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Militarization of Police

All articles with the "Militarization of Police" tag.

Published: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 07:49:15 -0400


Militarized Police Events Are Now Routine

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 12:00:00 -0500

Cops never know what they are walking into, because even situations that seem calm and predictable can burst into mayhem in a moment. So nobody should ever begrudge law enforcement officers the safety precautions they take. All the same, you have to wonder about the show of force that turned out on Convair Lane in Henrico early Monday morning. There had been some sort of dispute, and shots fired. But nobody had been hurt and the public was never in danger, according to Henrico police Lt. Lauren Hummel. Two juveniles were taken into custody. Which makes you wonder why—even allowing for an abundance of caution—the situation required not one, but two Lenco armored personnel carriers. Or why the incident apparently called for a sniper in a ghillie suit. No doubt there are times and places when a camouflaged sniper can come in pretty handy, even for a civilian police force. But a Henrico suburb not far from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens? The Lenco armored-vehicle company boasts that its BearCat "may be used as a S.W.A.T. or Military Counter Attack and Rescue Vehicle and is often used in hostile Urban Environments or as a Patrol/Reaction Vehicle on a Military Base." It comes with armor plating, bulletproof glass, gun ports, and other features, such as chemical and radiation sensors, depending on the model. That makes it a useful vehicle to have on hand if, say, a police officer gets shot approaching a building. If he's bleeding out in the street and the shooter is still active, you don't want to two plainclothes detectives with a stretcher trying to get him to safety. Armored personnel carriers also can prove useful during riots and other forms of urban unrest. But at what cost? "The scene harkened to familiar images of the Iraq war: men in black helmets and body armor sitting on top of armored personnel carriers, rifles at the ready, surveying the civilian population," reported USA Today in 2014. "Except this was in Middle America and the civilian population was made up of people demonstrating with their hands up to protest the police shooting of an unarmed black teen." The response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., reignited a long-running debate over the militarization of the police. Libertarians had been warning about the trend for years, as police departments around the country snapped up surplus Pentagon materiel or bought paramilitary equivalents from the private sector—and then began adopting military tactics such as dynamic, no-knock raids. More than 80,000 SWAT-style raids take place each year, even though their sole purpose, four times out of five, is simply to serve a warrant. The federal government encouraged much of this, first through the prosecution of the war on drugs, and then through what is known as the 1033 program, that gave away more than $5 billion worth of military equipment, from helicopters to grenade launchers, to local law-enforcement agencies. Some agencies—including Henrico—have used Homeland Security grants for the equipment. Much of which is flatly not needed. Caroline County, Virginia, for instance has its own armored personnel carrier—for a locality with 30,000 residents and an average of less than one murder per year. A 2014 report in the Richmond Times-Dispatch found that more than 100 Virginia localities have received federal materiel, including M-16s, grenade launchers, and more. Some of them—again, including Henrico—were highly reluctant to disclose that information. All of the concern back in 2014 has now faded away. But the paramilitary trend in policing has not. This might make more sense if the police were facing increasing threats. But figures from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund show that the most dangerous year for police officers in the U.S. was 1974, when 280 were killed. The numbers have shown a long decline since then; the 2016 total was 143. That's still 143 too many (though far fewer than the 963 people whom police killed that year). But if militarized weapons and tactics are responsible for saving officers' lives, the public ought to have so[...]

Prank SWAT Call May Have Led to Wichita Police Killing a Random Man on His Own Doorstep

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 15:45:00 -0500

(image) Thursday night, Wichita, Kansas, Police sent out a SWAT team to respond to a 911 call that a man shot his father and was holding his family hostage in their home.

The telephone call was a lie. There was no hostage situation—but nevertheless a man at the home ended up dead, shot and killed by a police officer at his own front door.

Police right now are being tight-lipped about what actually happened at the home of the dead man, identified by relatives as Andrew Finch, 28, as the circumstances are still under investigation. Police did say they don't believe Finch fired on police officers before they shot him, according to the Wichita Eagle. His family says he was not armed.

It seems likely that this was the outcome of a "swatting" prank that has finally reached its inevitable awful conclusion. "Swatting" is a nasty prank where somebody calls 911 and tells police a violent crime or hostage situation is happening at somebody else's home. Police then show up with weapons to bear and end up terrifying an innocent party who is not doing anything at all. Often times the swatters use tech tools to conceal or change their number so that it appears to be local and credible.

Swatting pranks often have ties to the video gaming community, and that may well be the case here. Though, again, it's still too soon to say for sure, the Eagle reports that the prank may have originated as part of a dispute between Call of Duty gamers. Based on a Twitter fight, it appears one gamer may have given another gamer a false address, that of Finch's family, and that's where the police were sent. Finch's relatives told the Eagle that he didn't play video games, so if these facts are true, he wasn't even a party to this dispute.

