Well, the Iraq is F**ked Part II post is damn hard, but between making turkey chili and making room in the garage for another motorcycle (you know they breed when left alone, right?) I’ve been dinking away at it.
In an effort to work my way through writers block, I think I’d jump onto a couple of newsworthy stories and see if I can piss a few people off in anticipation of my pissing them off about Iraq.
The police have been kinda in the news for two use-of-force stories this week; at UCLA, the PD shocked a noncompliant student while being videotaped, and in Atlanta, a 92-year old woman was shot to death by police after she opened fire on officers breaking her door down in serving a “no knock” warrant.
I’m going to grade these as 1 for the police and 1 against.In the case of the UCLA event, it’s simple – the guy was obligated to show his ID proving he was a student – a policy that’s in place to keep coeds from being raped and students from being mugged in libraries that are open late at night. He had the ID, but decided he didn’t want to show it.
Library staff asked him to show it or leave, he refused, the campus police were called, they apparently asked him to show it or leave, and then – something happened – the cell video that’s widely circulated begins with him screaming “Don’t touch me!!” and the officer saying “stand up!”
So we’ll assume that either the officer put a hand on him to begin to move him along – which I’ll presume happened after he was asked to show ID or leave and refused – and he hit the deck and began to passively resist.
The officers used a TASER on ‘drive stun’ – basically a shock rod that hurts, but is not disabling to try and get him to comply, and a scene broke out.
I’ll note that the officers are widely accused of threatening to tase students standing by who asked for ID information, but the video doesn’t show it. I’ll wager that the officers have audio of the entire encounter, and can’t wait to read the full transcript.
So – did they use excessive force?
Well, what else were they supposed to do? The reality is that anything else they might have done was in fact more likely to result in injury to the student – plus possibly officers – than what they did. An armbar or wristlock easily can result in a fracture, displaced elbow, or shoulder injury to the person it’s done to. Having enough officers there to pick up a resisting – and possibly kicking and flailing – adult male suggest that you’d have 8 – 10 (two for each extremity) and the odds of injury there are also pretty high.
Go read this study (yes, it’s hosted on the TASER corporate site) and notice that there were fewer citizen complaints, fewer injured arrestees, fewer officer injuries post TASER deployment. And that ‘drive stun’ was 75% effective in getting arrestees to be compliant.
Absent some facts not in evidence today, I’m gonna call this one a tempest in a teapot, and the student the “Drama King of the Month“. Next time, just show your ID or leave, OK?
Next to Atlanta.
Here the facts are also pretty much agreed-to. Three narcotics officers , in plainclothes, but with raid vests with “POLICE” on them, executed a no-knock (or not-much-knock) raid on a house in a sketchy neighborhood in Atlanta. The homeowner – a 92-year old lady – greeted them with gunfire, they returned fire, she died & they were wounded.
All of which pretty much sucks.
Here, I’m going to wag my fingers at the PD.
I’ve commented on the overuse of SWAT and felony stops before, and it’s an area where I’ll claim some small expertise – I’ve done a bunch of dynamic entries in training (and resisted a few – also in training), and actually think I’m pretty good at them.
And I think they are insanely dangerous.
Not as insanely dangerous as entering a room with an armed bad guy without using those techniques – but pretty darn dangerous on their own. As I’ve said in my earlier post:
…the dumb but critically important fact is that any time guns come out, the potential for tragedy is there. As soon as this became a felony stop (where the responding police draw weapons in advance, and generally act as though the people being stopped are True Bad Guys), the door to a tragedy was opened. Officers have negligently (I never use the term â€˜accidental dischargeâ€™ in talking about guns; it is a â€˜negligent dischargeâ€™) shot the people they were handcuffing, or themselves, or their partners. The people who are stopped sometimes are uncompliant and do things which make the officers believe that a gun is being drawn. There are a million ways for this to end badly…
Add that to the small but significant chance that a disoriented, frightened homeowner might just reach for their gun and shoot back.
Radley Balko – who has been beating the drums on this issue for a while – points out that SWAT rolls over 40,000 times a year in the US, primarily to serve what are perceived as ‘high-risk’ warrants.
Patterico and he are in the middle of a small pissing contest on this issue, and sadly each of them is further away from the core issues than they ought to be.
Let’s be clear – even the best-trained officers (and most officers engaged in these kinds of raids are typically less well-trained than I am, for a concrete example) are going to be adrenalized as they stack up outside the door. And when they go in, they will be handling loaded weapons, safeties off, and pointing them at people. Some significant percentage of those guns are going to go off. If they’re 99.99% good – and that’s a big number – if there are 40,000 raids, 40 people a year will be killed inadvertently.
So is there something else that could be done? Why not stand off and ask for compliance? There’s a judgment call to make – an armed suspect shooting out of a house isn’t remotely a Good Thing. But neither is the string of negligent shootings by officers of other officers, suspects, and random homeowners in the course of dynamic entries.
There’s no correct answer here, just a balancing of risks. Right now, the officers are all too willing to take risks with citizen’s lives. This is out of the legitimate belief in the primacy of officer safety, and in the less legitimate fact that being on SWAT is seen a a cool posting in all police departments that I know of, while being good at talking suspects down seldom gets headlines or wins medals.
Does it matter if the woman’s nephew or neighbor was selling out of the house? I don’t think so. I don’t even think it would matter if she had been selling out of the house. It’s kind of like David Koresh and Waco; if they’d waited for him to walk out of the damn building and arrested him, they could have had tactical superiority without burning the whole damn building down.
The raid – and the thousands like it every month – raises a few simple questions. Here’s a simple one. Why didn’t the officers – who had a battering ram – have ballistic shields? Why don’t the police have better training and tools?
Why isn’t some basic risk analysis done to decide which warrants deserve no-knock warrants (and yes, there are a lot of them that really do), and which ones don’t.
Standing off and asking for compliance means that small quantities of drugs will get flushed. But as I mentioned to Patterico when we discussed it, if there is a small enough quantity of drugs that it can easily be flushed – why are we risking people’s lives doing a dynamic entry?
I’ll suggest a further issue with the militarization of the police. When I lived in Paris, one of the creepiest things was seeing the gendarmes standing on subway platforms with subguns slung over their shoulders. They made it very clear that the state was prepared to use overwhelming force when it chose to.
Yes, the state does have the ability to bring as much force as necessary to win. But does every interaction with agents of the state have to make that quite so clear?