Here’s a roundup of botched, mistaken, or [ridiculous] police raid stories to have recently made the news:
- In Peoria, Ill., a team of plainclothes cops recently raided a home to find out who was behind a parody Twitter account set up to mock the town’s mayor. Interestingly, a parody account would be protected speech. To justify the raid, Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said, “I don’t agree it was obvious [it was a satirical account], and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor.” Given that the account apparently made frequent references to illicit sex and drugs, you have to wonder what Settingsgaard is implying about Peoria’s mayor.
- Also in Illinois, a lawsuit alleges that the Drug Enforcement Administration is working with local police to raid the homes of people suspected of drug crimes after being spotted shopping at hydroponic gardening stores. I’ve previously writtenabout a similar raid on an innocent couple in Kansas.
- In Mebane, N.C., police broke into the wrong house while executing a drug warrant this month.
- Last month, deputies in Huron County, Ohio, conducted a botched raid on the home of John Collins. Through a bizarre series of ever-changing narratives, Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard has since insisted that his deputies did nothing wrong. But at the same time, he persuaded a judge to put a gag order on the warrant, and then to put a gag order on the gag order. He also got a gag order on Collins’s complaint. Not surprisingly, the local newspaper reports that Sheriff Howard has long had a somewhat hostile relationship with transparency.
[W]hile the drug war forces addicts and casual users to rely on unlabeled, black market (and possibly tampered-with) products for their fix, would drug users in a free market turn to such dangerous products? It’s unlikely. We do know that in the face of prohibition, many users turn to using alcohol and prescription drugs for off-label recreational uses that can cause harm that is similar or even worse than those caused by prohibited drugs.
There is simply no evidence that prohibition generates any socially desirable benefits, but there is ample evidence of its costs and destruction.
The Failed War on Drugs
Connecticut Cop Charged With Sexual Assault of Teenage Girl: Time to Start Tracking, Penalizing, Maybe Even Firing Problem Cops →
Police from five Connecticut towns participated in a botched raid in Easton in 2008, one that was predicated on a warrant that permitted cops to “search for a small quantity of drugs and to seize anything in the house where a box the size of a breath mint container and two glass pipes might be hidden,” as the Connecticut Post reported on the disastrous raid. It ended with alleged drug user Gonzales Guizan killed at the hands of police. An attorney’s general report cleared cops, based mostly on their own testimony, but while Easton tried to fight a decision to allow a civil lawsuit to go forward, it ended up on the hook for $3.5 million. None of the police officers or the supervisors who thought a five-force raid on an alleged petty drug user was worth the effort and exertion of violence were held accountable for their actions. But now the arrest of one officer involved in that raid, William Ruscoe of the Trumbull police department, on charges of sexual assaulting a teenage girl, with the possibility of more victims coming forward, calls to question the systemic policy decision not to hold police officers accountable in the kind of fatal and unnecessary situations like the one they created in Easton in 2008.
If you’ve ever had to go on your state’s DMV website to pay a ticket, you might have noticed the state reminding you that “driving is a privilege, not a right,” usually by way of explaining why in addition to paying a fine “points” are added to your license. Accumulate enough points, and your license is suspended. Participate in a raid that ends with the fatal shooting of a citizen while in the employ of the government, however, and have access to more labor protections and due process “rights” than almost any other profession in the world. Incidents of police abuse and nothing else happening are available aplenty. There is something seriously wrong with our relationship to government when we accept driving as a privilege and carrying a badge and gun and exercising a monopoly on violence as a right.
A study published by the online journal PLOS One yesterday finds that adoption of medical marijuana laws is not associated with an increase in crime and may even result in fewer assaults and homicides. Robert G. Morris and three other University of Texas at Dallas criminologists looked at trends in homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft in the 11 states that legalized marijuana for medical use between 1990 and 2006. While crime fell nationwide during this period, it fell more sharply in the medical marijuana states, even after the researchers adjusted for various other differences between states. Morris and his colleagues suggest that the substitution of marijuana for alcohol could explain this result, although they caution that the extra reduction in crime might be due to a confounding variable they did not consider.
What seems clear is that these crime data do not support the notion that making marijuana more readily available drives up crime rates, whether because of marijuana’s effect on behavior (including use of other drugs) or because of robberies associated with cash-heavy cannabusinesses:
The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML [medical marijuana legislation] is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present….This is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.
How relevant is research on medical marijuana laws to the debate about broader forms of legalization? Highly relevant, if you take the view that medical marijuana is mostly a cover for recreational use, as prohibitionists tend to argue. In truth, the legal regimes governing the medical use of marijuana range from very strict (such as New Jersey’s) to very loose (such as California’s). But it is fair to say that a lot of people with doctor’s recommendations in the looser states are recreational users in disguise. It therefore makes sense that legalizing medical marijuana would be accompanied by a decline in drinking, as Morris et al. suggest. Such a substitution effect may also explain why medical marijuana laws are associated with a decline in traffic fatalities.
Some short remarks on the war on drugs by Bob Murphy.
