The First Rule of Policing – and the Harm it Does, Part III


Part of a continuing series, see Part I and Part II.

Special Weapons and Tactics.  SWAT.  A valuable tool that has been overused and misused in the police field.

charles_whitman_ut_towerSWAT began for a good reason–it was needed.  On August 1, 1966, a former Marine with an undiscovered brain tumor, Charles Whitman, murdered his mother at her apartment and his wife at their home.  Whitman then went to the University of Texas tower with “six guns, a shotgun, ammunition, a foot locker, knives, food, and water.”  Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow’s Headlines 21 (2004).  He killed three more on his way to the observation deck and then opened fire.

Whitman killed ten more and wounded thirty-one more from the tower.  Austin police responded, but there was no planned response.  Ordinary Texans with deer rifles showed up and provided suppressive fire.  Officers made it into the tower and up to the observation deck, where they had to get past the barricaded door.  Two officers, Ray Martinez and Houston McCoy then shot Whitman to death.  Gary M. Lavergne, A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders (1997); Ron Franscell, Delivered from Evil: True Stories of Ordinary People Who Faced Monstrous Mass Killers and Survived (2011).

SWAT was formed from this, and other events.  Depending on who you believe, either Los Angeles or Philadelphia were the first to form the teams.  The teams were initially used properly, for high risk incidents like bank robberies in progress, or other incidents involving heavily armed subjects.  They were, for the most part, successful, with operations such as the 1974 Symbionese Liberation Army shootout or the 1984 McDonald’s killings (ended by a SWAT sniper).  When you have a useful tool, you begin to look for other problems to use it on, and when that tool is a hammer, problems start to look like nails.

So SWAT began to be used for other tPolice from tactical team making entry to serve a high-risk drug related search warrant. Street Narcotics Unit.hings, like drug raids.  “In 1972, there were just a few hundred paramilitary drug raids per year in the United States.  By the early 1980s, there were three thousand . . . and by 2001 there were forty thousand.”  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 74 (2010).  Some of these are warranted and there are plenty of examples of big drug dealers using weapons to protect their drugs.  SWAT is perfect for those.

But as many have begun to point out, with the increased use of SWAT, there have been increases in both idiocy and errors, some leading to unnecessary fatalities.  Radley Balko, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America (2006); Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (2013).  Errors do not however, slow down the idiocy.  In 1994, a botched Boston PD SWAT raid at the wrong address caused the death of a respected cleric by heart attack.  The police commissioner personally apologized and vowed to insure that this would not happen again.  Boston Official Apologizes After Cleric Dies Following SWAT Raid At Wrong Address, 85 Jet 8-9 (Apr. 11, 1994).  In 2012, Boston Police have expanded the use of SWAT to include raids on prostitution parlors, in order to seize sex toys, condoms, pajamas, and cash.  While I’m sure that we wouldn’t expect a respected cleric to be at a house of ill-repute, I’m also sure that expanding the use of SWAT to raid whorehouses is idiotic.  It is the expansion of the mission that keeps SWAT in business.

In addition, SWAT types have a different mindset, a combat mindset.  We’ll cover that in more depth next.

The First Rule of Policing – and the Harm it Does, Part II


Part of a continuing series, Part I is here.

While Remsberg and Calibre Press were conducting seminars on officer safety and survival, the sociological climate of police was changing.

In 1968, President Johnson created the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to centralize the response to illicit drugs.  By 1971, President Nixon had declared a “War on Drugs” and by 1973 the Drug Enforcement Administration was formed.  Initially, this encompassed a treatment based approach, such as the methadone treatment centers established in Washington, D.C. by Robert L. DuPont.  A year after the centers had been established, serious crime rates dropped significantly.  Richard J. Bonnie, The Virtues of Pragmatism in Drug Policy, 13 J. Health Care L. & Pol’y 7, 14 (2010).  At the same time (in 1972 and 1973), the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, recommended the decriminalization of marijuana.  Id., at 13.  Twelve states have followed that approach.  James Austin, Rethinking the Consequences of Decriminalizing Marijuana, (Nov. 2. 2005).

