Monday, March 20, 2017

The Failure of Militarized Policing

Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave Trail of Blood:

As policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door.
Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found.
For the most part, governments at all levels have chosen not to quantify the toll by requiring reporting on SWAT operations. But The Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.
The casualties have occurred in the execution of no-knock warrants, which give the police prior judicial authority to force entry without notice, as well as warrants that require the police to knock and announce themselves before breaking down doors. Often, there is little difference.
These kinds of hyper-militarized raids, often times done on the flimsiest of warrants, and usually turning up one gram, one ounce, or less of said substance, are a disgrace to long-term policing veterans. And because the raids are carried out with legal impunity, with little to no training, a wild-west mentality pervades the planning, execution, and usually tragic endings.
Some SWAT veterans find it confounding that many police agencies remain so devoted to dynamic entry. The tactic is far from universally embraced, and a number of departments have retired or restricted its use over the years, often after a bad experience.
The National Tactical Officers Association, which might be expected to mount the most ardent defense, has long called for using dynamic entry sparingly. Robert Chabali, the group’s chairman from 2012 to 2015, goes so far as to recommend that it never be used to serve narcotics warrants.
“It just makes no sense,” said Mr. Chabali, a SWAT veteran who retired as assistant chief of the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department in 2015. “Why would you run into a gunfight? If we are going to risk our lives, we risk them for a hostage, for a citizen, for a fellow officer. You definitely don’t go in and risk your life for drugs.”
Another former chairman of the association, Phil Hansen, said SWAT teams tended to use dynamic entry as “a one-size-fits-all solution to tactical problems.” As commander of the Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif., and before that a longtime SWAT leader for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, he said it seemed foolhardy to move so aggressively in a state that voted in November to legalize recreational marijuana.
“Why am I risking people’s lives to save an ounce of something that they’re bringing in by the freighter every year?” he asked.
Predictably, there is push back from those who wish to cling to their guns and grenades.
“If you want to take the position that narcotics laws in this country should not be enforced, then O.K., yeah,” said Sheriff Greg Champagne of St. Charles Parish in Louisiana, the president of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “That’s not the position of the law enforcement people around the country that I know. If you’re going to make narcotics cases you need to have evidence, and search warrants are how you get it.”
Sheriff Champagne said his deputies looked for opportunities to detain suspects on the street or in cars. Even so, he said, “there are times we just have to go in.”
“There’s an argument that no-knock warrants can actually be safer for residents and officers because a well-trained SWAT team can neutralize a situation in seconds and minimize the chance for hostage-takings and standoffs,” he added. “You can always point to the one bad case, but look at the thousands of cases where a no-knock warrant was executed without injury and heroin is seized. How many lives are saved because we got it off the street?”
Probably none, since heroin and the opioid crisis is a public health problem, not a criminal justice problem, and it's currently killing 30,000+ people every year in the U.S. And all the no-knock warrants in the world aren't going to stop it. 

But as the academic evidence shows, this is more about testosterone, masculinity, and a kind of Hollywood tough-guy image of SWAT teams that pervades some departments and communities.

Also, it's about the Benjamins to be gained via asset forfeiture laws, which have basically legalized stealing and looting in the name of the War on Drugs. 
Clearly there are other factors that contribute to the tactic’s staying power. Some of it, according to long-term observers, derives from the adrenalized, hypermasculine, militaristic ethos of SWAT.
“It’s culturally intoxicating, a rush,” said Dr. Kraska, the criminologist. “It involves dressing up in body armor and provocative face coverings and enhanced-hearing sets, a cyborg 21st-century kind of appeal. And instead of sitting around and waiting for something to happen twice or three times a year, you can go out and generate it.”
That culture is reinforced by a cottage industry of tactical training contractors, many of them veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, who are hired by police departments to keep SWAT teams up to date.
“For them, collateral damage is something you try to avoid but it’s not a deal breaker,” Commander Hansen said. “That doesn’t translate well for police work. If you’re in the military and told to clear a block of houses in a half-hour, you’re going to do it quickly by kicking in doors and throwing grenades. It’s a whole different theater of operations.”
Another potential factor is the incentive sometimes provided by asset forfeiture laws when contraband or drug proceeds are found in a residence. Revenue generated by those seizures typically reverts back to law enforcement agencies.
Frankly, if we wiped out the immunity laws that allow these raids to happen, not just for the officers and prosecutors who cook up the warrants, but the hapless, often witless magistrates who approve them without any real knowledge of the facts, we might cut down on on the trail of blood. 

Putting it a different way: if these judges, prosecutors and officers knew they could be held civilly and criminally liable for their actions, they might put more time into avoiding these wrong-address raids that end up taking innocent lives.

It might also save more blue lives, as this accompanying article argues. With so many "stand your ground laws" now on the books, and gun ownership in the U.S. at an all-time high, we are basically sending law enforcement officers to their deaths needlessly in these no-knock situations. People have the right to defend their property, and as the article shows, officers get killed by citizens exercising their rights before they are aware that the people "breaking into their homes" are, in fact, the police.

Of course, the article also shows how the white defendant who killed a cop was let go in the name of self-defense, while the black defendant is charged with capital murder and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. But regardless, two cops are dead, and it's a tragedy all the way around.

These heavy-handed, no-knock SWAT spectacles are the shameful, ignominious legacy of the War on Drugs, the militarizing of the police that occurred in the 80's and 90's, the politics of punishment, and mass incarceration which has dominated out domestic politics for a generation. It has deprofessionalized the job of policing, and created a disrespect for law enforcement which cannot be erased.

As the experts have said for just as long as well: please leave military style assaults to the military in war zones. Our communities are not war zones, and if we keep treating people with drug problems as "enemies," more carnage will ensue. It's not fair to the citizens, and it's not fair to the men and women in blue uniforms.

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