Radley Balko posted something interesting on Slate 3 days ago regarding an issue we’ve been discussing lately around these parts: no-knock warrants, and overwhelming force in police tactics.
A case is before the Supreme Court, Hudson v. Michigan, in which police got a warrant to search a drug dealer’s house for cocaine, but didn’t give sufficient time after the “knock” to let the defendant answer the door. Consequentially, the defendant is moving to have the evidence (quite a lot of cocaine) thrown out because of the violation of due process.
Balko states some disturbing facts:
It’s impossible to estimate just how many wrong-door raids occur. Police and prosecutors are notoriously inept at keeping track of their own mistakes, and victims of botched raids are often too terrified or fearful of retribution to come forward. But over the course of researching a paper for the Cato Institute on the subject, I’ve found close to 200 such cases over the last 15 years. And those are just the cases that have been reported.
200 is way too much… we complain about how many people are executed by the state, but at least those people have been put on trial and found to be guilty. Whether right or wrong, they at least had the protection of due process and the law. Victims of botched no-knock raids, like Cory Maye, have no due process, no trial, and are almost always completely innocent of any crime, but they’re executed anyway and nobody seems to care.
The culprit is the rise of the SWAT team, according to Mr. Balko, and I’m hard-pressed to disagree with him.
It’s bad enough when the police serve a no-knock warrant at the wrong place. But this is not regular service of a warrant. No-knock raids are typically carried out by masked, heavily armed SWAT teams using paramilitary tactics more appropriate for the battlefield than the living room. In fact, the rise in no-knock warrants over the last 25 years neatly corresponds with the rise in the number and frequency of use of SWAT teams.
I think that Libertarians running local races could make some serious political hay by supporting the scaling-back, or even complete disbandment, of their local SWAT teams. Yes, they’re conceivably useful in a limited number of cases, but nowhere near the amount of cases they’re currently used for. They cost a lot of extra money that could be spent on more regular cops instead, and they don’t really do much to stop crime beyond shoot the innocent. They exist so Republicans can claim they’re getting “tough on crime.” Also, just because they’re wearing a badge instead of military insignia doesn’t mean they’re not violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Posse Comitatus.