National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Florida Police Now Ready For Minefields

From the New York Daily News:

“If you see my SWAT team roll up in this thing … it’s over, so just give up,” said Chief R. Sean Baldwin in a release….

The police department was able to purchase the armored vehicle through the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, which passes excess military supplies to U.S. law enforcement.

More than $4.2 billion worth of property has been transferred to law enforcement since the program’s inception.

One wonders if these guys shout ‘Yippee Ki-Ya!” as they drive down neighborhood streets.

Deputy Accidently Shoots Woman During Raid

From Buckeye Country

A Ross County law enforcement official is on paid leave after firing a shot that eventually killed a woman during a drug raid.

Members of the U.S. 23 Task Force raided a known drug house along U.S. 23 in southern Ross County late Wednesday night. As soon as they got inside, they found a woman with a head wound on the couch in the living room.

“It was discovered later that a bullet had accidentally discharged from outside the door of the trailer and went through the outside wall of the trailer and into the living room,” said Ross County Sheriff George Lavender.

The bullet struck Krystal Barrows in the head. She was flown to OSU Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, but she died from her wounds….

The sheriff says he was outside the home at the time of the raid and never heard a shot go off. He thinks it probably happened at the same time a flash-bang grenade was used as agents entered the home. Those devices are used to distract and confuse suspects.

And for the Nth time, those grenades also confuse the police–and that too often endangers people unnecessarily.

More here.

Mother Jones on Overcriminalization

Chase Madar:

If all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago….

The term “police state” was once brushed off by mainstream intellectuals as the hyperbole of paranoids. Not so much anymore. Even in the tweediest precincts of the legal system, the over-criminalization of American life is remarked upon with greater frequency and intensity. “You’re probably a (federal) criminal” is the accusatory title of a widely read essay co-authored by Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals. A Republican appointee, Kozinski surveys the morass of criminal laws that make virtually every American an easy target for law enforcement. Veteran defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate has written an entire book about how an average American professional could easily commit three felonies in a single day without knowing it.The daily overkill of police power in the US goes a long way toward explaining why more Americans aren’t outraged by the “excesses” of the war on terror, which, as one law professor has argued, are just our everyday domestic penal habits exported to more exotic venues. It is no less true that the growth of domestic police power is, in this positive feedback loop, the partial result of our distant foreign wars seeping back into the homeland (the “imperial boomerang” that Hannah Arendt warned against).Many who have long railed against our country’s everyday police overkill have reacted to the revelations of NSA surveillance with detectable exasperation: of course we are over-policed! Some have even responded with peevish resentment: Why so much sympathy for this Snowden kid when the daily grind of our justice system destroys so many lives without comment or scandal? After all, in New York, the police department’s “stop and frisk” tactic, which targets African American and Latino working-class youth for routinized street searches, was until recently uncontroversial among the political and opinion-making class. If “the gloves came off” after September 11, 2001, many Americans were surprised to learn they had ever been on to begin with.A hammer is necessary to any toolkit. But you don’t use a hammer to turn a screw, chop a tomato, or brush your teeth. And yet the hammer remains our instrument of choice, both in the conduct of our foreign policy and in our domestic order. The result is not peace, justice, or prosperity but rather a state that harasses and imprisons its own people while shouting ever less intelligibly about freedom.

Read the whole thing.  The article by Judge Kozinski appears in my book, In the Name of Justice, found on the home page here.


Police Depts Getting Military Vehicles from Iraq War

From the Associated Press:

Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.

The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program.

For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up….

An Associated Press investigation of the Defense Department military surplus program this year found that a disproportionate share of the $4.2 billion worth of property distributed since 1990 – everything from blankets to bayonets and Humvees – has been obtained by police and sheriff’s departments in rural areas with few officers and little crime.

For related Cato work, go here and here.

Dallas County Sheriff Acquires ‘Mine Proof’ SUV

From Dallas Observer Blog:

There’s a very glaring, very fundamental question we haven’t yet addressed: Why in holy hell does Dallas County need an armored military vehicle built to withstand a minor apocalypse? The underlying reason seems to be that military trucks are fucking cool, but no one’s actually saying that. The sheriff’s office is touting it as a tool that will help them better serve warrants. “Having a tactical vehicle will not only provide warrants execution with the equipment to assist in performing their jobs but will provide an overall safety arch,” Chief Deputy Marlin Suell wrote to commissioners. Because there’s no telling when North Texas might descend into sectarian warfare and start planting IEDs along Riverfront Boulevard.

The Monroe Isadore Case

From the Washington Post:

When the time came to move 107-year-old Monroe Isadore to a new home, police say he resisted and barricaded himself inside. Authorities tried using a camera to monitor him, along with negotiating tactics, and finally gas to get him to come out.

None of it worked.

So, a SWAT team went inside and was greeted by gunfire, authorities say. The team fired back, and Isadore died.

The weekend confrontation raised a flurry of questions Monday as residents struggled to make sense of how someone known as a pleasant, churchgoing man who was hard of hearing and sometimes carried a cane had died in an explosive confrontation. Did authorities know how old he was? Did they follow proper procedure? Could they have done anything differently?

“It’s just a big puzzle,” said Ivory Perry, who has known Isadore for decades.

The Rise of the Warrior Cop

This week Cato hosted a book forum for Radley Balko’s new work, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.   We strive to host events where there can be a civil exchange of views with folks who may see matters differently–so we were pleased that Mark Lomax of the National Association of Tactical Officers accepted our invitation to offer comments on the book.  Go here to view the event.

We at Cato have been criticizing the militarization trend in American policing since 1999.  Ilya Somin, law professor at George Mason University, offers some thoughts on the Balko book here.

The Daniel Vail Case

From the Washington Post:

Vallery Vail thought the heater had blown up.

She was getting ready to go to sleep in her tiny two-bedroom apartment in a converted Mount Airy barn just before 1 a.m. Her son, Daniel, 19, who had an early shift at the gas station that morning, had gone to bed early. And then — boom.

It was not the heater.

Frederick County sheriff’s deputies — wearing SWAT gear, night-vision gear and military-style helmets — were storming Vallery Vail’s home in a raid connected to her son, who was a suspect in a home invasion and who the deputies feared might be armed. They set off a deafening flash-bang device. Then came gunshots.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” Vail said, describing a hail of 18 9mm bullets deputies fired at her son. There was screaming. Deputies entered her bedroom, she said, and handcuffed her.

“I don’t hear Daniel,” she remembers thinking. “Why isn’t anyone helping him?”

Daniel Vail had been shot multiple times, including twice in his left temple, according to his family, who have yet to receive the official autopsy report. He died beside his bed.

The article notes the Cato report on these no-knock raids (right hand margin of our home page) and quotes the author, Radley Balko:

Flash-bangs have become a popular but controversial diversionary tactic used by SWAT teams. The devices give officers key seconds to make tactical moves and are especially useful in hostage situations. But using them when the suspect doesn’t yet present an active threat can lead to violent confrontations instead of preventing them, said Radley Balko, a former Cato Institute researcher and author of “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.”

“The police will say, ‘We need to do these midnight raids and use these devices to take people by surprise,’ ’’ Balko said. “But then they will turn around and say, ‘Well, you should have known we were the police, and you should have dropped the gun.’ That’s an inherent contradiction.”

Yes.  The police stress they had only a ‘split second’ to decide whether to use deadly force.  But they recklessly created the situation.  They should have arrested Vail at the gas station or school or some other place.  A raid in the middle of the night was a terrible idea.

Check out Radley Balko’s new book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.