Over-Policing America

SWAT teams were once used only in emergencies such as riots or hostage situations. But today there are more than 50,000 "no-knock raids" a year.



I want the police to be better armed than the bad guys, but what exactly does that mean today? Apparently it means the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security equip even the tiniest rural police departments with massive military vehicles, body armor, and grenade launchers. The equipment is surplus from the long wars we fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

To a hammer, everything resembles a nail. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were once used only in emergencies such as riots or robberies where hostages were taken. But today there are more than 50,000 "no-knock raids" a year.

It's not because crime got worse. There is less crime today. Crime peaked around 1990 and is now at a 40-year low. But as politicians keep passing new criminal laws, police find new reasons to deploy their heavy equipment. The Washington Post's Radley Balko points out that they've used SWAT teams to raid such threatening haunts as truck stops with video poker machines, unlicensed barber shops, and a frat house where underage drinking was reported.

In New York City, these men in black raided standup comedian Joe Lipari's apartment. "I had bad customer service at the Apple Store," Lipari told me in an interview for my upcoming TV special Policing America. "So I bitched about it on Facebook. I thought I was funny. I quoted Fight Club," the 1999 movie about bored yuppies who attack parts of consumer culture they hate. 

"People (on Facebook) were immediately responding that it was obviously from Fight Club," says Lipari. "It was a good time, until 90 minutes later, a SWAT team knocked on my door. Everyone's got their guns drawn." 

It took only that long for authorities to deem Lipari a threat and authorize a raid by a dozen armed men. Yet, says Lipari, "if they took 90 seconds to Google me, they would have seen I'm teaching a yoga class in an hour, that I had a comedy show." 

Lipari has no police record. If he is a threat, so are you. 


SWAT raids are dangerous, and things often go wrong. People may shoot at the police if they mistake the cops for ordinary criminals and pick up guns to defend their homes against invasion. Sometimes cops kill the frightened homeowner who raises a gun.

Because America has so many confusing laws, and also because cops sometimes make mistakes, it's harder to assume—as conservatives often do—that as long as you behave yourself, you have nothing to fear. The raids should also trouble libertarians who sometimes believe that government can mostly be trusted when it sticks to "legitimate" functions like running police, courts, and the military. 

Government always grows, and government is force. Force is always dangerous.

It's healthy for conservatives, libertarians, and liberals alike to worry about the militarization of police. Conservatives worry about a repeat of incidents like the raids on religious radicals at Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas. Liberals condemn police brutality like the recent asphyxiation death of a suspect at the hands of police in New York. 

This is a rare issue where I agree with left-wing TV host Bill Maher. On his TV show last week, Maher ranted about no-knock raids "breaking up poker games, arresting low-level pot dealers." Maher's right to point out that most SWAT raids are now done to arrest nonviolent drug offenders. "It's a guy who sells weed," says Maher. "You don't need to shoot his dog and crash through his window." 

But they do.

If cops continue to take a warlike us-versus-them approach to policing the population, they just might bring the left and right together. Government is reckless, whether it is intruding into our lives with byzantine regulations that destroy a fledgling business or with a flash-bang grenade like the one that critically wounded a child in a recent SWAT raid in Janesville, Georgia. Regardless of our political leanings, we should be wary of big government in all its forms. 

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  1. I always read John Stossel’s articles in his voice.

    1. Me too. I wish Schwarzenegger wrote for Reason.

      1. Get to that (black) choppa!

  2. “Crime peaked around 1990 and is now at a 40-year low.”

    I disagree. It just became concentrated more in the public sector.

    1. FTW.

  3. I hate when progs (like Maher) claim primacy on issues where libertarians were way out front of everybody else. Like police bullshit.

    We were talking about police brutality before it was cool!

  4. “It’s a guy who sells weed,” says Maher. “You don’t need to shoot his dog and crash through his window.”

    What do you think is the end game of every government law you intend to have enforced, dipwad.

  5. American civilian policing has become completely out of control. From the plethora of federal agencies to the tiniest village, it is disgusting.

    You will trust these people at great peril, especially if you’ve done no wrong.

  6. NRO: It’s Time for Conservatives to Stop Defending Police
    There is nothing conservative about government violating the rights of citizens.

    1. I was sent to the Freeper-ville response to that article. Comments were mixed. Some diehard copsuckers (one commentor compared bad cops to homosexuals), some said that they supported the cops until they started shooting dogs (because killing people with guns, tasers, and chokeholds, that’s okay), that most cops are good guys (except when they say nothing about the bad ones), some were disturbed by the militarization of the police, and that cops are only brutal assholes because they work in high-crime areas typically populated by “minerities.”

      Fun little thread, a little insight into self-professed conservative America

      1. What an unsurprising comment section. Actually a little better than expected, I suppose, as not everyone was blindly pro-cop. This comment was just facepalm worthy

        “The author would do well to use another case than the one in NYC. There are plenty. The “victim” died of a heart attack, not from the choke or control hold the officer was attempting to apply. It was a lawful arrest and the very large man was resisting.”

