More Militarized Than the Military

Friday, May 14th, 2010

A reader who asks his name not be used writes about the drug raid video from Columbia, Missouri:

I am a US Army officer, currently serving in Afghanistan.  My first thought on reading this story is this:  Most American police SWAT teams probably have fewer restrictions on conducting forced entry raids than do US forces in Afghanistan.

For our troops over here to conduct any kind of forced entry, day or night, they have to meet one of two conditions:  have a bad guy (or guys) inside actively shooting at them; or obtain permission from a 2-star general, who must be convinced by available intelligence (evidence) that the person or persons they’re after is present at the location, and that it’s too dangerous to try less coercive methods.  The general can be pretty tough to convince, too.  (I’m a staff liason, and one of my jobs is to present these briefings to obtain the required permission.)

Generally, our troops, including the special ops guys, use what we call “cordon and knock”:  they set up a perimeter around the target location to keep people from moving in or out,and then announce their presence and give the target an opportunity to surrender.  In the majority of cases, even if the perimeter is established at night, the call out or knock on the gate doesn’t happen until after the sun comes up.

Oh, and all of the bad guys we’re going after are closely tied to killing and maiming people.

What might be amazing to American cops is that the vast majority of our targets surrender when called out.

I don’t have a clear picture of the resources available to most police departments, but even so, I don’t see any reason why they can’t use similar methods.

I’ve heard similar accounts from other members of the military. A couple of years ago after I’d given a speech on this issue, a retired military officer and former instructor at West Point specifically asked me to stop using the term “militarization,” because he thought comparing SWAT teams to the military reflected poorly on the military.

Back in 2007 I wrote a bit more on this:

There’s a telling scene related to all of this in Evan Wright’s terrific book Generation Kill. Wright was embedded with an elite U.S. Marine unit in Iraq. Throughout his time with the unit, Wright documents the extraordinary precautions the unit takes to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, and the real heartbreak the soldiers feel when they do inadvertently kill a civilian. About 3/4 through the book, Wright explains how the full-time Marines were getting increasingly irritated with a reserve unit traveling with them. The reserve unit was mostly made up people who in their civilians lives were law enforcement, “from LAPD cops to DEA agents to air marshalls,” and were acting like idiot renegades. Wright quotes a gunnery sargeant who traveled with the reserve unit:

“Some of the cops in Delta started doing this cowboy stuff. They put cattle horns on their Humvees. They’d roll into these hamlets, doing shows of force—kicking down doors, doing sweeps—just for the fuck of it. There was this little clique of them. Their ringleader was this beat cop…He’s like five feet tall, talks like Joe Friday and everybody calls him ‘Napoleon.'”

The unit ends up firebombing a village of Iraqis who’d been helping the Marines with intelligence about insurgents and Iraqi troops. Yes, it’s just an anecdote. But it’s a telling one. It suggests that to say some of our domestic police units are getting increasing militaristic probably does a disservice to the military.

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97 Responses to “More Militarized Than the Military”

  1. #1 |  John Wilburn | 

    #45 supercat

    “The solution would be to allow defendants to have jurors evaluate all the factual issues related to their case, including (1) whether real probable cause existed for the search, and the police seeking the warrant did not withhold information which might have caused a judge not to issue it; and (2) whether the search was executed in reasonable fashion; a jury which finds that a search fails (1) or (2) has a right and duty to ignore any evidence from the search that would be adverse to the defendant.
    If the police make a bona fide effort to secure probable cause and conduct a search in even halfway-civilized fashion, a jury isn’t apt to second-guess them. On the other hand, if police knew that they’d sabotage their cases if they used deception to get warrants or used grossly unreasonable tactics to conduct searches, they’d have an incentive not to cheat.”

    In the Ryan Frederick case, the Chesapeake Police Dept. sent burglars to Mr. Fredericks house to secure “evidence” that he was growing reefer – effectively doing an end-run on the Fourth Amendment…

    The “evidence” was never turned over to the police by the burglars, but the police told the magistrate that their “CI” (one of the burglars) had been in Mr. Fredericks house, and had seen the “grow operation…”

    On this basis, the search warrant was issued by the magistrate…

    When Mr. Frederick’s attorney submitted a motion to the court, asking for an investigation by the court, questioning the validity of the warrant, the motion was denied, so the jury never heard anything to indicate whether or not the warrant was obtained legally…

    Keep in mind that the police, Prosecutor and Judge are all on the same “team,” and have absolute control (especially the judge) over what the jury sees, hears and deliberates over,,,

    It’s enough to make a preacher cuss…

  2. #2 |  MikeL | 

    “Uh. Care to elaborate on ‘this’?”

