Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Support Your Paramilitary Police?

THESE are the "good guys."

“I am so sorry to see that you, who worked for a group that supports local police, have nothing but contempt for police,” a decent and conscientious police officer wrote in a recent e-mail. “You and [Reason Senior Editor and libertarian blogger Radley] Balko can point out mistakes here and there, and some very serious I agree. There many search warrants done each day across this country and most are successful and without incident. I don't see you commenting on them or I don't see you mentioning cops that get shot during these warrants.”

“I don't see you writing about cops like myself who after executing search warrants and yanking perps out in cuffs were approached by old ladies and and moms with kids thanking me for giving them freedom and liberty to move about their own property and streets,” continued the officer, who serves in Queens, New York. “I am an old right conservative and supporter of the free market. I am not a statist. Many more are getting shot by perps and not by police. I do believe though that most major cities are going to hire more and more bad guys because of the PC mentality.”

While I have no reason to think that this fellow is anything other than an earnest and capable public servant – in the honorable sense of that expression – it was his misfortune to write that letter on the same day that 23-year-old Sean Bell was killed by a 50-shot fusillade from plainclothes NYPD officers in the same borough.

The undercover police had staked out a strip club in the Jamaica section of Queens. Mr. Bell and his two companions (the latter were wounded in the assault) were at the club for a bachelor party. The incident took place in the early morning hours of what was supposed to be Bell's wedding day, a tardy but welcome development in light of the fact that he and his live-in girlfriend already had two young children.

Early reports of the shooting claimed that the officers believed that either Bell or one of his companions was armed, and that the driver of the car they were riding deliberately struck one of the officers after he had identified himself. After the shooting – during which stray bullets perforated some nearby apartment buildings – the officers called for backup. A search of the car and its occupants failed to find a gun.

Speaking the day after Bell was killed, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged (as paraphrased by the AP) that it was “unclear what prompted police to open fire,” and that it “was also not clear whether the shooters had identified themselves as police.”

One analyst describes episodes of this sort, in which several police empty their clips into unarmed suspects, as “contagious shooting,” “gunfire that spreads among officers who believe that they, or their colleagues, are facing a threat,” in the words of the New York Times. “It spreads like germs, or laughter, or fear. An officer fires, so his colleagues do, too.”

This type of behavior is predictable for Marines patrolling one of Baghdad's more turbulent neighborhoods. One would expect that a different mind-set would prevail for civilian police in American neighborhoods.

One would expect this. One would be wrong.

“Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed,” reports Joseph D. McNamara, a former police chief in Kansas City, Missouri and San Jose, in an op-ed published in today's Wall Street Journal (November 29; subscription only). “An emphasis on `officer safety' and paramilitary training pervades today's policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn't shoot until they were about to shoot or be stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.”

While police work is dangerous, and some police officers die heroically in defense of the innocent (may God grant rest to their souls and comfort to their families), the on-duty mortality rate of police officers is incredibly low. McNamara points out that last year, 51 officers were killed in the line of duty “out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York's highest crime precincts.”

Here's a question somebody needs to examine: How many innocent civilians were killed by police last year, in paramilitary raids and other unnecessary shootings? I would wager that the civilian casualty count is higher than 51.

The “officer safety” mindset has dangerous and lamentable consequences beyond militaristic overkill, among them a tendency to immunize police against civil and criminal liability – or even significant career injury – when they kill innocent people.

Witness the case of Salvatore Culosi, a 37-year-old optometrist who was killed by Fairfax, Virginia SWAT operators last January. Culosi was suspected of operating an illegal sports betting operation, which is hardly the type of supposed offense that would justify sending a SWAT team to execute an arrest warrant. (Virginia has a state lottery, so laws against sports betting really make no sense.)

Although Culosi was unarmed and offered no resistance, he was shot dead during the January 24 encounter.

Just days ago, an official inquiry ruled out criminal charges against the man who killed Culosi, 17-year police veteran Deval Bullock. However, Bullock faces a three-week suspension without pay.

Astonishing as it may seem, the local police union is protesting this disciplinary sanction as excessive.

