Militarization of Police

Your Friendly Paramilitary Police Raid Post

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Derrick Foster is the Ohio man who was visiting a gambling house when Columbus police raided the place, believing it to be a crack house. Foster says he mistook the raiding cops for robbers, and shot and wounded two of them. Foster had no criminal record, had no drugs on him, had a permit for the gun he was carrying, and had an exemplary record as a city code inspector.  He was initially charged with attempted murder, then accepted a plea to two counts of felonious assault. He still insists he mistook the officers for criminals. He was sentenced last week to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, the military-style drug raids continue. A 19-year-old Missouri woman could get 30 years after shooting at police on a marijuana raid (her parents were apparently dealers) last month. She too says she thought the home was being robbed. In one I missed from last November, police in Woodhaven, Michigan raided and trashed the wrong home while looking for a narcotics suspect, finding instead a 25-year-old woman who had just gotten out of the shower.  And in Las Vegas, 32-year-old Emmanuel Dozier is in jail and faces felony charges after shooting and wounding three police officers, also during a narcotics raid. Dozier also says he thought his home was being robbed.  His girlfriend, Belinda Saavedra, was on the phone with 911 at the time of the raid.

Police insist they had the right house (Dozier has a prior arrest record in California), but found no drugs in the home. They did, however, find Saavedra's children. The Las Vegas Review-Journal ran a spot-on editorial about the last raid:

Does a raid timed for 9:30 Sunday evening—more than four hours after nightfall, at this time of year—make it more likely residents will understand the men at the door are police? Police say the raid was staged by SWAT officers: Does that mean they did not display standard, easily recognizable uniforms and chest badges? Were they, in fact, dressed in black to make them less visible?

Pardon us if we doubt the officers waited even two or three minutes for residents to pull on clothes (if necessary), come to the door, ascertain who was there and ask to read the officers' warrant.

For that matter, wouldn't the chance of violence have been reduced—in a home where police should have known young children were present—if someone had simply telephoned the home, explaining police were approaching the door with a warrant … preferably during daylight hours?

Some will say such a procedure would be naive—drug dealers could use the time to flush their product down the toilet.

But no cocaine was found—and a dealer who can eliminate all his product in one toilet flush isn't really very big-time, is he?

If Mr. Dozier is prosecuted on drug-trafficking charges it will be based on the testimony of the undercover officers who say they bought from him in the past.

The drug war has taught us to accept as "normal" police procedures—even in the case of a man alleged to have dealt quantities of drugs worth only a few hundred dollars—which increase the risk of violence and death in our neighborhoods.

Just as in cases where some jurisdictions have found overall fatalities could be reduced by having ambulances obey stoplights, it is those "standard" procedures that are in need of a serious new review.

For all of the "wrong-house" raids I write about on this site, even when police get the right house, these raids force a volatile confrontation with a high potential for error. There have been about a half dozen cases of police officers getting killed or wounded on drug raids in just the last few months. These tactics make warrant service more dangerous for everyone, including cops.

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  1. shout and wounded two of them

    He pierced them with his voice? Does he have a license for those lungs?

  2. Foster says he mistook the raiding cops for robbers, and shout and wounded two of them.

    Wow, he must have a really loud voice. Like that chick at the end of the movie Dogma.

  3. Goddammit, Radley. The day was going so well.

  4. Also, phalkor and sage owe each other a Coke.

  5. The only reason you won, phalkor, is because we both clicked “submit” at the same time, and the server squirrel decided to go all alphabetical on us.

  6. I have A google search set up for “Reason Magazine Hit Run Server squirrel” rss’ed to my blackberry. Got to keep an eye on those varmints…

  7. Ahh, but sage, I saw my comment all by itself for a moment. Therefore, I got you by at least 11 +-3.5 seconds. I stopped paying off the server squirrels months ago.

    These raids, with the glaring exception of the adjunct mayor one, seem to occur in places the police have profiled as low-income, low-political clout type people areas. It doesn’t surprise me that these insipid acts continue as the war on drugs is just a control and fear bludgeon of law enforcement.

  8. This should be a lesson to you all. If robbers raid you’re house, let them in!

    All a robber can take is a few posessions, but if it’s the cops, they can take your life, one way or another.

    Sad, isn’t it?

  9. “There have been about a half dozen cases of police officers getting killed or wounded on drug raids in just the last few months.”

    But that’s the whole point — being in a shoot out. Gets the adrenaline pumping. A completely legal high.

  10. Amazing how the “perps” are better shots than the SWAT teams.

  11. “”””There have been about a half dozen cases of police officers getting killed or wounded on drug raids in just the last few months.””””

    A recent report claims more LEOs hurt themseleves than other peple hurt them. The report was on officer safety and listed some contributing factors as to what made the work more safe. Not surprising, more aggressive tactics was not listed as something that made officers more safe.