    Sure. The guy in the link has the word “Don’t” tattooed on the back of his left arm and “Shoot” on the back of his right arm, thereby creating the message “Don’t Shoot” when his hands are on his head and a cop has a gun pointed at his back.

  3. #3 |  Eric Seymour | 

    No argument here that the military is way more professional in its use of force than most police departments. But it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. The military has much more freedom to revert to a “shoot first, ask questions later” mode if things don’t go the way they want them to in a battlefield situation (including urban “battlefields”). Recall the recent Wikileaks video where the military shot up a whole group of people, some of whom were unarmed. Under the rules of engagement, the shooting was justified.

    I would suggest that this lethal “back-up option” gives soldiers the “luxury” of giving their targets the option of taking the path of least resistance. Insurgents know they are very likely to be shot dead if they try to run from the US military. Criminals know that if they don’t make the mistake of aiming a weapon at a cop, the most they probably have to fear is being tased.

    Again, none of this excuses the abuse of force by police departments, especially against non-violent offenders. I just don’t think the military is some kind of paragon of restraint.

  4. #4 |  Eric Seymour | 

    @MikeL #52,

    Nitpick: those tats appear to be on the front of his arms.

  5. #5 |  Officer Zealot | 

    Section8, and Comment #33’s other karma-subtractors: My radar seems to have been off today. My point was intended align with (almost) everyone else’s here, namely that too many cops act as though lives of “civilians” were dispensable. This makes them zealots, which they should not be, nor should they be cops.

    The comment and its handle were both facetious. I’m not actually a cop.

    I’m a libertarian, which should in fact be a requirement for being a cop.

  6. #6 |  TimTomato | 

    During the Question and Answer period, David Horowitz had a chilling exchange with a member of the MSA, a Student, in which he prodded her to reveal the depraved depths of her Jew-hatred. What’s shocking is not so much that she holds such views, but rather that she was willing to admit it. – 05 10 2010

  7. #7 |  Aresen | 

    Mike L:

    Thanks, missed the link on the first pass.

  8. #8 |  Frank | 

    Ottawa Hills officer found guilty.

    Looking forward to 11 years of this pig bent over a prison bunk.

  9. #9 |  Laura Victoria | 

    This is a statement from Deputy Chief Dresner – Killed Dog Wore a Pink Sweater:

    “At some point a news outlet may publish the photo of this dog. I hope they don’t of the other one for obvious reasons. But in the interest of trying to establish credibility and transparency, I can admit that the deceased dog was wearing a pink sweater at the time it was killed. I believe that fact will make everyone who’s angry at us angry all over again. But it’s the truth.”

    Really. You think the fact that it’s a female pup in a pink sweater will make the instant kill not really seem so necessary by your high school GED goon squad? Yep, and we know, you don’t like the internet either.

    A lot of readers at this paper and the Tribune are making the valid point that this DA Dan Knight needs to be gone after. And the judge who signed the warrant. It’s true, the pressure is to be on the LEO team. So we need to apply pressure from the other direction. Make them fearful over excessive use of SWAT force. Make them perform more due diligence.

    I think this DA that is doing squat against the cops and filed the child endangerment charges is coming up for re-election.

  10. #10 |  Section8File13 | 

    Officer Zealot, sorry for my comment then I misunderstood it’s meaning. :) again my apologies.

  11. #11 |  JS | 

    Did this ever make the MSM? If not that is as big a part of this story as the rest.

  12. #12 |  Peter | 

    If you want to see a story about a dog expressing his opposition to militarized police, check out this link:

    Apparently, this Athenian dog has been taking part in protests for two years. Be sure to check out the video at the bottom from the 2:30 mark.

  13. #13 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Highest props from this citizen to the Army officer for his informed opinion. I hope s/he will consider joining his/her local police force to straighten out some of these wannabe Rambos.

  14. #14 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Boy, do I need an EDIT b utton. Please read “his” and “he” for his/her and s/he. No disrespect intended–just carelessness on this reader’s part. : (

  15. #15 |  Andrew Williams | 

    #9 “The video clearly shows the police announcing their presence and their warrant before entering.” Which gave the people inside about 6 seconds to wake up out of a sound sleep and respond before having their door caved in and their dogs shot at. Even Superman couldn’t have responded that quickly.

    You try that sometime. Then come and see me so I can kick your ass while telling you what an asshat you are.

