrrdddoooo!

    We missed you, Addie. Can I call you that?

    And your Ron Paul training bra was returned due to nonpayment.

  46. Radley, did you check his IP address or are you using your Jedi mind powers?

    “You will take me to Jabba now.”

  47. Guys, isn’t everyone here web-savvy enough to recognize when someone is trolling? Then why the fuck reply to blatant flamebait? That’s just indulging in “pwning” someone who is almost always putting up a bullshit argument anyway. It’s exactly the same as winning an argument with the ‘liberal in your head’ (thanks, joe).

    Everybody seems to love that feeling of outrage followed by the “I’m gonna set this fucker straight” moment. But nobody is getting set straight. Not the liberal in your head. Not the troll. It’s a total and complete waste of time.

  48. Watch out, Radley. Now you get the horns.

  49. You’re right. Just look at how private security guards raid the homes in their gated patrol communities all the time.

    I have been brutalized by a private security guard unfairly. While I have had a couple less than ideal experiences with the government police they do not approach what the private security guard did to me.

  50. I’m waiting for him to threaten to sue Radley for looking up his IP.

    tijjer,

    Hit & Run rarely bans people (and never for being trolls) so us mocking and deriding and creatively insulting people is actually how we enforce civility. Yes, too many people take troll-bait. No, we aren’t going to stop hurling abuse at them. It’s our pressure relief valve.

    Additionally, I’d like more IP look-ups by Reason staff. Trolls are one thing, rampant sock-puppetry is another…

  51. What have I learned so today?
    1. Edward doesn’t have the common courtesy to even provide his own handle.
    2. He can’t do basic math (100 million families).
    3. Inside od Edward’s head is a pool of sebaceous sweat in lieu of a brain.

    Happy St Patrick’s Day to all.

  52. tijer,

    I know. I know. I told myself as I was writing “don’t even bother replying to this idiot, he isn’t worth it,” but I had too much coffee yesterday, I guess. Anyway, I swear I’ll be back to my more agreeable self after tomorrow.

  53. Jesus, how about a “Wrong Door” team to keep botched SWAT raids from happening? What would they do?

    1. Find out what causes botched SWAT raids.
    2. Train the current detectives and SWAT guys not to do stuff that causes botched SWAT raids.
    3. Spend a year going on SWAT raids to make sure they’re not botched.
    4. After a year, punish anyone involved in a botched SWAT raid. (Like making them pay for ruined doors, household effects, computers, etc. Maybe have them do the repairs themselves.)
    5. Incorporate lessons learned into the Academy curriculum.

    Obviously LAPD has a process for setting up and carrying out these raids and obviously it’s not good enough. At the very least, professional pride should motivate these people to improve the way they’re doing things. I’m not a cop and so maybe I’m out of line, but I have to ask why this would be so difficult.

  54. Bugs, trying to address wrong door raids that way is like giving somebody with radiation poisoning a membership in Hair Club for Men – you’re just treating a symptom of a much more serious disease.

  55. I have been brutalized by a private security guard unfairly.

    “Brutalized” is a strong word, Dave. What happened?

  56. I haven’t posted here as Edeward for ages. And what difference does it make what name I use?

  57. Deep, underlying institutional issues? I guess I see your point.

    Well, at least my solution looks more professional than having a full-time “Oops We Fucked Up How Can We Make This Go Away?” team on the payroll.

  58. SWAT needs to beef up its surveillance activities – which would greatly reduce or eliminate the botched raids as well as reduce the danger of true raids. Intel people should equal or exceed the shooters.

  59. “Brutalized” is a strong word, Dave. What happened?

    Short vers:

    I was drinking in a nice basement pub in the basement of a new high rise condo building. The building and pub were new (condo’s not yet occupied) and the pub’s bathroom doors were either unmarked or not marked well. I wandered through an unlocked door thinking it was the bathroom. I found myself at the bottom of a dark staircase.

    A security guard at the top of the stairs told me to stay there, and that he wanted to talk to me. Being a bit tipsy, I assumed he was there because he was having a problem all evening with people walking through the wrong door as I had. So I waited at the bottom of the stairs as the beefy security guard non-chalantly came down the stairs.