His initial comment is something I noted in my recent interview with ThinkSquad: “[A]lthough I am absolutely a deontological Rothbardian radical, I have embraced the fact that the world is more easily persuaded by utilitarian arguments. It is useless to argue principles to people who have none. Many people simply do not value freedom as an end in itself, so it’s important to understand that freedom is also a means to most of the good people look for.”
America’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded, and the war on drugs is mainly to blame.
Over 50 percent of inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug offenses, according to an infographic recently released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (see chart below). That percentage has risen fairly consistently over decades, all the way from 16 percent in 1970.
The second-largest category, immigration-related crimes, accounts for 10.6 percent of inmates. This means that people convicted of two broad categories of nonviolent crimes — drugs and immigration — make up over 60 percent of the U.S. prison population.
Also note that in a distant second place are those imprisoned for the “crime” of crossing an arbitrary line on a map in pursuit of a better life.
In a March 10 USA Today piece, Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) expressed his desire to introduce legislation that would place limits on the Pentagon’s 1033 program which is used to supply police departments with gear that was once used on the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a long overdue “official” recognition that something terrible has happened to police departments in the US. Whether Johnson’s plan has a chance of getting anywhere remains to be seen. Because there are numerous firmly-stuck perverse incentives that lead to the state of policing today and which perpetuate it.
People who casually notice the more military-like qualities of American police would be forgiven for assuming their tactics, weapons, and menacing appearance are a result of post-9/11 fear. Though September 11 and subsequent scares and some real incidents such as the Boston Bombing have aggravated this problem – and there is a similar equipment grant program that comes from the Department of Homeland Security that Rep. Johnson should check on – the catalyst for our mutant police is narcotics prohibition.
Ronald Reagan’s … literal drug war began in 1981 with the passage of the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Statute (10 USC 371-380). More loosened restrictions followed that allowed domestic assistance by the military to police in certain (usually drug) cases. It also set up a system where police departments could receive equipment through grants from the federal government. This lead to bizarre commando-style drug raids that sometimes included military helicopters, and even U-2 spy planes. (The flimsy accusation that the Branch Davidian sect had a meth lab was even the excuse for the presence of the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and other military hardware during the disastrous 1993 standoff outside Waco, TX.)
Richard Nixon had declared a “war on drugs” in 1971 and pushed some bad policies – including a DC “no-knock raids” law – with limited success. But the conflict became the monster we see today under Reagan. Those years rocketed the US’s prison population to its current inhumane level of more than 2 million people, and they lead to the normalization of camo-clad cops kicking in doors over reports of weed or other drugs. The spike in crime in the 1990s cemented this supposed need for eternally tough on crime measures from police and politicians. Policies such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders made it clear this was was a serious enough issue to warrant life in prison for repeat, nonviolent drug dealers.
One risk of the blurred line between cop and solder is what happens with a declaration of war on anything; war expects casualties and necessitates exceptional circumstances. It is always a “freebie” that allows ignoring principles against murder, theft, and trespass. The war on drugs is bad because it is impossible to win, and because its harmful effects can be seen all over the US. The policy makers and enforcers declared that the abstract, far-off goal of a drug-free America was supposed to be worth the price. But this conflict has wrecked the Fourth Amendment, the Castle Doctrine, and privacy. It has filled prisons to bursting, and brutalized poor and black communities. It leads to gang violence. And current policies still encourage police to prioritize narcotics crimes at the expense of real ones.
In spite of a promising, albeit painfully-slow backlash against anti-drug hysteria (most notably demonstrated in the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state) narcotics are still the motivation for the 100-plus SWAT raids that happen on private homes every day. Normalization of SWAT’s militarism has even mission crept into regulatory checks on purveyors of other “vices.” Additionally, civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to keep a large percentage of cash or equipment they seize from people affiliated with potential drug drug crimes. (You need not be convicted or even charged for police to take your cash or property if they suspect drug connections.)
As Washington Post journalist and blogger Radley Balko told Antiwar last year, this excess number of drug arrests makes it difficult for cops to get smart (or safe) when busting people – so instead they hastily bust down doors. But in the case of an actually violent criminal such as mobster Whitey Bulger who “was wanted for 19 murders, armed to the teeth, old age…[T]hey didn’t send a SWAT team. They did their research and found out Bulger rented a storage unit, and they called him and said someone had broken into the storage unit. He showed up, and they arrested him without incident. I think it’s telling that when you have really dangerous people, that cops find creative ways to arrest them that don’t put police officers and the public at risk.”
Almost a year ago, Los Angeles residents approved Measure D, a ballot initiative to cap the number of medical marijuana dispensaries within the city and introduce a whole host of regulations.
The cap was based on a cutoff date several years ago, so hundreds of dispensaries that opened after that date were retroactively made illegal and told to shut down. As I’ve pointed out, though the measure was sold as a way to halt an alleged glut of dispensaries, it’s clearly a tactic to protected older, more established shops.