  16. #16 |  Andrew Williams | 

    1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…aw, fuck it!

    BAM! “POLICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! DOWN ON THE FLOOR NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  17. #17 |  Max D. | 

    Compare and contrast SWAT raids on “civilians” with the arrest of a detective:

    “Avalos was taken into custody without incident Thursday by Los Angeles Police Department detectives while he was off duty in Placentia, LAPD Det. Gus Villanueva said.”,0,5050880.story

    But…but what if he’d flushed the money!?

  18. #18 |  Frank | 


    “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

  19. #19 |  malcolm kyle | 

    Prohibitionists dance hand in hand with every possible type of criminal one can imagine.

    An unholy alliance of ignorance, greed and hate which works to destroy all our hard fought freedoms, wealth and security.

    We will always have adults who are too immature to responsibly deal with tobacco alcohol, heroin amphetamines, cocaine, various prescription drugs and even food. Our answer to them should always be: “Get a Nanny, and stop turning the government into one for the rest of us!”

    Nobody wants to see an end to prohibition because they want to use drugs. They wish to see proper legalized regulation because they are witnessing, on a daily basis, the dangers and futility of prohibition. ‘Legalized Regulation’ won’t be the complete answer to all our drug problems, but it’ll greatly ameliorate the crime and violence on our streets, and only then can we provide effective education and treatment.

    The whole nonsense of ‘disaster will happen if we end prohibition’ sentiment sums up the delusional ‘chicken little’ stance of those who foolishly insist on continuing down this blind alley. As if disaster wasn’t already happening. As if prohibition has ever worked.

    To support prohibition is such a strange mind-set. In fact, It’s outrageous insanity! –Literally not one prohibitionist argument survives scrutiny. Not one!

    The only people that believe prohibition is working are the ones making a living by enforcing laws in it’s name, and those amassing huge fortunes on the black market profits. This situation is wholly unsustainable, and as history has shown us, conditions will continue to deteriorate until we finally, just like our forefathers, see sense and revert back to tried and tested methods of regulation. None of these substances, legal or illegal, are ever going to go away, but we CAN decide to implement policies that do far more good than harm.

    During alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over turf. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have gone on treatment. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?

    In an underground drug market, criminals and terrorists, needing an incentive to risk their own lives and liberty, grossly inflate prices which are further driven higher to pay those who ‘take a cut’ like corrupt law enforcement officials who are paid many times their wages to look the other way. This forces many users to become dealers themselves in order to afford their own consumption. This whole vicious circle turns ad infinitum. You literally couldn’t dream up a worse scenario even if your life depended on it. For the second time within a century, we’ve carelessly lost “love’s labour,” and, “with the hue of dungeons and the scowl of night,” have wantonly created our own worst nightmare.

    So should the safety and freedom of the rest of us be compromised because of the few who cannot control themselves?

    Many of us no longer think it should!

  20. #20 |  Dan | 

    Demand that Columbia, MO Police Deputy Chief Tom Dresner stop covering for his boys in SWAT and RELEASE THE NAMES of the officers involved in the dog shooting raid.

    Tom Dresner
    8220 S Tomlin Hill Rd
    Columbia, MO 65201-9238
    (573) 874-0956

  21. #21 |  Officer Zealot | 

    Arrest that Section8 civilian! ;-)

  22. #22 |  Officer Zealot | 

    Bust that Section8 civilian! ;-)

  23. #23 |  Officer Zealot | 

    Mr. Balko, your screening process is on the fritz. It bounced my Comment #70, claiming it was a duplicate (with no chance to appeal). I tried again, got the same message. Then I paraphrased it to Comment #71, and it posted both comments.

    I think your software could have a future in law enforcement, but it’s too objective in its caprices; I’m not even black!

  24. #24 |  Section8File13 | 


  25. #25 |  The Home Front § Unqualified Offerings | 

    […] Radley Balko has some interesting contrasts between no-knock raids in drug busts in the US and house… […]

  26. #26 |  SJE | 

    My two comments got deleted too….WTF?

  27. #27 |  Dr. Frank | 

    Question: why was this guy arrested?

    I’ve posted this on discussion threads at the Columbia Trib and the Columbia Missourian and no one seems interested enough or knowledgeable enough to answer, and it’s really puzzling me. What am I missing? Anyone here have any idea?

    (Apologies if this question has been addressed somewhere, and if so, please point me to the answer.)

    I’m really confused as to why Mr. Whitworth was arrested.