    When reached the bottom of the staircase, he abruptly, and without warning, grabbed me an threw me down on the bottom of the staircase. One of my cheeks hit the staircase and that left a small bruise. Dudeski then jumped on my back and cuffed me quite tightly.

    Then he took me up the stairs, sat me in a chair and called the police to take me away. We had to wait quite a while for the police. Over an hour I think. About halfway thru the wait I got permission to show the security guard my hands because they were cuffed awfully tightly. Although reluctant to take a look, the security guard quickly loosened the cuffs when he saw my hands. I don’t know what they looked like because they were behind my back.

    When they finally arrived, the police were nice to me, but still took me to jail and held me in a cell until morning. I don’t think they really had a choice, but they did give me my own cell which helped keep me safe at the jail, I think. They did not ask me what happened, but seemed to understand that I had not really done anything wrong. At least that was the impression I got. That private security guard, however, was way out of line.

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  61. All,

    Please note that the statistics on injury and mortality among city government workers indicate that firefighters are overwhelmingly more likely to be injured or killed on the job.

    Of even more interest, as a group, neither firefighters nor police are even in the top ten of “most dangerous jobs”. This per Federal statistics:

    The 10 most dangerous jobs.
    Occupation Fatalities per 100,000
    Timber cutters 117.8
    Fishers 71.1
    Pilots and navigators 69.8
    Structural metal workers 58.2
    Drivers-sales workers 37.9
    Roofers 37
    Electrical power installers 32.5
    Farm occupations 28
    Construction laborers 27.7
    Truck drivers 25

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; survey of occupations with minimum 30 fatalities and 45,000 workers in 2002

    Best,
    wjr

  62. If construction workers accidently put the wrecking ball through occupied houses regular enough to establish a dedicated clean-up crew, we’d hear about it I think.

  63. Why no assault charge against the rent-a-cop, Dave?

  64. Timber cutters 117.8

    Yeah, but those tree-killing globe-warmening Gaia-raping bastards had it coming.

  65. That plus particularly harsh sentences on any cops involved in a civilian death would be good for a start. Maybe first-degree should automatically kick in as an option when a cop does the killing.

    It’s not enough.

    The judge that signed the warrant, the chain of command, the legislature that passed the bill allowing no-knocks…

    And ultimately, of course, the creation of 10,000% profit margins that drive all this, by making drugs illegal.

  66. Why no assault charge against the rent-a-cop, Dave?

    First and foremost, I think people should usually, by individual choice and not necessarily legal mandate, just suck it up when there is no economic injury. Including me in that case. So that is the primary reason I decided to suck it up.

    Second, between there being no independent witnesses and the fact that I had been drinking, I don’t think anyone would have believed my story. But, really, that wasn’t the main thing.

    When they let me out of jail it was still before dawn and I had to walk many miles back home. They let me out with a man who seemed nice and had been beaten up kind of badly in his holding cell because he had to share his. I guess the other prisoners got some of his posessions. Anyway, I thought the man seemed nice until we got under an overpass and he tried to kiss me. The gesture was tender, but completely inappropriate and it grossed me out mightily. I guess I am just not that PC. Anyways. I didn’t try to sue him either. I still kind of felt bad for him even though we had to part the ways after the embarrassing incident.

  67. It seems like the article isn’t a good match to your preferred narrative.

    First of all, it seems a little out there to call it a full-time dedicated unit. Seems more like a part-time carpenter, who spends the rest of his time building boxes for police medals, props for training facilities, etc. 8 doors a year does not suggest a massive pattern of police abuse.

    Second, this wasn’t the classic botched raid. They went to the guy’s address of record where a relative lived; he wasn’t there. For once, the cops had good PR sense and fixed the door as an elaborate apology to the innocent relative.

  68. Policman’s ball is just trolling.

    “””They let me out with a man who seemed nice and had been beaten up kind of badly in his holding cell because he had to share his. I guess the other prisoners got some of his posessions. Anyway, I thought the man seemed nice until we got under an overpass and he tried to kiss me.”””

