Tag: SWAT

Graffiti Problem … So Call in the SWAT Team!?

From today’s Washington Post:

Hethmon had an up-close and unpleasant experience with the same kind of local police he had done so much to empower.The problem began with graffiti on a highway overpass in Bowie. Police there suspected that Hethmon’s teenage son might be involved and obtained a search warrant. They arrived at 7 a.m. on March 9 with a heavily armed team of county officers.

“Come in with masks, guns, screaming. You know, knocking everybody down,” Hethmon recalled. “I tried to explain to them, you know: ‘Look, I’m a lawyer, this is outrageous.’ [The reply was:] ‘Shut up and lie down on the floor.’ ”

Police said they found 2.5 grams of marijuana in the house. They filed charges against Hethmon, his son and his wife — all for the same drugs. The charges against Hethmon will be dropped, prosecutors said last week.

Hethmon said the experience has not changed his work.

“The fact that a law is legitimate and serving a purpose doesn’t mean that it can’t be abused,” he said. “Human beings are flawed people.”

And so, for the lesser-known of this duo, there has been a personal test. After he did so much to place greater trust in local police officers nationwide, police in Prince George’s County sent a SWAT team to his house to look for . . . spray paint.

It would be comical if it were not so serious.  Once the paramilitary unit arrives, heavy-handed methods are often employed to ensure ‘officer safety,’ i.e. break windows to distract occupants from the doorway and flashbang grenades. The militarization of police tactics is out of control, but policymakers do nothing focus on expanding the power of the government.

More background here,  here and here.

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.

Department of Education SWAT Raid for Unpaid Student Loans

Department of Education officers employed a SWAT team because of unpaid student loans. I am not making this up:

Kenneth Wright does not have a criminal record and he had no reason to believe a S.W.A.T team would be breaking down his door at 6 a.m. on Tuesday…

As it turned out, the person law enforcement was looking for was not there - Wright’s estranged wife.

“They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” Wright said.

Wright said he later went to the mayor and Stockton Police Department, but the City of Stockton had nothing to do with Wright’s search warrant.

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in the S.W.A.T for his wife’s defaulted student loans.

This, along with the Jose Guerena case, demonstrates how the militarization of police terminology and tactics is incompatible with a free society. Police officers aren’t “operators” like Green Berets or Navy SEALs.

This is just one more reason to abolish the Department of Education and oppose police militarization and federal overcriminalization.

Operator Disconnect

My latest op-ed, now available at Politico, highlights the continued militarization of American police forces. I focus on the statements of officers involved in the fatal shooting of Marine combat veteran Jose Guerena.

After the SWAT team entered Guerena’s home, the supervisor left one or two “operators” with the body while the rest searched the house.

What did he mean by operator? Well, a police officer. But the term connotes something entirely different.

“Operator” is a term of art in the special operations community. Green Berets, SEALs and other special operations personnel often refer to themselves as operators. It’s a recognition of both the elite standards of their units and the hybrid nature of their duties — part soldier, part spy, part diplomat. But importing operator terminology into domestic law enforcement is not a benign turn of the phrase.

Perceiving yourself as an operator plasters over the difference between a law enforcement officer serving a warrant and a commando in a war zone. The former Mirandizes, the latter vaporizes, as the saying goes — and as the recent Osama bin Laden raid vividly illustrated.

Language matters, and importing military terminology into peace officer lingo contributes to police militarization. There are plenty of alternative terms for SWAT officers that would carry elite connotations, such as “tactical officer,” as in the National Tactical Officers Association. Unfortunately, the NTOA website could use a good operator scrubbing (start here, here, and here).

Video of the Guerena raid:

The Guerena raid is posted over at the Raidmap, and Radley Balko provided an excellent write-up. Balko’s Overkill is essential reading on this topic.

Cop-Cams on the Rise

The police in Austin, Texas will be testing nine different body-mounted cameras over the next 30 to 60 days. This is a positive development for both officers and citizens. It’s good legal defense for officers against false claims of excessive force and a training tool to show trainees best practices. It’s good incentive for officers to act within the bounds of the law. Video also makes for solid evidence in court. Many jurisdictions require law enforcement officers to record confessions and/or interrogations. Steve Chapman argued last year that the FBI should adopt such a policy.

Recording should be mandatory in SWAT raids, the most intense law enforcement encounters. I make the case for recording SWAT operations with Radley Balko and Clark Neily in this video:

Police Shootings in Miami

Today’s New York Times reports that seven African-American men have been shot and killed by Miami police officers over an eight month period.  One officer, who has since been discharged for unrelated misconduct, was responsible for two of the shooting incidents over a span of just days. 

Each shooting should be scrutinized on its own merits.  The circumstances of each incident matters.  However, one question concerns the aggressive culture often found in police “tactical” units, which too often enagage in a reckless style of police work.  Since 2009, the Times reports, more than 100 officers have been added to Miami’s tactical units.  Another question is whether the Miami police department should be the agency investigating these cases.  An impartial investigation into these shootings needs to be conducted.

Go here for related Cato work.

Gambling Raid in Baltimore

The Baltimore police must have solved the city’s violent crime problem. They’ve shifted resources to illegal gambling:

Baltimore County police arrested five men after an undercover detective infiltrated an illegal high-stakes poker game in Edgemere, records show.

Police say “Texas Hold ‘Em” games were held regularly at the Lynch Point Social Club in the 3100 block of Roger Road, where organizers were making as much as $1,500 in profit a night, according to charging documents.

After receiving a tip, officers conducted surveillance at the club and later sent an undercover detective inside, who participated in a game with a $65 buy-in. The detective played for hours — leaving after he lost all his chips, records show.

A tactical unit conducted a raid on the club Feb. 11, seizing poker chips, electronic gambling machines and a surveillance system, among other items. Forty-one people were inside at the time of the raid.

Posted at the Raidmap, where you can find similar “isolated incidents.” A December gambling raid in South Carolina turned into a gun fight when poker players mistook a SWAT team for armed robbers. The family of Sal Culosi, the Virginia optometrist killed in a 2006 gambling raid, just settled its lawsuit against Fairfax County for $2 million. Radley Balko has more on that tragedy here.