Finch's family told the media this afternoon that Finch was not armed and that he had gone to the door to see what was going on yesterday when he saw all the flashing lights. Apparently the family had no idea they were the raid's target. Lisa Finch, Andrew's mother, told the Eagle the police then raided the house after shooting her son. They were all handcuffed and taken to the police station for interviews.

The family is furious not just at the prankster who got Andrew killed but at the police as well:

"What gives the cops the right to open fire?" Finch asked. "Why didn't they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report."

Finch and Hernandez-Caballero said they want to see the officer—identified only as a seven-year veteran of the department—and the person who made the false report held accountable.

No doubt there's going to be a lot of attention on the prank call that sent the SWAT team out to the Finch home, but we absolutely must not forget that it's the police who decided how to behave when they got there.

As far back as 2014 I was warning that the overmilitarization of our police departments helps makes pranks like this become dangerously violent mechanisms that can get out of hand. As I noted back then in response to another game-related swatting prank:

These reactions are exactly the kinds of things swatters are hoping for. Because the police have developed this reputation for violent, over-the-top reactions to everything, they are actually reinforcing the value of using swatting as a way to torment others.

Trump Used an FBI Graduation Ceremony to Call for Greater Police Militarization

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 08:40:00 -0500

President Donald Trump spoke to local law enforcement officials who completed an 11-week FBI training program, using the occasion call for greater militarization of local police forces. Trump praised the hard work and dedication of American police officers, thanking them for "doing their duty and doing it properly." Moments later, the president seemed to suggest proper policing includes making use of a great deal of military surplus gear and weaponry. "We are allowing our local police to access surplus military equipment, something the previous administration for some reason refused to do," Trump said Friday. "Explain that one. Explain it to me, please. Never understood that one. Somebody out there can explain—anybody want to stand up and explain it, that'd be tough." src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> OK, we'll give it a go. For starters, Trump's claim that the Obama administration refused to let local police get their hands on military-grade weapons is completely inaccurate. The Obama administration did place some limitations on those transfers following a series of violent confrontations between police and civilians in 2014 and 2015, but those restrictions amounted to tanks and rocket launchers. In fact, "2014 and 2015 were peak years" for the transfer of military weapons to local police, according to a report published last year by Open The Books, a pro-transparency nonprofit. The Department of Defense's 1033 program, which transfers military surplus gear to local police, has been around since 1990 and was greatly expanded during the Clinton administration. Since it's origins, more than $5.4 billion in equipment has been transferred from the Pentagon to state and local cops. Police pay nothing for the gear, except for shipping costs. Since 9/11, America's war on terrorism has seen military budgets skyrocket and created more leftover weaponry and materiel for local law enforcement agencies to snarf up. According to Open The Books, the 1033 program has sent 625 mine-resistant vehicles, 471 helicopters, and 329 armored trucks and cars to local police. Cops have also gotten their hands on rifles, shotguns, sniper scopes, infrared cameras, bayonets and rocket-launchers from the Pentagon's surplus store. The result? Tanks at Ohio State football games and patrolling Delaware beach towns. A Mother Jones investigation in 2015 found that "law enforcement agencies claimed they needed [mine resistant ambush protected vehicles] to safeguard trailer parks, shopping malls, theme parks, Halloween festivals, and Lambeau Field. Trump talked about rescinding the Obama administration's mostly-useless restrictions on the 1033 program while campaigning for president. In August, he officially repealed them. The ACLU panned the decision and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), has introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of "offensive" military surplus like weapons while allowing police to access "defensive" gear like helmets and body armor. "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm," Paul said in a statement in August. "It is one thing for federal officials to work with local authorities to reduce or solve crime, but it is another for them to subsidize militarization." Oversight of the 1033 program during the Obama years was virtually nonexistent. The Government Accountability Office in July reported that it was able to obtain $1.2 million in military gear applying for it as a fictitious federal law enforcement agency. Kansas City in not Kabul. Birmingham is not Baghdad. And turning police departments into something resembling a standing army does nothing to reduce tensions or engeder public trust. The "warrior" mentality—instilled by modern police training and reinforced with modern arms—escalates threats and increases the likelihood for violent outcomes. Witness the unnecessary and completely inexcusable death of Daniel Shave[...]

The Cops Were Chasing a Shoplifter. They Ended Up Destroying an Innocent Man's Home.

