More Isolated Incidents

Monday, May 26th, 2008

I’m quoted in this article about an FBI SWAT raid gone wrong.

Meanwhile, here’s another wrong-door raid in Canada.  Note that the police say they had an informant who was 100 percent reliable in the past, that they had corroborating information (though they won’t say what it is), and that they were “120 percent certain” that this was absolutely the correct address.

And yet, they admit that the people they raided are innocent of any wrongdoing.

“I was standing at the stove and I saw two men with black helmets, black gas masks and black uniforms pointing guns at me and telling me to get down,” she said. “I got down on my hands and knees and started to crawl to the bathroom. I thought I was going to be killed.”

Mr. Lebus looked up from the hockey game just as police entered the kitchen through a set of sliding glass doors.

“It was 1:47,” he said. “Seventeen minutes into the first period.”

Seconds later, another wave of riot police kicked down the front door and ordered Jean Cushing and Mr. Lebus to the floor at gunpoint as officers set about searching the house.

Ms. Cushing fought back tears yesterday as she described being led out of her home in handcuffs, past a black-clad police officer who was holding an assault rifle to the back of her daughter’s head.

So here’s an idea.  Instead of shrugging this off as “the odd mistake” or “the price we pay” (both phrases used by a police spokesman in this case), why not stop using these ridiculously aggressive tactics against nonviolent drug offenders?

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19 Responses to “More Isolated Incidents”

  1. #1 |  perlhaqr | 

    I’m not certain what price it is the police think they’ve paid?

    It seems far more likely it’s a price the residents paid.

    And if you go around forcing other people to pay for things they don’t want, that kinda makes you a thief.

  2. #2 |  Jaap | 

    And the Star-Ledger even calls Cato “libertarian-leaning” rather than “conservative”!

  3. #3 |  Observant Bystander | 

    “why not stop using these ridiculously aggressive tactics against nonviolent drug offenders”

    You didn’t mention they thought it was a meth lab (though wrongly of course). I would assume that, on average, meth labs are more likely to include violent drug dealers than most residences where drugs are present. While this doesn’t excuse shoddy police work and I don’t know whether meth labs call for paramilitary raids as a matter of standard procedure, meth labs must still pose a harder question than residences where drugs are merely present. Are you suggesting meth labs usually involve only non-violent drug offenders? Is this true?

    As for the possibility of shoddy police work in this case, the co-director of the Institute for Studies in Criminal Justice Policy said, “corroboration [of claims by a confidential informant] could be anything from unusually high power bills to reports from neighbours or other informants.” Why isn’t actually observing the location on his list? If the police had actually observed this location for a day, it sounds like they would have seen nothing more than a family of three living there. Couldn’t they have detained the family outside at some point and then searched the residence without the use of any dangerous force? Naturally, the reporter didn’t ask.

    My hunch is that police just don’t think it is worth the time and effort to observe these locations for any period of time. Because they don’t bear enough of the costs for their mistakes.

  4. #4 |  Observant Bystander | 

    Correction: It’s not a family of three. It’s just that three people were in the house at the time of the raid.

  5. #5 |  Max D. | 

    If it’s a suspected meth lab, the proper procedure is to NOT BARGE IN. If you suspect hazardous and potentially explosive chemicals, you call for Haz-Mat professionals.

    Now, as far as this quote—“It was a legal search,” he said. “We lawfully went into the wrong house.”—isn’t that the same as “fake but accurate?”

  6. #6 |  MMIE | 

    “The Price we Pay”
    more like the price “you” pay.

    and what exactly are we paying for?

  7. #7 |  claude | 

    “isn’t that the same as “fake but accurate?”

    Its exactly the same, only different.

  8. #8 |  Andrew Williams | 

    “Instead of shrugging this off as “the odd mistake” or “the price we pay” (both phrases used by a police spokesman in this case), why not stop using these ridiculously aggressive tactics against nonviolent drug offenders?”

    Because it would be a good idea. Also the human thing to do. How dare you expect cops to act like decent human beings?

  9. #9 |  Matt Moore | 

    #3 Observant Bystander – Why would you assume that meth cooks are more violent than other drug dealers? Doesn’t seem warranted to me.

  10. #10 |  Jim | 

    Wow, they might have been making meth, thanks to meth prohibition pushing production into residential areas. Better to raid them to all than to question the premise…. Think of the children.

  11. #11 |  staunton | 

    The same thing actually happened to my 21 year old cousin. She’s a nice girl going to university living alone in her house when the police bust into her house. All because her neighbour was experiencing some symptoms and called the police to report a meth lab next door. Of course there was no such lab but they did go through everything of hers.