    Yeah, that probably why he got the shit beat out of him. Trying to kiss his cell mate.

  69. “8 doors a year does not suggest a massive pattern of police abuse.”

    How many wrong houses do you feel comfortable having their doors kicked in in the dead of night by paramilities with assault weapons? Does it have to reach dozens before we have a little problem? And this is just one city.

  70. Does it have to be a massive pattern to matter these days? A pattern is not good enough any more?

    The escalation of excuses.

  71. I agree with Ray; the article doesn’t really fit the narrative.

    Where I police (in Australia, mind you, where the legal principles & police practices can often be different) ‘wrong door’ repair is common. It usually happens not from botched raids, but from welfare checks.

    The scenario usually revolves around aged or infirm people who haven’t been seen in a long time. Neighbours or friends can’t raise them and they don’t answer the door.

    I’ve forced a number of doors under these circumstances myself. Sometimes you find someone deceased. Sometimes you find someone who wouldn’t answer the phone or door (one nice old gent had gone senile and was as pleasant as could be. No one had seen him in days though and there was a genuine welfare concern, we had to take him to hospital).

    Guess who fixes the door in these circumstances? Er, our contractor does, at police expense. It’s the least we can do for some poor pensioner whose been lying on the floor for a week with a broken hip.

    I’ll bet some of Jenkins’ ‘wrong doors’ were in this category. In fact he doesn’t look too busy for a city the size of L.A.

  72. Whilst re-reading my post, a thought occurred- Radley, did you actually think to research a breakdown of individual police door repairs in L.A. and what they were really for? Did the journalist writing the article? And if not, why not?

  73. Where I police (in Australia, mind you, where the legal principles & police practices can often be different) ‘wrong door’ repair is common. It usually happens not from botched raids, but from welfare checks.

    At first I thought you meant that Aussie police were breaking down people’s doors in order to steal their welfare checks.

  74. The American police are probably less brutal and less corrupt now than they have ever been in history. Bullshit artists like Balko easily bilk morons into thinking otherwise.

  75. “At first I thought you meant that Aussie police were breaking down people’s doors in order to steal their welfare checks…..”

    That would have meant checks on welfare cheques. 😉

    As always, we’re two cultures divided by a common language….. or different spelling anyway 🙂

  76. Any person with a position of authority will be tested many many many times over with opportunities to abuse that authority.

    That is a fact.

    Also true is that each one of these people WILL fail in at least one of these tests, however small. It may be turning the E lights to blow a stop light for the wait. It may be the preprogrammed entries into the police report because the cop is too lazy to write what actually happened, so instead a cookie cutter report is drawn up. It may be the pocketing of that bag of taken from that kid and let go, after all, if it were turned in, there’d have to be a report.

    The point is, when someone is given extraordinary power over another, the situation is ripe for abuse. In my short time on this earth, I have realized that true integrity is VERY difficult to find… even within myself.

    Knowing all this, and knowing what kind of assholes I encounter in my daily life, and the sheer number of cops out there… statistically, we have a whole ton of asshole cops out there, and even the good ones will turn ugly if you test their authority.

    To make the case that there is no police corruption or “very little” or in “isolated instances”, is naive and foolish as trusting your dog to guard your steak.

    Case in Point: former Gov Spitzer… arrogance and abuse of power know no bounds. Hell, even the White House Oval Office has been defiled. Nothing is sacred.

    I will stop short of invoking Goddard’s Law.

  77. Correction… make that Godwin’s Law… sorry.

  78. More of the same here:

    http://www.cato.org/raidmap/

    Much more… In fact far too much more…

  79. Good grief. Bart, your map actually includes “Unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people.”

    In the absence of a thorough stats breakdown, I’m guessing that probably includes a lot of the urgent checks on peoples welfare I mentioned above, where the person believed to be injured, sick, or dead turns out to o.k. after all but just wouldn’t answer the door.

    As they say, half of statistics students graduate within the bottom half of their class.

    I hope you’re not wondering where I get these figures.

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