        1. Do you work for the NYC Coroner..because the “official” autopsy hasn’t been made public yet.

          Or, can you make a determination from a video/picture?


          1. “Well, the police did say that’s what happened, and isn’t that good enough? I mean why would they lie?”

  7. Massive displays of force over petty crime. What could go wrong?

  8. How much does Lakeland pay to run a tracked vehicle? $$$

    1. Has it every been used except for parades? Unless there are Armor Vets in the ranks, I doubt there are 3 guys on the force who can drive that piece of shit. (M113 uses sticks, not a wheel)

      1. Don’t they need a shit ton of maintenance?

        1. and I believe the tracks tear up asphalt roads rather thoroughly.

          1. Don’t they need a shit ton of maintenance?

            Driving armored vehicles is actually pretty easy. They are designed to be idiot proof. Vision is the biggest issue, but steering is the same as a car.

            They will damage roads, and they are a pain in the ass to maintain. Not to mention expensive. Then again, the cops have a better budget. I loved cleaning the inside of my broken down tank with a piece of cardboard and an old rag (if I was lucky).

            1. steering is the same as a car

              Um, not an M-577 or any of the M-113 variants. You have two sticks, which apply brakes to right and left tracks respectively.

      2. Anybody else notice the irony of labeling it a “Rescue Vehicle?”

  9. if the police treat the people like the enemy the people will consider the police the enemy. Its a vicious cycle that was started by the police. Time for the police to say no we don’t need these toys and no we don’t need a swat raid for every barking dog.

    1. Andy Taylor barely needed a gun, let alone a SWAT team. And his back up was Barney Fife.

      1. But that was before the United Police States of America existed. Controlling the population though outright lies, instilling fear, divisiveness and brute force is what we have now.

  10. We are living in the Era of Peak Leftoid, so how is it that local police are being militarized when everyone knows that the left is anti-police state?

    Woops, I fell for that one too.

  11. Militarization of Law Enforcement? Stossel is a bit late to the party, I’d say. That shit’s been going on for at least fifteen years and longer.

    1. John is always accurate, but almost never interesting.

  12. Start working at home with Google. It’s a great work at home opportunity. Just work for few hours. I earn up to $100 a day. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. http://www.Fox81.com

  13. So according to Stossel, conservatives are always worried about another Ruby Ridge but think that you have nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong, libertarians believe cops can do no wrong so long as they stick to police work, and liberals only fear police will kill helpless minorities. Did I get that right John?

    Apparently you’ve been in NYC and out of touch for way too long. Pretty much most of us (no matter the ideology) are seeing the over-policing going on, and all of us are getting pretty sick of it. We are all seeing the increased error rates due to lack of training, over-policing, and the idea that they have to shock and awe everything. Stormtroopers raiding Gibson Guitar, high school hookie being the cause for an assault force, kids being stripped from parents for not having an apple in the lunch. We are all sick of this crap.

  14. I used to do stand-up when I lived in LA and I hosted for Bill Maher a couple of times.
    Let me tell you–that guy is a fucking asshole.
    He wasn’t just “having a bad day” either. He treated waitresses like shit…acted like he was King Shit of Fuck Mountain, made strange greenroom demands. I kid you not…he yelled in the face of waitress because she only brought him 5 Pelligrinos instead of 6. Yes, really.
    I’m not joking.
    I’ve warmed the crowd up hundreds of times and have always gotten love from bigger names than Maher…and he told me during our 8 p.m. show that I shouldn’t have gotten the crowd too crazed…because he didn’t want to have to follow some “kid trying to be a bigshot”. Then he goes up and tries to take some cheap shots at me and the crowd wasn’t buying it. Crickets!
    Fuck him.
    Okay, I feel better now.

    1. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

  15. “‘…Fight Club,’ the 1999 movie about bored yuppies who attack parts of consumer culture they hate.”

    Lol. Stossel. He has zero intellectual integrity. He happens to be right about cops in this piece (if characteristically obtuse when it comes to pop culture), but it’s in a stopped-clock-is-still-right-twice-a-day kind of way.

  16. This is all about image and intimidation.

    A friend of mine (130lb female with no criminal record) was arrested on a warrant for a non violent crime. She is unable to drive due to vision problems and doesnt even own a car, so “escape” by vehicle was not going to happen. 7 County sheriffs officers and detectives showed up at her home to arrest her. They stated they were all there for “crowd control”.

    I realize this is not like having a swat team or a tank show up, but how truly aware are tax payers that their dollars are being pissed away in such a manner.

    The swat team and an armored vehicle were called in to have a family evicted from their foreclosed home. They reason they gave was because at one time in his life, the father had registered firearms.

  17. Welcome to the future, in the UK and the US and when we are all sufficiently scared sh1tless by these thugs in uniform just watch our freedoms disappear.

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