    According to this:

    “When any law enforcement officer suspects any adult as defined by state criminal statutes , other than those excluded herein, of possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and/or possession of marijuana paraphernalia, that person shall not be required to post bond, suffer arrest, be taken into custody for any purpose nor detained for any reason other than the issuance of a summons, suffer incarceration, suffer loss of driver’s license, or any other punishment or penalty other than the issuance of a summons.”

    Why was he arrested? Is it because of prior arrests/convictions, as excepted in section C. ? If so I can’t find a specific reference to that in any of the case documents released so far, and I’m wondering how it’s established whether or not someone is protected by (b). By what procedure do police decide and establish this about a suspect? Did they go in there knowing, i.e. “okay if we find nothing more than residue or paraphernalia we can arrest him anyway because of conviction x, y, or z?” And if so, doesn’t the fact that they arrived at that conclusion need to be documented somewhere? Or is it, in the end, the officers’ judgement that determines whether or not to arrest someone (Seems like a clear violation of the statute: there must be something I’m not getting.)

    Or is it the “endangerment of a child” charge that makes him arrestable? (And wouldn’t that amount to a nullification of the statute for anyone who has kids, regardless of prior arrest record? If so are there other charges like that that could nullify the statute for people with no kids?)

    What is different about Mr. Whitworth that exempts him from the (apparently) plain meaning of the law prohibiting his arrest?

  28. #28 |  Section8File13 | 

    Dr. Frank, great question, I have asked this one before with no response. when Whitworth was read his rights they never said what he was charged with. and at that time they did not have any evidence (pipe or grinder) so was the arrest illegal? I think so.

  29. #29 |  Randy | 

    As someone wrote on another blog (I think it was Power and Control blog), police use these “dynaminc” entry tactics in drug cases because getting their hands on the contraband evidence is more important than the safety and well-being of both the officers serving warrants and that of the occupants inside the home.

  30. #30 |  KBCraig | 

    As someone wrote on another blog (I think it was Power and Control blog), police use these “dynaminc” entry tactics in drug cases because getting their hands on the contraband evidence is more important than the safety and well-being of both the officers serving warrants and that of the occupants inside the home.

    You’re right that they’ve mostly quit trying to claim “officer safety” except as boilerplate that no one really believes. This also puts the lie to the claim that they want to “get drugs off the streets”, and here’s why: if they set up a cordon and sent one uniformed officer up to knock on the door and announce with a bullhorn that they have a warrant to search for drugs, then repeated every five minutes until someone opens the door, you can bet that house would be 100% drug free by the time they executed the warrant.

    And isn’t that the supposed goal?

  31. #31 |  GreginOz | 

    Dunno about The States but here in Oz I love the War On Drugs. I’ve been enjoying the Hydge/Sinsemilla for around 30 years. Despite my Gummints best efforts prices have gone down a tad & quality is epic! So, with market-forces (sic) (ie pigs) at work the system of Agorism actually works. Who cares if it’s illegal? Not me, last time the Oink got me they issued a Cannabis Caution coz the courts are so overworked that I am not a burning (get it?) issue!!! Of course, we don’t have a nationwide epidemic of thuggish, brown shirt, oafs, issued with milgrade equipment, attacking their own citizens…and killing them.

  32. #32 |  Bubba Man | 

    to quote qwints | May 14th, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    “Matt D has it right.

    The military cares much more about what civilians think than police officers do.”

    This may have something to do with the fact that the military fellows get shot at with a whole lot more regularity and the folks doing the shooting are a whole lot less random. So they seem to be better at figuring out who the enemy really is rather than just thinking that everyone out there is the enemy.

    However, as unhappy as I am about this kind of thing, I still think we are doing the average cop a disservice. It must really screw them up doing a couple of years of counter-narcotics.

    -Bubba Man.

  33. #33 |  Bubba Man | 

    To Quote “MikeZ” | May 14th, 2010 at 11:53 am

    “Seems like this particular problem is a legislative one not a judicial one. We really need a law saying SWAT or any forced entry is only allowed for X. As a start holding the state accountable for all damages incurred in the raid (even when the suspect is guilty) also seems reasonable. I wouldn’t be surprised if police captains changed their response if they knew every raid will effect their budget.”

    I think this may be the best proposed solution I’ve heard yet.

  34. #34 |  TXMarko | 

    @68 “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

    Great point, Frank!

    Why is it that “civilian” dogs are fair game for shooting (and it happens a LOT, just Google “cop shoots dog” and sift through over 4 MILLION hits), yet many States have laws on the books that prosecute a “civilian” for Murder of a Public Servant if he/she shoots a police working dog?