  12. #12 |  Observant Bystander | 

    Matt,

    I didn’t say I assume meth lab operatives are more violent than other types of drug dealers. Radley’s post refers only to raiding “nonviolent drug offenders.” It does not refer to dealers of any sort and does not specify why the house was raided. I think it is relevant to the decision to use force that the police suspected the house contained a meth lab, as opposed to some recreational drug users. The fact that the police suspected a meth lab is not enough in and of itself to justify the use of a paramilitary raid, but it is highly relevant.

    Nevertheless, it would not surprise me if meth lab operatives are more violent than dealers in general. The process of producing meth, unlike the process of producing marijuana (i.e., growing a plant), is dangerous. The people who run meth labs are a subset of all drug dealers/producers, people who are willing to expose themselves and others to significant risks of fires and explosions.
    Presumably, the universe of dealers in general includes many college students who sell marijuana to their friends and others who are not likely to be violent. With many people like this in the mix, a random draw of a dealer from the universe of drug dealers in general should be less likely to result in a violent person than a random draw of a meth lab operative from the universe of meth lab operatives. I might be wrong, but I am only saying I would not be surprised if meth lab operatives are more likely to be violent than dealers in general. But again, this was not my original point.

  13. #13 |  Matt Moore | 

    #12 – I like your reasoning, you may very well be right. But I’d argue that meth lab operators might be less violent than, say, coke dealers because they have to know some basic chemistry, or at least have enough education to follow complicated directions. The coke dealer may be more violent because they have so much to lose… they have a big front-end investment since they can’t produce their own product, they have to import it.

    But all this is pure speculation. I don’t personally know any meth or coke dealers, and obviously census data on them is lacking.

    Also, I think we probably agree that if someone is prone to violence it makes breaking down their door without knocking even more foolish.

    Have you ever seen Breaking Bad, btw? Excellent show, and it portrayed two sides of the meth coin: The cooks were mostly geeky non-violent types but the wholesale dealers were crazy nutjobs.

  14. #14 |  Observant Bystander | 

    Matt,

    I don’t think I would try to rate the violence of meth dealers verses coke dealers. I really have no idea. I wouldn’t go any further than predicting marijuana dealers are (on average) the least violent of all the types of dealers, since marijuana is easily grown and probably sold by many people in the college/aging hippy crowd.

    “Also, I think we probably agree that if someone is prone to violence it makes breaking down their door without knocking even more foolish.”

    I agree in part. I assume these raids put the suspects at greater risk. It must be a terrifying experience too, so some sort of emotional harm seems very plausible, especially for the non-hardened criminal types.

    But I have a tough time accepting that police would keep using these tactics if they increased the risks to them. There are occasional disasters for the police when they use these tactics, but the police must think they make sense.

    On the other hand, like many other people I wonder why these arrests are not handled outside the residences when people are coming and going. I claim no special knowledge of police tactics, but this sort of approach seems to make more sense and pose fewer risks of people grabbing for guns in the dark. Also, I do recognize police may have additional goals beyond minimizing risks, which could play a role in the decisions to use these tactics.

    So I just don’t know.

    “Have you ever seen Breaking Bad, btw?”

    I had not heard of this show. I googled it and saw that it is on AMC. I’ll record an episode on the DVR.

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    So here’s an idea. Instead of shrugging this off as “the odd mistake” or “the price we pay” (both phrases used by a police spokesman in this case), why not stop using these ridiculously aggressive tactics against nonviolent drug offenders?

    I don’t think much of those “price we pay” comments. Bush talks like that about the Iraq war as if he’s included in the we.

  16. #16 |  Nick | 

    “We had reliable information there was a synthetic drug lab there and people with a shotgun who were willing to defend their lab,” Saanich Police spokesman John Price said in an interview yesterday.

    No, you had unreliable information that you assumed was reliable.

    They really don’t get it, do they?

  17. #17 |  Nick | 

    Oops. Sorry about the unclosed tags

  18. #18 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I plan to start campaigning for over-the-counter suicide pills. Once we get those legalized, all arguments against drug legalization collapse.

  19. #19 |  supercat | 

    //But I have a tough time accepting that police would keep using these tactics if they increased the risks to them.//

    Psychologically, there’s a big difference between a risk that one will get killed in active combat and the risk that one will get killed by a surprise attack. While one would be no less dead in the former scenario, the adrenaline rush of a combat situation makes it possible to mentally set aside the risk. By contrast, if one uses a more measured approach, the amount of time one is at risk of attack will be greater. It may well be that there’s less real risk in the latter scenario than the former, but the risk may be felt more.

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