Sun, 19 Nov 2017 07:00:00 -0500

Leo Lech owns a property parcel at 4219 South Alton Street in Greenwood Village, a sleepy suburban enclave tucked between Denver's bustling Tech Center and the scenic reservoir of Cherry Creek State Park. His quarter-acre plot rests near the end of a quaint cul-de-sac that fits every idyllic American stereotype: two-car garages, well-manicured lawns, the stars and stripes waving in front of each home. While most houses on this block were built in the 1970s, Lech's is brand new: It received a certificate of occupancy in August after two years of construction. It isn't the first building to have occupied the lot. Over the course of June 3 and 4, 2015, a devastating police raid systematically destroyed Lech's old home. The cops were responding to a crime that Lech had nothing to do with: A suspected shoplifter had barricaded himself inside the house after a chase, sparking a 19-hour standoff with a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. Unleashing a display of force commonly reserved for the battlefield, the tactical team bombarded the building with high-caliber rifles, chemical agents, flash-bang grenades, remote-controlled robots, armored vehicles, and breaching rams—all to extract a petty thief with a handgun. When it was over, Lech's house was completely unlivable. The City of Greenwood Village condemned it, forcing Lech to topple the wrecked structure. Making matters worse, the municipality refused to pay fair market value for the destruction. Now Lech is suing for compensation. The outcome of his case may bring clarity to the property rights of Americans living in the shadow of police militarization. The Destruction The story starts in a Walmart parking lot. At 1:22 p.m. on June 3, Aurora police officer John Reiter was dispatched to the store after a security camera caught a man stealing a shirt and two belts. The official police affidavit described the thief as "a white male approximately in his thirties, 6'5" with a muscular build, short blond hair, clean shaven and lots of tattoos on his arms and shoulders"; he was wearing blue jean shorts and a red backpack. His name was Robert Jonathan Seacat. Seacat ran to his gold-colored 1999 Lexus. As he was fleeing the scene, he nearly assaulted Reiter with the vehicle. The car was later discovered abandoned at a light rail station less than a mile away. Police found drugs, brass knuckles, and some cash inside the trunk. In the ensuing pursuit, Seacat—now on foot—crossed a pedestrian bridge, a fence, one of Denver's busiest highways, another fence, and Village Greens Park, which backs up directly to the 4200 block of South Alton Street. The suspect broke into Lech's property by entering through the back door, tripping one alarm. While inside, he attempted to open the garage door, tripping a second alarm. At 1:54, the City of Greenwood Village Police received a report that the alarms had gone off. The house was rented at the time to John Lech (Leo's son), Anna Mumzhiyan (John's girlfriend), and Anna's 9-year-old son. At the time of the incident, the boy was alone in the home while Anna was out running errands. The Greenwood Village cops called Anna, who informed the police that her son was inside. The frightened boy quickly managed to escape unharmed and was reunited with his mother by 2:17. The child reported that Seacat was armed, telling police that he clearly saw a gun in Seacat's right hand when the intruder walked upstairs. A witness at the train station had also reported seeing Seacat conceal a "black compact semi-automatic pistol into the front of his pants." And at 2:23, while Officer William Woods was parking two police vehicles in the driveway to block Seacat from using any of the cars in the garage to get away, Woods reported hearing "a single gunshot" exiting the garage, forcing him to retreat to safety. In his report, Woods claimed that he could see a single bullet hole in the partially opened garage door. Woods wasn't the only officer who claimed to have been shot at. After enterin[...]

Trump Rescinds Ban on Transfer of Some Military Equipment to Local Police

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 13:53:00 -0400

President Trump rescinded limits imposed by the Obama administration on the transfer of equipment from the military to state and local police departments, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a speech Monday. Sessions, speaking before the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the U.S., in Nashville this morning, announced to applause that Trump will, effective immediately, roll back limits on the Department of Defense's 1033 program. The Obama administration limited the program in 2015, prohibiting the transfer of such items as camouflage, .50-caliber ammuniation, tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers and bayonets. Police departments in possession of such materiel were asked to return it. Obama acted amid growing concern by civil liberties groups and Black Lives Matter activists over police militarization. Iconic photographs from the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, showed police with armored vehicles, body armor and military-grade rifles. "Those restrictions went too far," Sessions told the Fraternal Order of Police. "We will not put superficial concerns above public safety. All you need to do is turn on a tv right now to see that for Houstonians this isn't about appearances, it's about getting the job done and getting everyone to safety." Sessions said Obama's executive order had halted the flow of the type of helmets and armor that protected police responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, as well as vehicles and aircraft used in natural disaster rescue efforts. "Studies have shown this equipment reduces crime rates, reduces the number of assaults against police officers, and reduces the number of complaints against police officers," Sessions said. In a statement, Fraternal Order of Police president Chuck Canterbury said Sessions is "a great friend of the FOP and to police." "The previous administration was more concerned about the image of law enforcement being too 'militarized' than they were about our safety," Canterbury said. "In an effort to shut down a single program run by the Defense Department, known as the 1033 program, they restricted access to surplus equipment throughout the federal government." The 1033 program has since it was established in 1990 transferred more than $5 billion-worth of military equipment to local police departments. Most of it has been mundane, things like cold weather gear and filing cabinets. However, according to a 2014 report by the Obama White House, the federal government had provided 460,000 pieces of military equipment to local police, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles, and 616 aircraft. Civil libertarians, including lawmakers in Congress, condemned Trump's decision. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), wrote in a series of tweets that he disagreed with the decision. "Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security," Paul tweeted. "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm." Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel at the ACLU of Washington, D.C., said it "defies logic to arm the police with weapons of war—grenade launchers, high-caliber assault weapons, and more—but that's precisely what President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have decided to do." "Three years ago this month, the nation witnessed a highly militarized, violent crackdown by police on protesters in Ferguson," Bennett continued." Today's executive order erases the sensible limits placed by the Obama administration after Ferguson on the kinds of military equipment flowing from the federal government to local police and into our neighborhoods. Tensions between law enforcement and communities remain high, yet the president and the attorney general are giving the police military-grade weaponry instead of practical, effective ways to protect and serve ev[...]