Marshall Thielen, president of the police union, called the penalty unprecedented and too harsh. "There's never been anything close to that," complains union president Marshall Thielen, describing Bullock's unjustified killing of an unarmed, non-violent citizen a "tragic mistake while trying to help the community."

Which of these individuals was a larger threat to the community: A mild-mannered optometrist who was taking bets on football games, or a heavily armed paramilitary operator who can kill people with impunity?

Questions of this sort ricochet harmlessly off a mind armored with the “officer protection” dogma.

Video Extra

Here's a TV news account of full-force SWAT raids in Dallas against "illegal" poker games.

Here's a fanboyish piece of self-dramatizing video from an Alabama SWAT operator that is borderline auto-erotic.

And here's a news report from Communist China documenting how the Boyz in Beijing are gettin' their SWAT freak on in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics.


Anonymous said...

Great comment. It sounds as if you might be the perfect person to gather those stats about civilian deaths you mention.

since you live in Idaho, I assume you've heard about the numerous police killings of mentally ill people in Portland, Oregon? I've never figured out why they feel their life is in danger when they are 'threatened' by a drunk wielding a knife or a schizophrenic trying to run away. To the best of my knowledge no Portland police have been killed recently, though there was one wonderful officer who was grievously wounded not too long ago.

William N. Grigg said...

Mac -- thanks for your kind comments, and I do intend to research the question I raised about the number of civilian deaths per annum as a result of police shootings.

I've read about one case involving a mentally ill man in Portland who is about my age; this outrage is something I've been meaning to look into for some time. If you have any leads or contacts to share, I'd sure appreciate hearing more from you. God bless!

Anonymous said...

I would love to know the stats on police shootings in this country every year. I fear that the number would be far too many to keep up with. I am outraged that these men could be gunned down on our city streets! Last week it was the poor little old lady killed by police in Atlanta. Whether they got the wrong house or not is still unknown to me but they CUT thru security bars to get into her home. (Supposedly on a no knock drug warrant.) She was probably scared to death, and shot at them. They deserved to be shot at! These are NOT justifiable shootings although I am sure they will be found as such. Locally, where I live, a man believed to be suicidal was recently shot and killed. He was on a bacony at his home with a knife and had already injured himself. Police shot and killed him from the yard below. It was found to be a JUSTIFIED shooting. Unbelievable!

Captain Kirk said...


Excellent job on bringing this issue into the light of day. Yeah, i'd be real interested in finding out how many citizens are capped each year (under questionable circumstances) by the law enforcement establishment. I'd be willing to bet that a fair percentage of these shootings occur by the quasi-military and undercover operators in law enforcement as opposed to the average beat cop.

BTW, when speaking on the domestic front of the War on Drugs or the War on Terrorism, how come the law enforcement establishment is fighting a war. I thought wars were the purview of the military. Then again, what shreds remain of the Posse Commitatus Act are supposed to prohibit military operations on our own soil. Perhaps that is why these social problems are couched in terms of war and the law enforcement establishment is becoming more militaristic. Will, what do you think?

William N. Grigg said...

Cap'n --

First of all, did you see that Mister Spock left a comment on another thread? Now if we can bring Bones out of retirement (with or without the beard and the Disco medallion, as he appeared in ST:TMP), we'll have the full Triumvirate on board!

The whole idea of designating some big social undertaking "the moral equivalent of war" was inflicted on us by William James, the father of "pragmatism." The notion was adopted by the Progressives -- TR, Herbert Croly, Walter Lippmann, and others of that persuasion -- who thought WWI was just swell, because it allowed Washington to regiment every aspect of the economy and public life. The Progressives didn't use the "war on [fill in the blank]" formulation, but they operated on the same principle.

Interestingly, the first significant political leader to use the "war on [fill in the blank]" formula was -- ta daaa! -- Benito Mussolini, who was influenced by the American Progressives and in turn directly influenced the New Deal.