  35. #35 |  Release | 

    Here is the list

    Thomas Quintana
    Scott Hedrick
    Kyle Lucas
    Sergeant Roger Schlude, Team Leader/Breacher
    Robert Fox, Pry Tool
    Lance Bolinger
    Micheal Parsons
    Parimeter Team
    Richard Horrell
    Crystal Clements
    Cathy Dodd
    Roger Schlude
    Micheal J Cavender
    Tomas Quintana
    Warrant Obtained by Ron Hall

    Here is where to download the police report

  36. #36 |  Section8File13 | 

    In regards to the Columbia MO. city council meeting Monday 17th at 7pm.

    Outstanding, thank you Spencer Pearson and Holly Henry for your addressing the Council tip top. I am proud of you. you are TRUE AMERICAN’s and thank you for all whom could attend the meeting, I attended via Streaming video, and that is documented on the site via usage logs and IP addresses assessing the media. reason I say this is because this is as Spencer and Holly said “the world is watching” yes we are. and that can be proven. I salute you two for speaking for all of us and being professional in your representing us to Columbia MO. council meeting. Again Thank You for making a stand and requesting accountability. Thanks to all whom stood up literally and were a physical representation of this whole nation that is watching and waiting for answers and change.

    sincerely Ricci Scott.

  37. #37 |  Rad Geek People’s Daily 2010-05-18 – Lethal force | 

    […] a follow-up post on the Columbia, Missouri raid, Radley Balko posted a letter from a government soldier who took umbrade at his watch-word of […]

  38. #38 |  Lethal Force « Little Alex in Wonderland | 

    […] a follow-up post on the Columbia, Mo. raid, Radley Balko posted a letter from a government soldier who took umbrade at his watch-word of […]

  39. #39 |  Greg aka Flatland Nautilus | 

    I was in the Marine Corps Reserve with people exactly like the second letter. They abuse their power because of what I derogitorily refer to as “little man syndrome.” They exercise power over those with less in a beligerent authoritarian, almost fascist, manner. It is sad.
    I firmly believe that if you want to be a police officer you should have to get a degree with an emphasis on psychology or sociology, no less than a bachelors.

  40. #40 |  Michael | 

    “Some of these guys are elected to their positions. If we stop electing judges who will just sign their name to anything a cop give them then we can reduce these raids exponentially.”

    I find this comment interesting. Here on the Canadian Internet lately a lot of people gripe and whine about judges here (who aren’t elected) who “let the guilty party” off by actually requiring evidence etc.

    Many of these gripers would like to see Judges getting elected so that they “do the will of the people”, something I always found akin to a “civilized lynching”.

    Either way, your comment confirms my suspicion that we’re better off not having our Judges elected.

  41. #41 |  links for 2010-05-21 « Clint’s Test Blog | 

    […] WAR ON DRUGS: Swat Teams and the Military : Dispatches from the Culture Wars It turns out that our SWAT teams raid american citizens with fewer restrictions than our military in Afghanistan has while raiding homes there. […]

  42. #42 |  Adventures In Paranoia: the Afghan counterinsurgency as practice for the home front | Grobstein | 

    […] you. Along with the dramatic overgrowth of SWAT team policing, we are remaking local police as the most poorly trained and least disciplined command of the US military, with all of the fancy necrotoys and none of the […]

  43. #43 |  everyone should put cnn on - Page 3 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum | 

    […] No-knock "drug war" warrant = dead dogs, ruined home – Gordon Wagner – Open Salon More Militarized Than the Military | The Agitator __________________ "Behind every great fortune lies a great crime." (Honore de […]

  44. #44 |  CATO & Liberty: More Discipline for SEAL in Afghanistan than SWAT Officer in Fairfax? « Center for Intelligence News Study | 

    […] 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 […]

  45. #45 |  More Discipline for SEAL in Afghanistan than SWAT Officer in Fairfax? | Cato @ Liberty | 

    […] 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 […]

  46. #46 |  Could Navy SEAL Dogs Be Used in the War on Drugs? | | 

    […] Radley Balko has pointed out before, some SWAT teams across America are already more militarized than the military. So my concern when I see this “badass” technology on these dogs is that it’s probably fairly […]

  47. #47 |  Philosophers on Drugs | Bleeding Heart Libertarians | 

    […] out on one of the greatest advantages of full legalization: the reduction in criminal violence, police militarization, massive expense, and infringement of civil liberties that would be had by ending the war on drugs. […]