No, Virginia State Police Weren't Outgunned By Militiamen

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 14:59:00 -0400

Virginia police have come under criticism for not quelling violence at Saturday's deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in an interview with The New York Times that militia members at the rally were better equipped than state police. The Virginia Democrat told the Times that law enforcement arrived to find a line of militia members who "had better equipment than our State Police had." In longer comments that were later edited out of the Times' story, McAuliffe said that up to 80 percent of the rally attendees were carrying semi-automatic weapons. "You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army," he said. McAuliffe claimed today on Pod Save the People, a podcast by Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson, that the militiamen "had better armor than my state police and national guard had." McAuliffe's statements were credulously repeated by many, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who warned in a tweet that armed militias were "rivaling state power." McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman with no previous executive experience, speaks as though state and local police have have not received large amount of military equipment. The notion that police are outgunned by heavily armed private citizens is a common trope among gun-control advocates, but it bears little resemblance to reality. Like every other state in the U.S., Virginia has received millions of dollars' worth of surplus military equipment over the years through the Pentagon's 1033 program, which distributes military gear to state and local police. While much of that equipment consists of things like thermal gloves and filing cabinets, it has also included M-16s, body armor, grenade launchers, bayonets, and armored personnel vehicles. The Virginia Pilot reported in 2014: Across Virginia, the program has sent 1,760 assault rifles and 116 12-gauge shotguns to local and state agencies, according to Department of Defense records. In addition to Virginia Beach's mine-resistant vehicle, known as an MRAP, 15 other cities and counties, including York County and Franklin, took delivery of the armored vehicles, according to the records. Here's a photo of an armored vehicle—a Lenco BearCat, a model widely used by police departments around the country—that Reason's Ron Bailey snapped on the streets of Charlottesville on Saturday: — Ronald Bailey (@RonaldBailey) August 12, 2017 The police department of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where Saturday's rally occurred, obtained 12 M-16 rifles through the 1033 program. Virginia news outlet NBC12 reported that between 2007 and 2011 Albemarle County, where Charlottesville is located, "stockpiled 154 guns, mainly 5.56-millimeter rifles. That was the most weapons taken through the program in the entire state by a single police agency." The 1033 program came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, where news wire photos showed police in heavy tactical gear forcefully dispersing crowds. Under changes instituted by the Obama administration, the program no longer provides body armor and has recalled equipment like tracked personnel carriers (which does not include MRAPs) and grenade launchers. Last year, demonstrators against the Keystone XL oil pipeline in North Dakota were faced with similar formations of militarized police, as well as the national guard, which deployed two surface-to-air missile launchers to the scene. Whether Virginia police should have responded to the Charlottesville rally with a similar overwhelming show of force is a separate question. And none of this is meant to discount the incredibly fraught situation police were forced to handle or the risks they faced in doing so. But it is simply not factual to suggest that state firepower is at risk of being overwhelmed by right-wing militias. McAulif[...]

