Tag: police raids

President Obama’s Dismissal of Drug Reform

Yesterday President Obama seemed to make light of the push for drug reform (again), arguing that young Americans should put it at the bottom of their priority list in favor of issues like climate change and war:

I understand this is important to you but, you know, you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe, way at the bottom, you should be thinking about marijuana.

As a member of that millennial generation, I’d like to ask: why?

Setting aside the strange suggestion that environmental and peace activism are somehow mutually exclusive with opposing the drug war, I would suggest that Americans have much more influence over drug policy than we have over the global climate or the U.S. government’s penchant for warmaking. 

Despite the President’s insinuations, the fight to end the drug war isn’t just a crusade by young stoners to get high without worry of arrest.  Prohibition doesn’t work.  It didn’t work in the 1920s when alcohol prohibition turned entire American cities over to organized crime, and it doesn’t work in 2015.

The War on Drugs is a key reason why America’s incarceration rate is off the charts, why more than 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in drug violence over the last decade, why violent gangs control entire swaths of urban America the U.S. prison system, why there are more than a million drug arrests clogging up our courts every year, why our cherished protection from unreasonable searches and seizures has been eroded and twisted to nearly nothing, and why paramilitary police raids have gone up 1,500% in the last generation, leaving dead bodies and maimed children in their wake.

To his credit, President Obama has made some positive policy decisions to lessen the burden of the drug war.  His decision to “de-prioritize” marijuana busts in jurisdictions that have voted to legalize marijuana is commendable.  But that is merely one small tile on a vast mosaic of ruinous government prohibition efforts.

There are thousands of non-violent drug offenders in federal custody which President Obama could free with the stroke of a pen today.  There are hundreds of state and local law enforcement agencies receiving military weaponry from the Obama Administration, while the administration’s own task force acknowledges there is very little accountability, training, or respect for civil liberties built into the weaponry distribution system.  There are thousands of immigrants seeking refuge in America from the violence spawned by our drug war.

I don’t see what’s so funny or unimportant about any of this.

When Cops Go Commando, It’s No Laughing Matter

I received a response to my recent blog post on the Department of Education serving a warrant and dragging Kenneth Wright of Stockton, California from his home at six in the morning (incident added to the Raidmap, and here’s an updated link to the story). Here is the word from Department of Education Press Secretary Justin Hamilton:

“Yesterday, the Depart of Education’s office of inspector general executed a search warrant at Stockton California residence with the presence of local law enforcement authorities.

While it was reported in local media that the search was related to a defaulted student loan, that is incorrect. This is related to a criminal investigation. The Inspector General’s Office does not execute search warrants for late loan payments.

Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we can’t comment on the specifics of the case. We can say that the OIG’s office conducts about 30-35 search warrants a year on issues such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.

All further questions on this issue should be directed to the Department of Education’s Inspector General’s Office.”

This does not change my analysis one bit. The Department of Education doesn’t need a squad of “operators” busting down doors in white collar crime cases.

Search warrants issued pursuant to an investigation of bribery, fraud or embezzlement shouldn’t require door breaching at dawn unless there’s some exigent circumstances justification. Did the agents think that Kenneth Wright was going to resist the warrant service with deadly weapons, or destroy evidence? If so, say so. At least it would provide some evidence of surveillance prior to the raid or actual investigation. Investigation or surveillance might have revealed that the target of the warrant, Wright’s estranged wife, would not be home when agents came knocking.

Some gunbloggers wondered a while back about a federal website soliciting contracts to provide short-barreled shotguns for the Department of Education (H/T Uncle and Tam). Now we know what they’re intended for, and it’s incompatible with a free society.

Embed the Raidmap

Cato Fellow Radley Balko highlighted the trend toward heavy-handed police practices in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Radley continues to chronicle police abuses at The Agitator and Reason. Recent examples of police excesses include the unnecessary death of seven-year old Aiyana Jones in Detroit and this raid on an innocent elderly couple in Chicago (immigrants who fled the Soviet Union because of oppression).