    When cops say the do it for their safety, they are wrong. Besides, you don’t have to be a genius to understand the purpose of aggressive tactics is about submitting the target, not safety.

  12. Aggressive tactics are safer GIVEN proper application. the problem, as balko has repeatedly shown is that using a hammer to swat a fly (pun intended) by using SWAT teams for minor warrants is more likely to create harm than prevent it.

    all govt. agencies (and subdivisions – like swat teams) seek to justify their existence, and expand their power/span of control.

    SWAT saves many many lives and is a godsend for suspects, street cops, and innocents WHEN properly applied.

    when OVERUSED, they create more problems (and carnage) than they prevent.

    and that is the current situation in way too many agencies in this country.

    SWAT wants to justify its existence/expansion, so they claim they are needed in situations where they aren’t. that’s understandable, if wrong. agencies with part time SWAT guys want to become full time, so they claim “all drug warrants are dangerous enough to require a swat team”. this is ABSURD.

    fwiw, i’ve written scores of warrants, and been on scores of warrant services, and i know this to be a blatant lie. sure, it’s dangerous. i had three partners shot on ONE warrant.

    but overuse of SWAT is also dangerous.

  13. SWAT saves many many lives and is a godsend for suspects, street cops, and innocents WHEN properly applied.

    Cite, please. I need some statistics before I’ll buy this assertion.

  14. Update from a police raid up north:

    http://www.globaltv.com/globaltv/winnipeg/story.html?id=1087918

    The kid’s house was invaded just a few days/weeks before the raid… poor kid.

  15. not to be a buzzkill on the Derrick Foster thing, but Foster fired blindly through a door. In the legal world, this is “Not OK”.

  16. She was given a copy of the search warrant, which she said she immediately noticed had a different address on the paperwork.

    The address actually is of the apartment next to hers.

    So the cops had neither a warrant to search that apartment nor an objectively reasonable belief that a warrantless search was supported by probable cause or exigent circumstances. Sounds like the cops ought to be consulting their lawyers about the Bivens suit they’ll be served with any minute now.

  17. It’s insane. I’m too weary with politics today to generate my usual profanity laced tirade against the War on Drugs Minorities or decrying the ham handed tactics used by LEOs in prosecuting it.

    The insanity continues. Thanks for your tireless efforts Radley.

  18. not to be a buzzkill on the Derrick Foster thing, but Foster fired blindly through a door. In the legal world, this is “Not OK”.

    unless you’re a cop

  19. phalkor
    shout and wounded two of them

    He pierced them with his voice? Does he have a license for those lungs?”

    Must be a mutant. We license pistols why aren’t we licensing people with metahuman powers?

  20. Radley Balko’s tireless and tiresome vigilance against the Almighty Cop is nothing more than provocation. He is incapable of balancing his COPS ARE EVIL stance with anything approaching proportional objectivity, which ultimately makes his ridiculous little SWAT attacks on BAD COP BEHAVIOR as laughable as Christians railing against the evil of gays. His posts are parodies of themselves, but boy do they generate clicks!

  21. The article cited here touches on something that is rarely mentioned in discussing wrong door raids and the like. And that is that the kind of raids that lead to these incidents are, within the law enforcement community, generally considered to be shoddy police work. (Yes, I know there are some exceptions).

    For a police officer, it’s absolutely insane to bust down someone’s front door in the middle of the night without making damn sure they know you’re a police officer. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where you could end up otherwise.

    I’m a prosecutor, and I actually prepared a report on these raids to submit to the legislature in my state (in which I included most of Radley Balko’s research). While working on it, I learned that there are very few people, inside law enforcement or out, who deny that they would shoot at someone under the circumstances in some of these raids.

    The police officers I spoke to were generally opposed to any legislation restricting the warrant process, because they feel that top-down regulations would hamstring police procedure, and prevent legitimate uses of no-knock warrants. However, many of them were surprisingly receptive to the idea of personal civil liability for officers who cause harm to innocent people through the use of these tactics.

    Now obviously, there is going to be a lot of variation in the opinions of law enforcement officers on this subject, and I’m not presuming to speak for everyone. But I think it’s important to realize that you’re not necessarily dealing with an “us vs. them” mentality on this issue. The concerns Radley raises in these articles are also concerns within the law enforcement community.

    I think it would be interesting to see an article on this subject that’s actually directed at police officers, on how to avoid harming innocent people while still fulfilling the legitimate purposes that SWAT raids serve. Because you’re not going to make a lot of headway with police officers when you portray them as the “enemy,” even if the points you’re raising are legitimate.