Officials Continue to Dodge Attempts to Disclose Use of Stingrays

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:45:00 -0500

When three men were arrested for robbing a drug dealer in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2013, prosecutors seemed to have a slam dunk case. As The Washington Post reported, Tadrae McKenzie and his friends used BB guns to rob a drug dealer, taking $130 worth of marijuana and his cellphone. A few days later the local police tracked them down and charged them with possession as well as armed robbery with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the defense raised questions about how the police were able to locate the suspects so quickly, but the police and prosecution refused to answer. The judge ordered them to disclose the information, but instead of complying, the prosecution offered the defendants a plea bargain. McKenzie and his friends could have spent anywhere from three to 30 years in jail for their crime. Instead, the three men received probation with no jail time. As Cato Institute policy analyst Adam Bates pointed out during a panel discussion yesterday, the reason for the discrepancy was that the police and prosecution were unwilling to admit they had used a surveillance tool called a "Stingray" to find the criminals. Stingrays mimic the signal of a cellular tower and lure nearby mobile phones to connect to their fake network. Through this connection, law enforcement can track the cellphone's location and even download its content. The device allowed cops in Tallahassee to locate the three robbers with ease by tracking the drug dealer's stolen phone—but when faced with the necessity of acknowledging the technology's existence and explaining in court how it was used, the government's lawyers opted to drop the case rather than speak candidly. "Through the use of nondisclosure agreements, a refusal to honor freedom of information requests, and deceit toward courts and the public, the full capabilities of these devices, the extent of their use by law enforcement, and the existence of policies to govern their use remain secret," Bates writes in a report on law enforcement use of Stingrays. The report explains that nondisclosure agreements between local law enforcement and the FBI and Harris Corp. (the manufacturer of the devices) keep the public in the dark about these cellular surveillance devices: "The government plainly views sacrificing individual prosecutions, even for serious crimes, as an acceptable price for concealing the nature of stingray surveillance," Bates argues. "The FBI's nondisclosure agreement is clear: in exchange for permission to use stingray devices, state and local officials must surrender prosecutorial discretion to the federal government." Advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have tried to increase transparency about the government's use of Stingrays, with varying degrees of success. In 2014, the Florida chapter of the ACLU filed a freedom of information request and was granted access to documents about the Sarasota Police Department's use of the devices. Before the department could hand over the information, the U.S. Marshals intervened, raiding the department and seizing the requested documents. The ACLU has been able to gather some data, though. It found that at least 23 states and the District of Columbia have law enforcement deploying Stingrays. A House Oversight Committee report, published in December, found that in from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) spent more than $71 million to acquire and use cell-site simulators, and has 310 devices agency-wide. In the same span, the Department of Homeland Security spent more than $24 million for 124 devices for that agency. Since January 2006, the Treasury Department has spent more than $1.3 million and possess three devices. The lack of transparency and accountability has led to much concern about civil liberties violations. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah) is planning to introduce two bills to demand more congressional oversight[...]

Terrorism and Liberty in the Trump Era

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

After the atrocities of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's approval rating soared from 50 to 90 percent. A month after the attacks, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. In the weeks after 9/11, more than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.") Evidently averse to potentially committing suicide, 74 percent of the country agreed that "Americans will have to give up some of their personal freedoms in order to make the country safe from terrorist attacks." In 2002, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that 79 percent of Americans agreed that it was "more important right now for the federal government to investigate terrorist threats even if that intrudes on personal privacy." Support for intrusive investigations purportedly aimed at preventing terrorist attacks fell to only 57 percent in 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden's revelations of extensive domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). In the most recent poll, it has ticked back up to 72 percent. Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, and tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required. In October 2001, the House of Representatives passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act just 15 minutes after its 315 pages of text were made available to members. This law eviscerated the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections, and a massive secret domestic spying operation run by the NSA was set up. (Years later, numerous reports by outside and government analysts found that surrendering our civil liberties had been useless, since NSA domestic spying had had "no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.") The Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to torture suspected terrorists; that too proved not just illiberal but ineffective. According to a recent Brown University study, the Global War on Terror (*) has cost $3.2 trillion, in addition to leaving nearly 7,000 American military personnel dead and scores of thousands wounded. How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? In a rally-around-the-flag reaction, his approval rating could surge. It is theoretically possible that such a crisis would reveal Trump as a fierce defender of American liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction. In a 2015 speech at the U.S.S. Yorktown, Trump argued for "closing that internet in some way" to prevent ISIS from recruiting people. "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,'" he said. "These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people." When Apple refused the FBI's demand that it provide a backdoor to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, Trump asked, "Who do they [Apple] think they are? No, we have to open it up." He urged Americans to boycott Apple until it complied with the FBI's demand to decrypt the phone. More generally speaking, Trump has said that he tends "to err on the side of security" and that he thinks the NS[...]

Trump, Terrorism, and Freedom: New at Reason

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

(image) A month after the September 11, 2001 atrocities, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. More than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.")

Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required, and the establishment of a vast program of domestic spying.

How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? It is possible that such a crisis would reveal President Trump as a fierce defender of American constitutional liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction.

