Excessive Police Violence

2011

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 force include:

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 crimes.

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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