Instead, the government moved towards a zero tolerance policy and strict criminal enforcement of drug laws.  The term “War on Drugs” was used over and over, with other militaristic terms also being added to police language.   We’ve done the same thing in the past, with the war on alcohol, commonly known as Prohibition.

The War on Drugs has paralleled the results of Prohibition.  See Norm Stamper, Prohibition: A parallel to modern war on drugs, Seattle Times, Sept. 30, 2011.  Chief Stamper (retired chief of police, Seattle) explains it more eloquently than I can, and more information is available at the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website.  The problem is that the drugs are winning and the police are losing the war.  With millions of dollars at stake, drug gangs have increased the stakes and become more violent.

The police responded with SWAT teams.



The First Rule of Policing – and the Harm it Does, Part I


Malone-NessOfficer Malone: Are you going home now?.

Elliott Ness: I was about to.

Malone: Well, then, you just fulfilled the first rule of law enforcement. Make sure when your shift is over you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.

The Untouchables (Paramount Pictures 1987).

Officer safety is an important issue to police officers, and it should be.  When I was first hired, almost all officers were issued Smith & Wesson revolvers, usually in .38 Special.  If you wanted to carry something else, it depended on the policies of the local department.  My first PD allowed you to carry your own revolver, so long as it was either a Smith or a Colt, and had a 4 to 6 inch barrel in at least .38 or larger.  Many officers would carry .357 magnums, .45 Long Colts, and .44s instead of the issue gun because it made them feel safer.  We wore very heavy, inflexible vests, and pushed for safety equipment like cages for the vehicles, semi-autos, etc., all in the name of officer safety.

Just a few years before, an author named Charles Remsberg and photographer/producer Dennis Anderson, published a book called Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters.  This book and the two that followed† produced a series of seminars teaching officer safety to police across the nation.  One of the things to remember about Remsberg is that he founded Calibre Press, which published his books on street tactics.  A second thing to remember is that Remsberg was not a cop.‡  He was a journalist, with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Northwestern.  Almost every officer has read or been trained based on the trilogy.  I own all three and believed every word of the books for years.

The attitude was that so long as the officers went home OK, it didn’t matter that civilians were hurt or killed.  A typical response to criticism on this point was that “The most important thing, Calibre’s founders argued, wasn’t that 28 suspects who’d displayed life-threatening behavior had been shot, but that none of the officers had lost their lives.”  Scott Baltic, Be Careful Out There, Chicago Reader (Nov. 21, 1991).

Unfortunately, that attitude is now commonplace among police.

†Ronald J. Adams, Thomas M. McTernan, & Charles Remsberg,  Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters (1980); Charles Remsberg, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol (1986); and Charles Remsberg, Tactics for Criminal Patrol (1995).

‡While Remsberg was not an officer, Adams was a California police officer and McTernan was a New York police officer.

Frisco, Texas Police fail Free Speech Test


This is from Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

In the news video, the reporter quotes the police report, where the officer states that Ron Martin was “interfering” with his speeding enforcement duties.  It is clear that the officer would have preferred to charge Martin with Interference with Public Duties, which read:

“(a) A person commits an offense if the person with criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with:  (1) a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law. . . .”  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.15 (Vernon).
The report language tracks the statute, which is how officers are taught to write the report.  It is also clear that the officer could not get past the free speech part of the statute.  It provides not just one, but two defenses.
“(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(1) that the conduct engaged in by the defendant was intended to warn a person operating a motor vehicle of the presence of a peace officer who was enforcing Subtitle C, Title 7, Transportation Code.
(d) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference alleged consisted of speech only.”  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.15 (Vernon)
So since they couldn’t charge him with a Class B misdemeanor, they came up with another BS charge, violation of the city’s sign ordinance, Frisco, Tex. Sign Ordinance, 11-01-04 (Jan. 4, 2011), which is only a Class C misdemeanor, normally handled by a ticket and not an arrest.  This ordinance is fairly short, but creates a regulation which is over 50 pages long.  Originally the city argued that the person holding the sign had to be on private property.
This is clearly an attempt to regulate speech by content, based on the city’s reactions to other people carrying signs.  If it is a sign protesting Obama, no problem.  Note that this person was on public property also.