Pre-Dawn No-Knock SWAT Raid for Minor Drug Charge Ruled Unconstitutional

Tue, 11 Oct 2016 11:11:00 -0400

A Hennepin County (Minn.) drug squad — known as the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) — conducted a pre-dawn no-knock raid on a house in North Minneapolis one morning in November 2015. They were looking for Walter Power, who they suspected of being a marijuana dealer. To search the home they believed Power to be sleeping in, they brought a force of between 28-32 officers, most clad in riot gear and carrying rifles, accompanied by a sniper seated atop a Ballistic Engineered Armored Response (BEAR) vehicle. Why did law enforcement officials feel they needed to display a show of overwhelming force that would be intense even in a foreign occupied city? Because the primary resident of the house, Michael Delgado, was a registered gun-owner with a license to carry. Convinced of the potential danger posed to officers when raiding a house with an armed occupant, Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford signed off on the no-knock raid, but later told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she did not know a platoon of up to 32 officers would be deployed to search the house, or that they'd throw flash bang grenades through the windows in addition to knocking down doors. The raid resulted in the arrest of Power — the suspected marijuana dealer — for "fifth-degree drug possession," the lowest possible drug charges on the books. Even this modest charge would be dropped after Judge Bransford declared the raid unconstitutional in a ruling last summer, arguing that Delgado and Power had been subject to unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Bransford wrote in her ruling "that the types of militarized actions used in this case seem to be a matter of customary business practice," which she found troubling. Like most of the U.S., Hennepin County has increasingly relied on SWAT teams to serve warrants. According to the Star-Tribune, its ESU deployed 71 times last year, which is more than double its annual usage from a decade prior. A 2014 study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that on a national basis, SWAT teams were only used "for hostage, barricade, or active shooter scenarios" in seven percent of all deployments, while 62 percent of SWAT raids were to search for drugs. The executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, Jim Franklin, was quoted by the Star-Tribune as saying of Bransford's ruling, "My question to her is: Are you going to attend the dead cop's funeral?" Franklin's argument is essentially that without the use of such violent and destructive tactics, officers' lives would be at risk. But no-knock raids can and do result in the deaths of officers, because few things will make even reasonable people turn violent like a sudden and shocking attack on their home. In 2006, former Reasoner Radley Balko wrote about the case of Cory Maye, a Mississippi man who ended up on death row after shooting an officer entering his home during a no-knock raid. Maye would be released from prison on 2011, following a plea agreement to charges of manslaughter. Watch the Reason TV doc on Maye's case below. src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]

81-Year-Old Woman's Single Marijuana Plant Seized in Raid by National Guard and State Police

Thu, 06 Oct 2016 15:40:00 -0400

(image) The full legalization of recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts could very well become a reality—if current polling holds up—when voters go to the polls next month. Medical marijuana is already legal in the Bay State, provided you've got one of those officially sanctioned cards from the state government.

But for the time being, personal cultivation of even a single marijuana plant without state permission is illegal, and Massachusetts state law enforcement put on a display of force last week to make sure nobody, not even an 81-year-old woman with glaucoma and arthritis, forgets it.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, on September 21, octogenarian grandma Margaret Holcomb found herself the subject of a joint raid by the National Guard and Massachusetts State Police. It started when her son Tim saw "a military-style helicopter circling the property, with two men crouching in an open door and holding a device that he suspects was a thermal imager to detect marijuana plants." A few minutes later, a number of law enforcement vehicles arrived and a state trooper demanded the "illegal contraband," warning that no charges would be filed if they gave up Ms. Holcomb's single marijuana plant peacefully and without demanding a search warrant.

Holcomb does not have a medical marijuana card, and told the Gazette if she is unable to procure one, she'll likely grow another plant.

The raid was one of at least six that took place on September 21, all without the knowledge or cooperation of local police authorities.

Attorney Michael Cutler, who works with clients who need legal counsel regarding medical marijuana, suspects the raids are partially motivated by authorities wanting to experience a few more moments of "action" in a specific theatre of the war on drugs that may soon be coming to a close. From the Gazette:

Cutler said it's likely that authorities are using budgeted funds, prior to the end of the federal fiscal year Saturday, to gas up helicopters and do flyovers.

"We're seeing the last throes of police hostility to the changing laws," Cutler said. "They're taking the position that if it's in plain view, it's somehow illegal."