The first "war on drugs" was Prohibition, which was brought to us by the same lovely people who conspired (no other word is adequate -- sorry) to get the US involved in WWI. The current version of prohibition, the "war on drugs," is directly responsible for the militarization of law enforcement and the effective abolition of Posse Comitatus (by way of an EO signed by Ronald Reagan).

Anonymous said...

UCR on the FBI site would be a good place to start tracking figures.

It's alleged that deadly force is less likely to be used during so-called SWAT operations, than by the everyday cop on the street, or the patrol officers trying to rescue hostages taken during a thwarted robbery. But this could be a matter of averages. You can check NTOA for those numbers.

It certainly is alarming to see packs of men clad in armor pursuing gamblers. I followed the case in Va for some time. A .45 being plunged into the chest of an unarmed bookie angered all who had a conscience. My recollection of that tragedy was that it was an accidental shooting. But then the inevitable questions -many from cops- joined those asked by the public; why a SWAT team for an unarmed bookmaker? Why was his muzzle even pointed at the bookie if he was not exhibiting a weapon?
Why was his finger anywhere near the trigger? Why were they there in the first place?

The use of SWAT teams for such low-risk arrests is disturbing to say the least. But I believe there might be at SOME hope. Some who take the business of policework seriously have recognized the necessity of STRICT guidelines for the use of a SWAT team. In many areas gone are the days of calling some guys who want to play dress up and take pictures of each other to serve a warrant on someone who will offer a little bit of a fight. Solid and verifiable information must gathered before even considering SWAT use. There has to be a good reason to go in rather than wait or pull a ruse. Even if SWAT is used there's a very good chance they will not storm the place as the clowns did in the linked vids. Invading a home is serious business, especially if the occupant is armed.

I do believe SWAT teams are a necessity for some jurisdictions. Others, who don't have the hardcore criminal element, shouldn't be wasting time and money on such endeavors. A jurisdiction with one is more likely to use one, even if it isn't needed. Then the citizens suffer.

dixiedog said...

Why a SWAT team for an unarmed bookmaker? Simple, like the policeman who recently e-mailed Will clarified. They [the commoners] THANK US for mopping up the cretins, regardless of the criminal profession. IOW, they suck in the official dogma about the given shooting.

But then, I'm not all that surprised about this kind of thing happenin' in Fair(y)fax county, or rather Metro DC. Some commoners, including a manager of one of the establishments, in a couple of restaurants in the county were apparently afraid when CIVILIANS with holstered firearms (open carry) were seen patronizing the establishments in question a few years ago after shooting practice. (Source: FreeRepublic*)

Gee, really?? The cops thought open carry was illegal too! The VCDL had to inform the ignorant folk, to include the Polizei, that it's LEGAL to open carry firearms in public and in private establishments that otherwise don't disallow weapons.

*Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking, Will. I don't care for the FreeRepublic either, but one has to discriminate and not dismiss something simply because the source may be otherwise detestable. The message always trumps the messenger.

rick: ...make sure you categorize your results. IOW, make sure you ask the right questions!!

Simple, all Will needs to do is ask about stats on "suicide by cop" as they themselves would call it. Thinking folk, of course, would know what that really meant.

Sometimes it pays to act "ignorant," "neutral," or sometimes feign a favorable view on a topic of interest when seeking info about that topic especially from government sources about government actions.

dixiedog said...

the other thing that got me was that the VCDL submitted a law that would require a person carrying concealed to inform the police officer that they are carrying concealed or face a misdemeanor charge.

That's already long been the law, at least when you're stopped by a police officer driving in your car/riding a motorcycle. I'm guessin' what VCDL was recommending was for a law that requires one to "show their papers" (CCP) ANY time you happen to be questioned by a police officer, not just traffic stops. Perhaps? I don't know.

I've never been a member of VCDL but, just like any organization, the leadership can become tainted over time I reckon unless the members are vigilant :(.

Chris said...

Could you include in your findings references to the paramilitary drills conducted in public schools. I read of two such incidents recently where SWAT teams stormed public schools, searched all the students, and scared the bejeezus out of both the students and their parents. For what purpose are these drills being conducted, other than to acclimate the populace to this kind of action?