Kennedale Texas Police and Fail to ID; Ignorance Still Abounds


It would be nice if I could post a story about how a police officer in Texas really understood the state’s Failure to Identify statute, Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.02 (West).

Unfortunately, this ain’t one of those.  A female Kennedale, Texas police officer responded to a call about several males open carrying rifles.  This isn’t a real good idea, but that’s a different issue.

(edited to restore video, thanks to Lewis Garza)

The first thing I get a kick out of is when the female officer ask the men if the rifles are loaded.  Duh.  Dumb question.  Would she trust them if they said the rifles were unloaded?  And then she acts surprised when she is informed that they are loaded.  Then she asks the men not to record her (“could you put that down, away from me?”) as if that was going to happen.

At about 0:25 she requests ID and the men immediately refuse.  The man’s spokesperson correctly informs her that the only time that he is required to ID is if he is being arrested for committing a crime.  That is exactly what the law requires, as we have discussed here and here.  And she immediately asserts that she has a right to know who they are.

She seems to believe that if she makes contact, she has the right to demand ID, and she offers “officer safety” as a reason.  It seems logical, but unfortunately she does not have that right.  See St. George v. State, 197 S.W.3d 806 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2006), aff’d, 237 S.W.3d 720 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).

The officer is probably Ofc. Tara Culpepper.  Kennedale has a chief, a captain, four sergeants, two detectives, and thirteen officers.  All are obviously male except Culpepper and a recruit officer.  Well, I suppose Jamie and Chris ‘might’ be females, but I doubt it.

In any event, she needs some in-service training on the matter, not that she’ll get it.

Updates from this Year, May Stories

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Cameron D’Ambrosio, who was arrested on terrorism charges for his rap song lyrics, was no-billed by the grand jury in June.

Jennifer Limon had her Failure to ID and Resisting Arrest charges dropped by the Harris County District Attorney.  The reason given was “see DA work product” which means that we’ll never know, as that is not subject to an open records request.  I would imagine that the DA’s office researched the law and realized that they did not have a case.

Adam Kokesh, who called and then called off an armed march on D.C., plead guilty to firearms and drug charges in November after setting in jail for months proclaiming his innocence.  He will be sentenced in January.

Makia Smith‘s lawsuit is going forward.  The officers successfully obtained a partial dismissal of the portion of the lawsuit that dealt with the destruction of Smith’s cellphone, but the order allows Smith to re-add those claims if she develops additional evidence or authority.

David Silva‘s death was ruled an “accident” by an employee or contractor of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, whose deputies did “not” use inappropriate force in beating Silva to death.  Oh, and the cell phones the deputies seized didn’t contain any evidence, either.  Sure.



Updates from this Year, April Stories


From April 2013

Branden Purcell’s civil lawsuit against Sebastian County, Arkansas is still pending, with the Sheriff filing a general denial of the allegations in the lawsuit.

Sgt. Mark Hunter, accused of multiple episodes of using excessive force, died from an apparent heart attack.  His partner, Kareem Puranda, who had been fired for excessive force, was found not guilty in U.S. District Court on a charge of violating a citizen’s civil rights.

Army Sgt. C.J. Grisham was convicted of Interference with Public Duties, Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.15 (Vernon), and fined $2,000 by the jury.  Grisham states that he is going to appeal, but as of today, nothing is showing at the Third Court of Appeals.  The conviction, based on the dash cam video, is probably going to be upheld.  See Duncantell v. State, 230 S.W.3d 835 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, pet. ref’d).  At 0:23 in the video, the officer attempts to disarm Grisham and Grisham immediately grabs the stock and forearm of the rifle, which causes the officer to draw his sidearm.  Grisham then drops his arms and the officer places him on the hood of the car.  Grisham is also complaining that the police won’t return the guns to him.  Well, duh!  If you appeal and win, you could be ordered to face a new trial, where they would need the guns for evidence.  You need to make a decision, either let the judgment go final and get your guns back, or appeal it and wait.

I couldn’t find anything new on Alexander Lege, or any of the other April stories.

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