Trump Wants Police to Keep Getting Military Equipment From the Pentagon

Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Donald Trump says he would restart a controversial federal program that transfers surplus military equipment to local police departments, The Guardian reported Monday night: During discussions at a fraternal order of police lodge in Akron, Trump was asked by one questioner if he would return "military equipment" to law enforcement, according to a pool reporter who observed the event. "Yes, I would," said Trump, who added that the current situation facing law enforcement was "ridiculous." President Obama issued an executive order last May banning the transfer of several categories of military surplus equipment, such as bayonets, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, and tanks, from the Pentagon to local police departments under the federal government's 1033 program. The Obama administration came under a hail of criticism from Black Lives Matter and civil rights groups who said the 1033 program contributed heavily to the militarization of police on display during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In a Fraternal Order of Police presidential candidate survey released last month, Trump also pledged to rescind the executive order, calling it an "excellent program that enhances community safety." Trump has in recent months worked to frame himself as the "law and order" candidate, bashing the Obama administration's commutation efforts for putting "bad dudes" back on the street. "There is no compassion in tolerating lawless conduct," Trump said in a speech last Tuesday. "Crime and violence is an attack on the poor, and will never be accepted in a Trump Administration." However, the White House is also now re-reviewing the 1033 program after meeting with law enforcement leaders in the wake of the fatal shootings of five police officers in Dallas. Law enforcement groups have been pressing the administration to revive the program, saying local police departments are now unable to afford vital equipment. Jim Pasco, the executive director of the FOP, said he was "pleased" to hear Trump's comments. "We think the 1033 program is extraordinarily important to public safety and officer safety," Pasco said. The Fraternal Order of Police state chapters will hold elections on September 16 to decide whether to endorse Trump, Clinton, or neither candidate in the upcoming presidential election. As my colleague Anthony Fisher wrote, the 1033 program has transferred $2.2 billion worth of military equipment to local and state police since 2006, including: 7,091 trucks ($400.9 million); 625 mine-resistant vehicles (421.1 million); 471 helicopters ($158.3 million); 56 airplanes ($271.5 million); and 329 armored trucks and cars ($21.3 million) 83,122 M16/M14 rifles (5.56mm and 7.62mm) ($31.2 million); 8,198 pistols (.38 and .45 caliber) ($491,769); and 1,385 riot 12-gauge shotguns ($137,265) 18,299 night-vision sights, sniper scopes, binoculars, goggles, infrared and image magnifiers ($98.5 million); 5,518 infrared, articulated, panoramic and laser telescopes ($5.5 million) 866 mine detecting sets, marking kits, and probes ($3.3 million); 57 grenade launchers ($41,040) 5,638 bayonets ($307,769) and 36 swords and scabbards. Pasco said he met with White House officials again Monday to discuss the issue and said "the president is committed to reviewing the program." You can read more Reason coverage on the DoD's 1033 Program here. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that President Obama's executive order halted the entire 1033 program. In fact, it only banned the transfer of some categories of surplus military equpment.[...]

Six Weeks Later, L.A. Sheriff's Department Admits They Killed an Innocent Man in Nighttime SWAT Raid

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 17:15:00 -0400

After six weeks of insisting the man killed in a pre-dawn raid was a suspect in a carjacking, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department this week reversed course and admitted they gunned down an innocent man. On July 28, the department was using armored vehicles and a SWAT team armed with assault weapons to search a neighborhood in Compton, Calif., for a man who had stolen a car and exchanged gunfire with police officers before going on the run. They found and arrested the suspect, but then received a 911 call from a resident of the neighborhood who reported seeing an unknown man lying in his front yard. The department responded in force. When the unknown man didn't respond to verbal commands, deputies set off flash bang grenades and fired rubber bullets at him. When he rose from the ground and allegedly ran towards the deputies, a deputy sitting in the turret of one of the heavily armored cars fired, killing Donnell Thompson. Thompson, a 27-year old black man, suffered from mental disabilities. He had nothing to do with the carjacking. He wasn't armed and had not committed a crime. Even so, the Sheriff's Department spent weeks saying they had reason to believe Thompson was a second suspect in the carjacking incident. After an internal investigation and facing pressure from Thompson's family, the department admitted their mistake this week. A statement issued by the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday said there was "no evidence that Mr. Thompson was in the carjacked vehicle, nor that he was involved in the assault on the deputies." At a press conference, Capt. Steve Katz called the incident a "terribly devastating event." According to the Los Angeles Times, the department conducted an internal review of the shooting after Thompson's family protested the shooting at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. His family described him as a "harmless man who had never been in legal trouble," and wanted charges filed against the officer who pulled the trigger, the paper reported. "I wouldn't treat an animal this bad," his sister Matrice Stanley told the board, according to the AP. "How is this justifiable?" Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the Thompson family, told the Huffington Post that the Sheriff's Department's response to the incident was inappropriate. "In a civilian neighborhood, they bring an urban assault vehicle," Dunn said. "The BearCat, it's like a tank. Their response to this situation was so aggressive. Their tactics were so aggressive." The department says an investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and the officer who killed Thompson—who has not been identified publically—has been reassigned to non-field duty. Thompson is not the first person to be killed by a misinformed SWAT team or overly aggressive police tactics. Sadly, but without a doubt, he also won't be the last.[...]