Corporatism is universal. As I keep mentioning: “So long as there are centers of power, those with means will aim to wield that power or work it in their favor. And there’s no greater power than the state’s monopoly on force. The state, therefore, will always serve the interests of the connected few above the masses.”
There’s more to this story, but here’s the bottom line:
The city of Los Angeles has a list of medical marijuana dispensaries it thinks may legally remain open but it’s not sure, and it’s accepting registration applications from medical marijuana dispensaries that it pretty much knows aren’t legal to open.
And now it’s going around closing shops and threatening not just those businesses with fines and jail time but the landlords who rent out their spaces, even if the businesses have been issued registration certificates by the city.
Of course, if these shops were free to open at will, consumer demand would naturally determine the number of shops desired in a given area, with the added bonus of driving up quality and safety while driving down price.
And the cop’s account that the hard-of-hearing 80-year-old with no criminal record was charging him with a .22 pistol runs counter to the coroner’s report, forensic evidence of the scene, and an audio recording of the incident.
Policymakers and anti-addiction advocates now want to suppress opioid use, and to impose even greater restrictions on people who live with chronic pain. This isn’t going to address the addiction and overdose problem. Studies are now showing that when opioids aren’t as available and prices go up, addicts just switch back to street heroin. Pain patients, however, simply suffer. Their plight shouldn’t be an afterthought and shouldn’t be relegated to comments sections to stories that failed to consider their perspective. They are a crucial part of this story.
In a free society, it’s not up to business “leaders,” politicians, or the arbiters of public decency as to which industries shall be lauded and welcomed, and which shall be ignored and shunted aside. It is the market, which far more reliably reflects the true preferences and desires of the population than any political process, that is the one objective and honest measure of what it is that the consumers and taxpayers want. If consumers don’t want the cannabis industry in Colorado, it will surely shrink to insignificance. If, on the other hand, consumers do in fact want it, lawmakers possess no economic or moral grounds to declare otherwise.
The more the government acts to suppress a market with more police, severe penalties and new tactics the higher they drive up prices and the more incentive black marketeers have to invest in ways of protecting themselves against detection, arrest and penalties. One of the primary ways of doing this is to increase the potency of the product or to switch to higher potency products. It’s more bang for the buck. Instead of smuggling wine, a truckload of 10% alcohol, why not smuggle a vanload of whiskey that is 90% alcohol? Why try to bring weak potency marijuana into the country when you can smuggle marijuana that is 5 or 10 times more potent, or why not switch to cocaine and heroin smuggling where a million doses can be smuggled in a single suitcase? Marijuana is not a true gateway drug that leads people to heroin. Stricter prohibition leads black markets from weak marijuana to heroin.
My students are often skeptical of this analysis. Perhaps drug dealers are not smart enough to figure this out, they think. Then I ask them about what happens at an Auburn University football game. “If you went tailgating before the game, what alcoholic drink would you most likely see people drinking?” The answer is nearly unanimous – beer. Then I ask them, “Once you get into the stadium (where alcohol is prohibited) what type of alcohol are you most likely going to see consumed?” The students’ eyes bug out and I have seen a jaw or two actually drop because they know the answer is some type of high potency liquor. …
With prohibition, the more the government tries to enforce it, the higher the price and the more effort that will be exerted to overcome the prohibition, whether that is higher potency, more dangerous concentrated drugs, larger bribes, more powerful guns …
Los Angeles Times gets its hands on an investigation into border patrol practices by the Police Executive Research Forum, a “nonprofit research and policy organization in Washington that works closely with law enforcement agencies” that was “allowed to examine internal Border Patrol case files on 67 shooting incidents from January 2010 to October 2012.”
Some findings from the Times:
Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border, according to an independent review of 67 cases that resulted in 19 deaths.
The report by law enforcement experts criticized the Border Patrol for “lack of diligence” in investigating U.S. agents who had fired their weapons. It also said it was unclear whether the agency “consistently and thoroughly reviews” use-of-deadly-force incidents.
And our brave border protectors wanted to make sure we, or our elected representatives, never found out:
House and Senate oversight committees requested copies last fall but received only a summary that omitted the most controversial findings — that some border agents stood in front of moving vehicles as a pretext to open fire and that agents could have moved away from rock throwers instead of shooting at them.
The Times obtained the full report and the agency’s internal response, which runs 23 pages. The response rejects the two major recommendations: barring border agents from shooting at vehicles unless its occupants are trying to kill them, and barring agents from shooting people who throw things that can’t cause serious physical injury….
Mexican authorities have complained for years that U.S. border agents who kill Mexicans are rarely disciplined and that the results of investigations are not made public for years.
J.D. Tuccille blogged earlier today on Arizonans attempts to rid themselves of an internal “border checkpoint.”
Just a thought: we could cut a vast number of the reasons any of these confrontations happen in the first place with saner drug laws and saner paths for the legal ability to work in this country.
"Border Patrol agents have deliberately stepped in the path of cars apparently to justify shooting at the drivers and have fired in frustration at people throwing rocks from the Mexican side of the border"