  22. “”””””I think it would be interesting to see an article on this subject that’s actually directed at police officers, on how to avoid harming innocent people while still fulfilling the legitimate purposes that SWAT raids serve.”””

    If you ask the cops, they almost never shoot an innocent person. The target of the raid is guilty of the actions that triggered the raid until proven otherwise. Then it’s the targets fault that bad things happened.

    What type of raids have occured that are considered illegitimate in the eyes of LEOs? Radley’s articles on this subject have a few things in common, one of them is that ALL of the raids were considered legit, even the ones that were based on falsehoods, and some that were probably illegal. The cops don’t want other people telling them how to do their buisness, any article directed at them on how to do their job might be interesting, it would also be moot. They see nothing wrong with their behavior so why would they want to change it.

    With respects to the US vs Them issue, That IS a prevailing attitude among LEOs, that’s why they call us civilians. They are NOT military and do not rate calling other people that. They do it for divisional purposes. They need to understand they are civilains just like the rest. Until then, they will always have the Us vs Them mentality.

  23. Andrew Lynch mentions proportional objectivity

    That’s exactly one of the things Radley claims is missing in these raids. Why would you hold Radley’s writings to a higher standard than the raids themselves?

  24. However, many of them were surprisingly receptive to the idea of personal civil liability for officers who cause harm to innocent people through the use of these tactics.

    How receptive are they to rolling a patrol car equipped with flashing lights, siren and dashcam up to the front door to serve the double function of providing strong indication tha the breacher truly is police and ensuring that good announcement was made in case of later civil suit?

    Over at the cop boards I haven’t noticed approbation over weak announcements so much as denial that there is any such thing as a weak announcement or a non-announcement. Seems like an easy enough issue to get to the bottom of if police really wanted to.

  25. Amazing how the “perps” are better shots than the SWAT teams.

    Only if you don’t count the SWAT success rate on family pets.

    However, many of them were surprisingly receptive to the idea of personal civil liability for officers who cause harm to innocent people through the use of these tactics.

    Anne, did you really miss the disconnect between this statement and their professed (and more honest) aversion to “top-down regulations”.

    And does anyone really believe that a cop (with vanishingly few exceptions) will take the stand against their brethren in any lawsuit, criminal or civil?

    The blue wall of silence will make a mockery of civil suits as well.

  26. TrickyVic,

    I’m going to reject your question “Why would you hold Radley’s writings to a higher standard than the raids themselves?” because it’s one of those debate conventions that has a Latin term I can’t remember. Think it starts with “ad.”

    I do not conflate Balko’s writings with cop behaviors because they have nothing to do with each other, technically. I simply want Balko to step outside the fear-factor vacuum from which he seems to report and ask other, larger questions, such as “Do ALL cops behave or believe in the behavior demonstrated by the statistically insignificant numbers of ill-behaved cops he is quick to critique?” In short, is Balko an investigator or just a provocateur. If he is the former, he’s not very good at it. If he’s the latter, of which I am confident, then his check-out-what-bad-cops-did-this-week posts are just low-brow gut punches. Human beings in general do nasty things every day, but we try not to make sweeping assessments (or — through presumably intentional omissions of objectivity — defining characterizations) of groups BASED ON THE PRACTICES OF THE FEW.

    My point here (and in posts related to the College Park Mayor who was unjustly raided in his own home and the woman whose security cameras captured a cowardly cop shooting her probably harmless dog) is this: We make ridiculous leaps of logic based on what bad apples do. Not all Arabs are bad. Not all Muslims are bad. Not all politicians are bad. Not all Christians (I can’t believe I’m saying this) are stupid and delusional. From the comfort of our keyboards, we gather here and elsewhere, trying to find, in the absence of something productive to moan about, perfidy and villainy.

    I have yet to see Reason actively seek the big investigative holy grail: an objective and massive evaluation of law enforcement in the United States. Any thug of a reporter or commentator can grab AP feeds and wax righteously about the implications of a tiny piece of information (college campus shootings, anyone?). How about actual analysis. Proportional and objective.

  27. I have yet to see Reason actively seek the big investigative holy grail: an objective and massive evaluation of law enforcement in the United States. Any thug of a reporter or commentator can grab AP feeds and wax righteously about the implications of a tiny piece of information (college campus shootings, anyone?). How about actual analysis. Proportional and objective.

    Mr. Balko has reported on his FOIA type requests. Long story short, the police don’t release info.

    Mr. Balko has also proposed that search warrant entries be mandatorily video’d, which is another way to get the info you claim to want.

    Mr. Balko works with what information he is allowed by fortuitous circumstances. If it were in the police’s interest for him to have more comprehensive information, then he would have it. Conclusion: it is not in the police’s best interests to keep good records on things like fruitless search warrants, fruitless K9 indications, allegations of announcement failure and wrong door raids.

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