Excessive Police Violence
Due to a variety of factors, police violence is increasingly
common. Of course violence is part of the job at times, but I
am referring to what in my mind amounts to police brutality and
police misconduct in general. More specifically, the problem
is the excessive use of force in making arrests and pursuing
cases that involve minor crimes.
In reason magazine Radley Balko writes about the increasing
police violence and rights-violations by officers and organizations
around the country, and he never runs out of true stories to
make his point. For example, in 2008 a SWAT team from the Prince
Georges County, Maryland police raided the home of Cheye Calvo,
mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland. A package of marijuana had
been sent to that his address without his knowledge, one of several
sent to random addresses and expected to be intercepted before
delivery by a conspirator in the delivery service. Instead it
was discovered by police who allowed the delivery and then broke
down Calvo's door and shot his two Labrador retrievers before
holding him and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.
Police eventually realized Calvo was innocent, but say to
this day that if they had to do it over again they would do it
the same way. This is despite the fact that the police department
was sued and paid a settlement because of the matter, and despite
the more important facts that there was no evidence Calvo was
dangerous. Police could have knocked on the door to serve the
warrant, avoiding the killing of the family pets and the terrorizing
of the innocent residents.
That is one of the endless string of examples Balko writes
about. The use of SWAT teams has gone from about 3,000 annually
in the early 1980s to more than 50,000 per year now. While they
used to be used for emergency situations that involved immediate
danger to others, like hostage situations, they are now routinely
used for drug arrests and arrests for minor crimes. Balko has
found 46 instances where a SWAT raid has lead to the death of
innocent people, and is sure he hasn't found them all. He also
has found dozens of examples of people killed who were suspected
of minor crimes like gambling or possession of marijuana.
The reasons for this massive increase in the use of excessive
1. Federal grants for creating SWAT teams, which must be spent
if they are to be renewed.
2. Extreme rhetoric about the drug "war," which
makes war-like tactics more acceptable in cases of non-violent
3. The fact that in the last 20 ears the Pentagon has given
free or cheap equipment to police forces all over the country,
including tanks, armored personnel carriers, machine guns, and
other items more suitable for war than for police work.
4. Asset forfeiture policies that allow police departments
to benefit from the loot they gather during these raids, thus
encouraging more police violence and misconduct.
Those are some of the reasons this abuse of power is becoming
more common. Balko has reported on instances of SWAT teams being
used to arrest a businessman for an outdated permit and to round
up meditating Buddhist monks who overstayed their visas here
during a peace mission. Perhaps it is time for some reform?
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