Pretend that you’re at home one night just minding your business. You have your spouse, your kids, and your dog. Everyone is chilling and having a good evening. You’re up in your bedroom, getting ready for a shower, and in a generally good mood.
Then with no warning, your front door is kicked in. Men armed with what seem to be military-grade automatic weapons, and wearing body armor, complete with helmets that hide their faces, burst in. They immediately shoot your barking dog, killing it in front of your terrified family. Then they force your spouse and children to the ground, pointing guns at their heads and screaming obscenities at them.
But, hey, you’re a responsible gun owner. You immediately get your gun from your gun safe, head to the stairs and start opening fire. You manage to easily hit a couple of the intruders, maybe even killing one, before you’re taken down in a hail of bullets. The last thing you see before you die is the back of the body armor one of the intruders is wearing. It has a word on it. That word, in big bold letters? POLICE. The last thing you hear is an officer screaming that they have the wrong house.
Welcome to Obama’s America, though to be fair, it’s more accurate to call it Nixon-Ford-Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama’s America. Welcome to a land of no-knock warrants, where your civil rights, and your right to be free and safe in your home, have been destroyed in the name of the War on Drugs.
A no-knock warrant is a variety of search warrant that doesn’t require officers to knock and wait for you to answer the door before barging in. The excuse for having such a thing is to keep drug dealers from destroying evidence and to keep officers safe when serving the warrant. The logic goes that if they knock, a drug dealer might just shoot them. To be fair, that does happen on certain very rare occasions, such as back a couple of moths ago in Indiana where four officers were injured (though not seriously), while serving a warrant to a suspect. The suspect was, of course, killed. The article mentions that they knocked, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume a standard warrant was being served.
Now consider the scenario I described above. In that scenario we have a dog killed, an innocent person killed, a family, including children, terrorized by the people who should be protecting them, and at least two cops injured, maybe killed. Had the cops in that scenario, which is, btw, something I cobbled together from actual botched drug raids, which happen fairly often, simply knocked and waited for someone to open the door, they would have quickly realized they were in the wrong place. Had they intercepted the homeowner on their way to work or shopping or whatever, they would have known they had the wrong person. The whole thing would have been handled without bloodshed.
I do recognize that being a cop is dangerous, and serving warrants can be risky. If guns were found 90% percent of the time when these warrants are served, I might not have a problem with that. But instead guns are found about 18% of the time, and they’re usually “just” pistols (my source? The exceptionally good book Rise of the Warrior Cop, which I highly recommend), and not the AK-47s you’d expect from the movies. Gee, who knew action films might exaggerate to make things more interesting and intense?
And it turns out that, as you might expect from the scenario I described at the start, cops actually do stand a pretty good chance of being shot while a no-knock warrant is served. And when they’re shot, there is a good chance the shooter will walk, especially if it was a botched raid.
We therefore have a situation that is dangerous to cops and dangerous to innocent people, not to mention dangerous to actual suspects who, let us not forget, are innocent under the law until the state proves them guilty. This is not a good system.
It’s exacerbated by the militant attitude that police are showing these days. Consider the fact that the police use rank titles like “captain” and “lieutenant” that have military origins. There’s no real reason for this. They’re civilians, after all, just like the rest of us. Why shouldn’t they use the same sort of titles the FBI uses, like “agent” and “special agent”? Wouldn’t that make more sense.
The titles are really just the smallest tip of the iceberg, however. Check out this police recruitment ad that I found on YouTube.
Now to be fair, I did set about intentionally looking for a fairly militant ad. I didn’t expect to have it be in the first page of searches, in the top five results, and be the first video I clicked on. It’s impressive, isn’t it? Notice all the military imagery. Notice the SWAT team. Notice the music and the editing. Notice the laughably ironic Orwell quote at the end. What don’t you see in that video? A lot of community policing, investigations and properly done arrests. Instead you see a man, whose job is to protect people, getting ready to straight-up murder someone using a sniper rifle.
This might all be acceptable, just barely, if the city this police force patrols, Denison, Texas, was a great Mecca for crime. But it isn’t. First off, the city’s population (which I will round up to 23,000), is about what you’d need to fill a small-sized stadium. Second, while they do have a crime rate that is substantially higher than their neighbors, and a violent crime rate that is slightly higher than the national average, their crime rate is still pretty low. They had one (1) murder in 2012, which was half the rate of 2011, when they had two. Hey, that’s a 50% drop in the murder rate! No doubt due to their SWAT team! They also had all of 10 rapes, which sucks, but that really is nothing you can use a SWAT team to fight.
Now you could use a SWAT team for terrorist attacks, but I notice Denison hasn’t had a lot of those. Nor do they seem to have had too many hostage-takings. So I’m willing to bet their SWAT team doesn’t do anything that SWAT teams should do, and instead probably goes along serving warrants and, who knows, may do all sorts of other fun enforcement things. There’ve been accounts of SWAT teams shutting down neighborhood poker games, helping shut down bars that have sold to minors, and even going on raids to put a stop to unlicensed barbering. To be fair, that last could be a valid use. After all, we all know how dangerous barbers can be.
We really need to put an end to no-knock warrants. Yes, it means that some cops might die that otherwise would live, but some will live that would otherwise die. And while this is going to sound horrible, I would, at the end of the day, rather have a dead police officer shot while serving a “normal” warrant to the correct address, than have a family traumatized and an innocent person dead because they served a no-knock on the wrong address.
Also, we certainly need to stop using SWAT teams for everything. Small towns like Denison shouldn’t even have them. You could justify a regional SWAT team, perhaps, but even then, they should only be used in certain select situations where there is legitimately no other option than violence. The job of a police officer is to end violent events with no one getting hurt, including the suspects. That might take longer without a SWAT team, but it also might be likely, since, as I learned from Rise of the Warrior Cop, the odds of a violent confrontation go up extensively once the SWAT team arrives.
I respect and admire the police. That is a fact. They do a tough, thankless job. But giving them a slight illusion of safety is not worth the greater risk to the general public, and it certainly isn’t worth the beating that our civil rights and liberties have taken.