San Diego Police Used Stingray to Solve Common Crimes, Failed to Mention Use to Judges

Wed, 03 Aug 2016 11:18:00 -0400

An investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune reveals that the city's police department used a StingRay device on at least 30 occasions since 2011 to collect suspects' cellphone information. Often, it was used to investigate common crimes without a warrant specifically pointing out its use. StingRays—a brand of International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers—are devices that trick cellphones into connecting to them by simulating a cellphone tower. After connecting, a cellphone will transmit data to the StingRay, including information regarding calls, text messages, and the phone's location. San Diego police have said they only use the instrument to collect intelligence regarding location. These devices were marketed by the federal government as tools needed to track terrorism suspects. But privacy advocates have criticized their use, as they gather data not only from suspects but also from anyone else who happens to be nearby. In addition, police have often used them without a warrant and to deal with street crimes such as burglaries and assaults that have nothing to do with terrorism. It's difficult to know exactly how the device in San Diego was used thanks to a non-disclosure agreement between the police department, the FBI, and StingRay manufacturer the Harris Corporation. Documents collected by the Union-Tribune include pages that are "a solid block of black from the top of the page to the bottom." We do know, however, that police used the equipment in their everyday work—and that it met with mixed success. As the newspaper's Greg Moran wrote: In January San Diego police used it to try to locate a man who was a suspect in a series of vehicle burglaries. He was also wanted for robbery, burglary and making a criminal threat. Police had been able to get a rough location of the phone using GPS data [from] a different and less powerful surveillance method, but said the Stingray was needed to "narrow the search in order to locate the suspect." They found the phone at the home of a girlfriend of the suspect, then used the Stingray to follow the woman to see if she would lead them to the suspect, but he was not found, the records say. It's unclear if an arrest was ever made. Search warrants for the case remain sealed. Lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups reveal that when San Diego police sought warrants in many of these cases, they failed to mention the StingRay would be used to collect data, Moran reported. Court documents instead show they asked to use different devices that are not as powerful. The Los Angeles Police Department was caught doing something similar in 2013. There has been some progress toward controlling the use of IMSI catchers across the country. California now has laws requiring law enforcement to get a court order before using the gadgets. In March, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals ruled that police units could not track someone's phone without a warrant. Additionally, a federal judge in July withheld evidence in a case because federal agents failed to get a warrant prior to tracking a suspect's location, which led them to discover said evidence. And Kelly Aviles of the First Amendment Coalition told the Union-Tribune that since judges have become more aware of how the StingRay is used, they can start asking tougher questions.[...]

Pine Bluff Cops Killed 107-Year-Old Man And Got Medals For Doing It, Now Won't Give Them Back

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 13:30:00 -0400

Police officers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, are lawyering up after the city council voted to rescind medals of valor handed out to the SWAT team in 2013. What did the SWAT team do to earn those valorous medals? They stormed into the home of 107-year old Monroe Isadore, shot him to death—and then successfully dodged a state investigation of the incident. Nearly three years after the incident, the city council voted unanimously this month to revoke the medals. As of Monday, however, the police force has yet to return the medals and is seeking legal counsel to challenge the city's decision, according to local TV station KATV. "I don't understand the rationale, I don't understand why anyone would want a medal, who can you show it to? Oh, I have a medal of valor, well were you in the war? No, I killed a 107-year-old know...who would want that?" Councilwoman Thelma Walker told KATV, the local ABC affiliate. Walker sponsored the resolution, which said conferring medals and awards "in the aftermath of such a sensitive and emotionally charged event is unconscionable and reprehensible and should not be sanctioned by the City of Pine Bluff." Awarding those medals seems to have been done in secret. Isadore's children were unaware the medals even existed until the city council voted to rescind them, and the city won't say how many were actually given or who made the decision to award them, according to KATV. Asked about the city's decision to revoke the medals, Pine Bluff Police Chief Jeff Hubanks told the Pine Bluff Commercial the department was "going to talk to an attorney" and declined further comment. It's unclear whether the city has the legal authority to strip the medals. City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott told the Commercial that the council resolution is not binding and lacks enforcement authority. Isadore was killed on September 8, 2013. Police responded to a call and found him in his bedroom with a gun—his family later said he was upset about being moved to an assisted living community. After safely evacuating two other people from the house, the cops used negotiation tactics and smoke bombs in an unsuccessful attempt to get Isadore to surrender. When that failed, they called in the county SWAT team. When SWAT officers broke down the door to Isadore's bedroom, he fired at them and they returned fire, killing him. Although the shooting might have been justified since Isadore reportedly fired at the cops first, it appears that police escalated the situation to a point where a violent ending was nearly unavoidable. It was not a hostage situation and Isadore was not a threat to anyone but himself, at least until officers forced their way into his room. Was sending in a SWAT team to use deadly force against a 107-year old man really the best option available? It's doubtful that any answers will be forthcoming. Nearly three years later, even with awareness of police violence at higher levels, it's unlikely that there will ever be a full investigation of the circumstances that led to Isadore Monroe's death. The officer who killed Isadore was placed on paid leave, and his or her name was never released to the public. The state police declined an invitation to investigate the incident and subsequent attempts by Isadore's family to have the shooting investigated went nowhere. (Lawyers' fees for the cops are being covered by the local Fraternal Order of Police, so the police are not costing taxpayers anything by refusing to comply with an order issued by the local government that, theoretically, controls them.) But even if accountability is out of reach, is it too much to ask that police officers not be feted like they returned home from a[...]