One of the fruits of Radley’s research was the Raidmap, a Google map application that allows you to see the scope of this epidemic of “isolated incidents.” You can also sort botched raids by category: death of an innocent, raid on an innocent suspect, death or injury of an officer, death of a nonviolent offender, unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people, and other examples of paramilitary police excess.


View Original Map and Database

Now you can embed the Raidmap on your website or blog as seen below. The code is on the Raidmap page.

Pass it on.

More Discipline for SEAL in Afghanistan than SWAT Officer in Fairfax?

You’ve probably heard that Linda Norgrove, the kidnapped British aid worker in Afghanistan who died in a rescue attempt, appears to have been killed by a grenade thrown by one of the Navy SEALs coming to her aid, not a suicide bomb vest as initially reported.

Two things come to mind here.

First, the fact that it was a grenade and not a suicide vest that killed her only came to light because of the video cameras capturing the event. The unit performing the rescue had cameras mounted on the helicopters and the helmets of the SEALs on the ground. As I said in this video and this blog post, cameras provide an honest witness in these dangerous situations.

Second, compare the accountability the SEAL will face with what would happen to a SWAT team member. It appears that the SEAL who threw the grenade will face disciplinary action. If I had to guess, this will be a memorandum of reprimand from a general officer. That would go into the SEAL’s permanent personnel file, and cause a “slow death” of his career. Unable to get promoted in an up-or-out personnel system, the SEAL could be forced out of the service before he is eligible for retirement.

This is an elite Navy SEAL performing a hostage rescue mission in an armed camp in the Korengal Valley, arguably one of the most dangerous places in the world. The SEALs didn’t know where the hostage was, and the last Taliban kidnapper alive on the objective was firing at other SEALs with an automatic weapon. Yet the SEAL who threw the grenade, in a situation that justifies the use of a dynamic raid, may face the end of his career.

Compare this with the discipline that Fairfax County Police Officer Deval J. Bullock faced for killing optometrist Sal Culosi. Culosi ran a sports betting operation, and an undercover officer had placed bets with him in the prelude to a prosecution. Fairfax officers served the arrest warrant with a SWAT team, and Officer Bullock had an accidental discharge with his handgun at point blank range into Culosi’s chest, killing him almost instantly. Bullock was suspended for three weeks and kicked off the SWAT team. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Horan didn’t take Bullock’s case to a grand jury, declaring that when someone fires a gun without malice and accidentally kills someone, “they do not commit a crime.” Sorry, that’s negligent homicide. And, according to police union officials, the three-week suspension was still too stiff a punishment.

So, an elite military hostage-rescue team member may face more consequences for a judgment error – when a kidnapper is threatening the lives of everyone on the objective with an automatic weapon at the tail end of a 30-minute gunfight necessitated by the imminent threat that the hostage will be moved to a more hostile location across the Pakistan border – than a suburban police officer who negligently murders a non-violent offender in a situation that didn’t warrant the use of a SWAT team to begin with.

In some instances, to call this “police militarization” is to slander the military. Here are some parallel thoughts from Radley Balko, and a whole lot more on paramilitary police raids in Radley’s Overkill and at the Raidmap.

No Wrongdoing in the Calvo Raid?

Last year the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department SWAT Team raided the home of Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo. Police officers on the case knew that dealers were sending packages to random addresses so that accomplices in delivery companies could pick them up. The officers didn’t take the drugs out of circulation at the warehouse when they intercepted them. They simply sent them to the bogus address and raided it. The investigating officers did this without checking with local law enforcement officials, who probably would have told them that the mayor wasn’t a drug dealer and that they were barking up the wrong tree. The SWAT team shot and killed Mayor Calvo’s two dogs and caused significant property damage to his home before they got around to figuring out his (nonexistent) role in narcotics trafficking.

The Sheriff’s Office just cleared its deputies of any wrongdoing.

Radley Balko has a post up at Reason. His Cato study, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, shows that this is not an isolated incident. Check out the raidmap for more detail.

Mayor Calvo spoke at a Cato event in the wake of the raid, “Should No-Knock Police Raids be Rare-or Routine?” He tells his story below: