Patterico's Pontifications

11/28/2006

Interview with a Use-of-Force Expert Regarding the Shooting of the Woman in Atlanta

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:41 am



On Saturday, I spoke with use-of-force expert Prof. David Klinger about that incident in Atlanta where an elderly woman shot police serving a no-knock warrant on her home, only to be killed when police returned fire. I sent Prof. Klinger some follow-up questions by e-mail after our talk on the phone.

Here’s a brief summary of what he said:

Prof. Klinger, an advocate of drug legalization, said that we don’t know enough about the facts to come to a conclusive judgment about the tactics employed. Prof. Klinger cautions people against jumping to hasty conclusions in this case, even now that new accusations have been made against the police.

The majority of our discussion took place on Saturday, and was directed at the topic of the tactics and wisdom of dynamic entries. However, I felt compelled to ask him about yesterday’s revelations, given their seriousness.

Yesterday it was revealed that the informant in the case claims police asked him to lie. Prof. Klinger agreed with me that this is bad news for the police regardless of the truth of the informant’s claims. The informant may or may not not be telling the truth, he said. If he is, the police should go to prison. If he’s lying, that’s still ample cause for an investigation of the police department’s history of dealings with this informant.

Regarding the tactics of the raid, he said that, based on what we know so far, the police probably did an inadequate job of scouting the location to learn what they were up against.

He says that regardless of one’s feelings about drugs, we have to enforce the law, and that includes serving search warrants in drug cases. Sometimes, those entries will have to be dynamic entries.

However, Prof. Klinger is, in general, an opponent of dynamic entries, and says that they should be reserved for situations where the people inside are dangerous criminals and where recovery of evidence is paramount to an investigation. (He notes that drug dealers are sometimes dangerous criminals.)

Although he generally opposes dynamic entries in the typical drug case, Prof. Klinger says that the alternate suggestion many are making — that police should in all cases simply knock on doors and wait on the porch for the occupant to answer — is a silly suggestion that will pose an unacceptable risk to police.

There is a third way, he says, that hasn’t been discussed on the blogs. He describes it in the interview, which is in the extended entry.

[Extended entry]

Prof. Klinger has made appearances on this blog here before, here, here, and here. He is an associate professor of criminology at the University of Missouri, a former LAPD officer, and an expert on use of force issues. He has been quoted in the L.A. Times with respect to these issues. He is the author of Into the Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force, and has done federally-funded studies about officer-involved shootings and police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams.

Prof. Klinger is also an unabashed advocate of drug legalization. You can read his argument in favor of legalization here. He says that, during his tenure as an LAPD officer,

I saw violent criminals walking the streets because the jail space they rightfully deserved was occupied by nonviolent drug offenders. When we carted small-time drug dealers off to prison, I saw other sellers quickly step in to fill the void.

I started to view most people involved with drugs either as broken souls who made self-destructive choices or as harmless people who indulged their appetites in moderation — not as crooks who needed to be punished.

He concludes:

In the end, we cannot protect free adults from their own poor choices, and we should not use the force of law to try. In a free society negative consequences befall people who use their freedom to do foolish things.

Victimless self-destructive behavior is its own punishment, not the business of the legal system.

However, Prof. Klinger said, he also firmly believes that society must enforce laws passed by a majority of people in our constitutional republic. And if we are going to enforce drug laws, he said, that means we absolutely must have well-trained police serving search warrants on private residences. Otherwise, criminals can evade the laws by simply conducting all of their transactions inside the home.

In determining what happened in Atlanta, Prof. Klinger said, we have to look at the entire panoply of possibilities. On the one extreme, perhaps the police were criminals who manufactured probable cause to enter the home, or complete idiots who didn’t do a sound investigation and went to the wrong house. On the other hand, perhaps they did everything right and the woman who shot them was a criminal who knowingly shot police.

Prof. Klinger thinks the truth is probably somewhere in between those extremes, but he doesn’t know for sure. He said it upset him that the post-mortems are being written before all the facts are in. He said that this is especially true in the blogosphere, where speed is both a strength and a weakness. In this case, he said, it’s operating as a weakness, because people are jumping to conclusions about what happened based upon 1) extraneous factors, like their views of the drug laws or police in general, and 2) an incomplete or distorted knowledge of the facts.

For example, he said, in my comments, the combination of 1) hatred for the drug war and 2) the presence of an elderly woman in the scenario was causing some people to throw aside reason and jump to hasty conclusions or make silly, unsupportable statements. (This is undeniably true. For example, there have been some people on my site and others who wish the woman had managed to kill one or more of the police. One commenter here said: “i only wish kathryn johnston had managed to kill at least one of them like cory maye did, but i still acknowledge her as a heroic martyr.” And a commenter at Reason said: “Part of me wishes Ms Johnston could have taken out those three cops before expiring, as a form of justice or a lesson.” Comments like that are irrational, because you’d have to assume that the police are engaged in criminal conduct — something that is far from clear.)

He said that yesterday’s revelations — that the informant in the case claims police asked him to lie about having bought drugs at the location — certainly should cause the public great concern.

If the informant is telling the truth, he said, these cops should go to prison, and the department and city will be facing the mother of all civil suits.

But even if the informant is lying about that claim, he said, that is still a cause for concern. Any time you have a lying informant, that provides cause to review the informant’s past history with the department. There will have to be an investigation of several factors, focusing on why the police thought this informant was reliable, what kind of investigation they did into his background, and the like.

My principal concern in speaking to Prof. Klinger was to discuss the tactics and wisdom of dynamic entries.

Regarding that issue, he said that — although he would like to know more facts — based on what he knows about the case, he suspects that the police tactics in this case were wanting. His primary area of criticism had to do with the apparent lack of advance intelligence on the location where the warrant was served.

Prof. Klinger said that some departments will simply serve a large set of warrants on numerous households, with seemingly no advance intelligence of the current situation inside the house. In such cases, the information forming the basis for the warrant may be days old. Prof. Klinger said that such tactics are a “recipe for disaster.”

For one thing, he said, if the information forming the basis for the warrant is current as of Tuesday, is it logical to believe that the narcotics will still be there on Saturday, 4 days later? Also, if you have no information about a suspected drug house in between the sale and the service of the warrant, that provides a huge opportunity for people to leave or enter the house. You end up having no idea who is inside when you serve the warrant. And that’s not safe.

Prof. Klinger said that, while it is common for the information forming the initial basis for the warrant to be several days old at the time of the service of the warrant, a warrant should not be served without active intelligence about the current situation in the target house. Police should watch the house for a period of time immediately preceding the service of the warrant, and keep a log of who goes in and who goes out. During their surveillance, they can look for telltale signs of narcotics sales activity (assuming it’s a search warrant for drugs), such as numerous people approaching the house, staying for a short period of time, and leaving. On occasion police will do a “pre-buy,” sending in an undercover informant to do a controlled buy of narcotics from the house.

Prof. Klinger said that such surveillance accomplishes several things.

For one thing, it generally helps the criminal case. You help ensure the bad guy is still in the house, who can be arrested on the spot. It makes it more likely that you’ll find illegal narcotics inside, and that you’ll arrest the people who have been selling them.

But more important, he said, are issues of officer safety. He said that when you serve a search warrant, by definition you are going into the criminal’s territory. And a cardinal rule of any martial profession is that, whenever possible, you don’t fight in the other guy’s territory.

For that reason, if you must go into someone’s home, you want to know as much as possible about who is present and what’s going on inside that home. You have to have your ducks in a row.

Advance surveillance is critical both for the safety of police officers and citizens. It minimizes the chances that you’ll walk into a dangerous situation blindly. For example, perhaps the drug dealers are currently getting their shipment from “Mr. Big” and his eight heavily armed henchmen. That would be a good set of arrests to make — but if you walk into that house not knowing that they’re there, you’re likely to get slaughtered.

Conversely, he said, a preliminary surveillance and/or controlled buy might lead to the conclusion that nobody is home — or perhaps, as may have been the case in Atlanta, that only innocent people are home, including elderly people and/or children.

At that point, he said, police discretion and judgment determines whether the warrant will be served. Is it worth serving the warrant when the bad guy is not there, and all we have present at the location are people who are probably not involved? The answer to that question, he said, depends upon a number of factors, and calls for the exercise of judgment based on experience. It’s very likely that, in such situations, police will opt not to do a dynamic entry.

Prof. Klinger said that, to evaluate the officers’ performance in this case, he would ask: did they have surveillance going in? Did they send someone to the door beforehand to scope out the situation? Based on the available information to date, the answer appears to be no.

Published reports indicate that there was a 3-4 hour gap between the drug buy and the service of the warrant. Yet, when police arrived, they apparently had no active intelligence about who was in the house. The bad guy was gone, only an elderly lady was home — and (as we learned on Sunday) only a small amount of marijuana was found in the house, which (we learned yesterday) is not the drug they were looking for. All in all, he would have preferred to see police keeping watch over the house during the period of time that they were obtaining the warrant.

I asked Prof. Klinger: when should police use a “dynamic entry” — in other words, break into a house to serve a warrant?

Whether you should execute a warrant with a dynamic entry, in Prof. Klinger’s opinion, should depend primarily on whether you are expecting dangerous people inside and recovery of evidence is a critical consideration.

If you are expecting dangerous people inside, a dynamic entry is the way to go. Prof. Klinger explained that there is a logic to the idea of a dynamic entry, and it’s not simply to preserve evidence. The idea is to avoid a violent confrontation by overwhelming the occupants of the house. You want the occupants thinking: I’d better submit to this force, because any failure to do so will likely result in my demise.

I noted that several of the commenters on my site have suggested that it is the very confusion of a dynamic entry that causes the danger. Many of these commenters have suggested that the police simply knock politely and wait on the front porch for the occupants to answer.

Prof. Klinger said that can be very dangerous for police. It works well when the people inside are completely innocent, he said. But the vast majority of the time, the occupants are not innocent.

If police officers execute a search warrant on a house occupied by criminals, he said, those officers would be greatly heightening the risk to themselves if they simply knocked and stayed on the front porch. In fact, he said, if every single time the cops went to serve a warrant, they were hitting a house where they knew the people inside are bad actors, it would be utterly ridiculous to have them simply stand there on the porch, knock, and wait to show a warrant to a person answering the door. By doing that, police would lose all the advantages of a dynamic entry. Basically, they would be “sitting ducks” on the porch — standing there with no cover, speed, surprise, disorientation, and overwhelming force.

Contrary to the supposition of many commenters, Prof. Klinger said that these factors — including disorientation — are part of what makes a dynamic entry safer than simply knocking on a door and waiting on the porch. Of course, this assumes that you’re making the entry with people in the house who are dangerous, and might want to shoot at you if you’re just sitting there on the porch.

Prof. Klinger said that, while the debate appears to be between dynamic entries and a polite knock on the door, there is a third and better option that he prefers in most cases. It is called “contain and call-out,” and he hasn’t seen it discussed on any of the blogs.

The idea is this: you set up a perimeter so nobody can get away, and have the police take up secure positions surrounding the location — hiding behind barriers so they can’t be shot. Then someone gets on a bullhorn (or makes a phone call into the location) and tells the occupants that police are there to serve a search warrant, and that they need to come out of the house.

Prof. Klinger acknowledged that when police use this approach, they lose evidence. If the house contains any narcotics that can be flushed, you can be certain that they will be flushed — especially as the use of this tactic becomes widely known by criminals. But, he asked, the question is whether it’s worth risking the lives of police officers (and possibly of innocent civilians) to go after dope. He said that, around the nation, many police departments are concluding that it’s not worth it to do dynamic entries in most drug cases — at least cases where police have no reason to suspect that the drug sellers are violent.

Prof. Klinger said, if you know you have a truly violent criminal inside, a dynamic entry may be worth it. There was a period of time when some drug dealers from Jamaica were murdering people as a routine aspect of their drug business. He said, for people like that, if you lose the chance to arrest them because they flush the drugs, that’s a real loss. In such a case, maybe it’s worth it to do a dynamic entry. In that case, you want a well-trained crew with upgraded body armor who is going to take them down and win a gunfight if necessary. But, he said, save those tactics for the bad, violent guys. Sure, a lot of arrests will be lost. A lot of drug dealers will skate. But in his opinion, it’s not worth the risk to lives to do a dynamic entry in the typical drug sales case.

If you’ve decided to do a dynamic entry, Prof. Klinger said, you have to take care to do it right. You have to have a tactical plan.

One of the most critical elements of such a tactical plan is to make sure the occupants know that the entry is being done by the police. It is incumbent on police to make it clear to the occupants inside that they are the police. This is true regardless of whether the people inside are bad guys or not.

For example, he said, take the situation where the people inside are dope sellers. If they are dope sellers, some will resist violently, but most are generally likely to submit to police authority. If, on the other hand, they think that the people breaking into their home are robbers looking to rip off their stash, they are more likely to respond with force. The reason is that they know that the police won’t deliberately set out to murder them, while other crooks might. So dopers who are worried that the people entering their house are robbers might well shoot it out, whereas they would likely submit to police force.

A buddy of Prof. Klinger’s who works on a SWAT team in Texas told Prof. Klinger that he agrees with this. According to that SWAT team member, when occupants of a house shoot it out with people breaking in, it’s often because they think they’re getting ripped off.

Now, take the contrary example: where the occupants are completely innocent. The same reasoning applies with even more force in that scenario. If you have a house occupied by people who are innocent, they are often confused when police try to break in to their homes. They don’t understand what is going on. Innocent people would normally have no reason to shoot at police, but have every reason to defend their home against potentially unlawful intruders.

For these reasons, good police work diligently to avoid such situations, he said, by doing everything they can to identify themselves as police.

In the Atlanta case, Prof. Klinger would want to look at various factors to see if it was clear that the people outside were police. Was there a marked squad car out front? You’d want to see one.

Were they clear about announcing their presence? When the police break into a home, everyone must say the same thing. It doesn’t work if one officer is yelling: “LAPD!” and the next is yelling “Los Angeles Police Department!” and the third is yelling: “Police Department!” This results in a cacophony of voices, and the person inside may end up hearing nothing but yelling. How did the Atlanta police handle this?

I asked Prof. Klinger about reports such as this one, which says:

The police raiders were not in uniform, but wearing navy blue T-shirts and “raid shields” emblazoned with the word “Police”.

And this one, which says:

[Assistant Chief Alan] Dreher said Johnston should have recognized the men as officers even though they were not wearing uniforms. He said all three wore bulletproof vests that had the word “Police” across the front and back. He said they shouted they were police as they burst through the door.

He said that anything these officers did to identify themselves as police is a positive. If the police were wearing raid vests, that’s good. The police should do everything they can within reason to identify themselves as police. Ideally, you want marked police cars outside, lights going, sirens sounding — the works.

(I will add as an aside that I am not certain that I necessarily believe the Police Department about these matters. They have misstated so many critical things to the public about this incident, it’s hard to trust anything they say.)

I noted that my commenters are repeatedly arguing that it doesn’t matter whether people invading your home claim to be police or not, because some robbers do home invasions posing as cops. (This is something I know to be true because I have handled such cases myself.) But Prof. Klinger agreed with me that robbers also pose as cops conducting traffic stops. That doesn’t mean citizens can shoot at a cop at a traffic stop.

Prof. Klinger said that it would be anarchy to argue that citizens may shoot at cops executing a search warrant because of the remote chance that they might be criminals posing as cops. Turn the tables on that logic, he said. Police are shot all the time, in situations that initially appear innocent. Are we now going to turn cops loose to shoot in seemingly innocent situations, just because those situations could be dangerous, in a freak scenario?

Prof. Klinger said he doesn’t know for sure, but his bet is that the Atlanta cops who served this warrant had no sound tactical plan. The bottom line is that they probably didn’t have their ducks in a row, starting with having some idea who is inside.

Prof. Klinger said he would really like to know what the Atlanta police’s tactical plan was. He explained what some of the various options include. One of the techniques is called “break and rake.” The police go to a window of a house where they don’t intend to enter, break a window, and rake the glass away. This technique causes a distraction; the members of the household have their attention drawn to the area where the window is being broken, and they don’t notice when the police swarm in through the chosen point of entry. Flashbang grenades are also sometimes used in parts of the house as a distraction device.

If you’re going to do a dynamic entry, he said, you have to consider these options.

There are some fine-grained issues that can’t be resolved in a uniform manner. For example, something like the use of shields by officers should be left up to the individual officer. Some officers feel better if they are more mobile. If you carry a shield, you can only carry a handgun. Some officers feel they’re safer with shoulder weapons instead of the handguns they’d be required to carry if they carried shields.

In the end, Prof. Klinger reiterated, most of what cops should be doing to prepare for the execution of a search warrant makes it safer both for them, and for the citizen inside. He also advises cops to remember that, unless they’ve already developed probable cause to arrest a suspect, then in most of these cases they are merely conducting an investigation. That’s how the occupants of the house should be viewed and treated — not as criminals, but merely as people under investigation. If those people use force, it’s obviously appropriate to use force in response. But the occupants should always be treated respectfully, and police should remember that they are simply people under investigation.

Prof. Klinger also emphasized that a “dynamic entry” is not totally congruent with a “no-knock warrant.” No-knock warrants are obtained when police can articulate why knocking and announcing their presence in advance would unnecessarily jeopardize officer safety, or materially impede the investigation. But many warrants require knocking in advance. The thing is, police will only wait so long — and are required to wait only so long — before they execute a dynamic entry even with a warrant that requires knocking in advance.

How long must police wait? There’s no definite rule. In the 2003 case of United States v. Banks, 15-20 seconds was held long enough. In last year’s Hudson v. Michigan decision, the parties all assumed that 3-5 seconds was too short. He said that, in the service of most of these warrants, you’d have to answer your door quickly, or it will be broken down. But the fact is, he said, in most of these cases, the people inside are criminals — and in most cases, they’re not racing to the door to answer it. So police end up doing a lot of dynamic entries.

Prof. Klinger said that it is extremely rare for there to be shootings in dynamic entries. Tens of thousands of narcotics search warrants are served every year, and only a handful go wrong. The situations where things go wrong don’t necessarily tell you much about the usual situation.

Regarding the shooting in this case, Prof. Klinger wondered: how do three guys get shot in a situation like this? He said that his initial hypothesis is that the cops were thinking: I can’t shoot this old woman. Then, she starts shooting at them, and they start to get hit, and they realize that they’d better take care of business, or they’re all going to end up dead. This is the hypothesis discussed in this post, which presented a link to a video of a 72-year-old man who murdered a police officer who probably took too long to react because of the old man’s age.

But that hypothesis is not the only one, he emphasized, and until we know more about the facts, we can’t know for sure what happened. One possibility, he said, is that the police might not have known who was shooting at them. For all we know, the woman could have opened fire through the door. The police might not have known who was firing at them.

Another possibility is that one or more of the police officers was hurt by friendly fire. Once bullets start flying, Prof. Klinger said, undisciplined tactical teams often engage in bad tactics, and even well-trained teams can have errors. Sometimes these result in cops shooting each other. In particular, Prof. Klinger pointed to a well-known case in Los Angeles involving L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Arruda, who was struck in the neck by friendly fire in a situation where a suspect was shooting at him and his partner. Such a scenario can’t be ruled out in the Atlanta case, Prof. Klinger said.

I asked him by e-mail about the number of shots fired by the police. I haven’t seen a published report that gives a true number, but my commenter steve, who seems pretty plugged in, claims to be aware of reports that there were allegedly over 90 shots fired. I am wary of accepting assertions as true without seeing proof. But I asked Prof. Klinger to assume the truth of that allegation just for the sake of argument. Could that possibly be proper? His response by e-mail:

[I]f the cops fired 90 rounds, I can’t picture a scenario where that’d be kosher. The only thing that makes any sense at all in terms that many bullets is that there were more than 3 officers firing, and that some of them were engaging in suppressive fire to cover the retreat of the officers who were shot trying to make entry. (Suppressive fire is a delicate thing that must be done with great discipline and care. Not just firing blindly. A topic unto itself that’d take some lengthy discussion, so I’ll stop here). If it was just three officers who shot, then we have other issues: What were they shooting at? Did they have a positive ID on the shooter? Were they shooting through some barrier (furniture, walls, etc)? Did some (or all) of them reload? Whatever the case re: N of officers, 90 rounds in a gunfight with a single person armed with a single gun does not sound right. We’ll have to see what the investigation shows before passing judgment on how out of round the shooting was.

There are so many unanswered questions about the whole case, Prof. Klinger said, that it’s really irresponsible to come to any firm conclusions about the officers’ behavior without more facts. For example, he said, is it beyond the pale to believe that an elderly woman could be involved in illegal activity? It certainly would be unusual, but not impossible, as so many seem to assume. (I will add as an aside that Curt at Flopping Aces has a post which, in the update, tells of a 91-year-old bank robber.

Old Bank Robber

He’s serving 12 years in prison. Unusual? Sure. Impossible? No.)

(As another aside, I will say that in this case, with the new relevations that keep coming out — including the small amount of marijuana found, the accusations made by the informant, and especially the numerous misstatements of fact by the police as to several key aspects of the case — it now seems terribly unlikely that the woman was a criminal. But the possibility can’t be completely ruled out.)

Prof. Klinger said that the vast majority of cops don’t want to shoot anyone, and risk their own life and limb. In fact, recent studies show that cops are more fearful of getting sued than they are of getting killed. He said that working LAPD 77th Division, he realized that early on. Time and time again, he saw cops who had chances to shoot people in situations where it would have been fully legal to do so, but the cops didn’t do it — at considerable risk to their lives and those of their partners.

Turning briefly to the topic of drug legalization:

Prof. Klinger added: most of these people commenting on my site who are complaining about the war on drugs have probably never lived next door to a crack house. As an aside, I wholeheartedly agree. When I have done trials on drug sales cases, I invariably visit the scene with the arresting officers. More often than not, citizens in the area come up to us and complain about the drug houses in the area. You cleaned this one up, they say, but there’s another one down the street. It ruins the neighborhood, they say. It’s hard not to take drugs seriously when you meet people affected by them.

Still, Prof. Klinger, an opponent of drug laws, believes that legalization would clean up the violence associated with drug dealing — to some degree. But he cautions that it would not be a panacea. It would not take care of all the violence to legalize drugs. Many drug dealers would turn to some other kind of crime. Drug dealers are not wonderful, civic-minded human beings, he said. Many of them will find some way to make money through criminal activity.

I asked him by e-mail about the idea (advocated by Instapundit in this post) of videotaping the service of search warrants. He responded:

I agree completely. That is something that leading police trainers have advocated, and switched on entry teams have been doing, for many years now (well over a decade). What they show is the cops doing the right thing the vast, vast majority of the time. And the taped shootings that I’ve seen show clear-cut justification for what the officers did. On the other hand, people need to understand that video won’t catch everything and, consequently, that taping will not completely solve the problem of controversial shootings.

This post does not necessarily reflect my own attitudes toward the drug war or dynamic entries. I have done my best to convey the opinion of someone who has thought about the issue for quite some time and has expertise in the area. I hope this has been informative.

52 Responses to “Interview with a Use-of-Force Expert Regarding the Shooting of the Woman in Atlanta”

  1. Klinger is a well-respected scholar. He also happens to be an opponent of the war on drugs.

    But he’s also a former police officer, and has long been a staunch advocate for SWAT teams. In fact, many years ago, he was commissioned by the National Tactical Officers Association (basically the PR mouthpiece for SWAT teams) to produce a study they could trot out every time a botched raid brought up new public criticism of SWAT teams. That study is still frequently cited by SWAT defenders, even though it was never submitted for peer review (it was completed about 10 years ago).

    That doesn’t make Klinger wrong, of course. But it probably is important to put his biases on the table (just as everyone knows mine and yours) when evaluating his opinions.

    Many criminologists (including several former chiefs of police) disagree with Klinger on the use of dynamic entry, and in particular with the notion that paramilitary tactics are in fact safer for all parties involved. The idea that most or even a high percentage of drug suspects would knowingly commit capital murder to protect a small drug supply I think flies in the face of common sense. Dealers will kill other dealers over a house supply, but it’s hard to believe they’ll knowingly kill an LEO, with all the risk and consequence that comes with it.

    The case against Klinger’s position grows stronger when you consider the inherent flaws in drug policing — the use of informants, proliferation of bad information, etc.

    The strongest argument for using dynamic entry in drug policing isn’t to protect the safety of the police officers, but the other exigent circumstance outlined in Wilson and subsequent case law — that the suspect will destroy the evidence. But that butts up against the very reasonable counterargument that possession of a small enough quality of dope to flush in a minute or two shouldn’t be a crime worthy of having one’s door kicked down.

    The fact that there has been at least a 1,300 percent increase in the number of SWAT raids over the last 25 years should in itself be cause for grave concern. More than 100 times a day in America, what amounts to an urban warfare unit conducts a violent entry into a private home — to prevent people from getting high. That’s not an image I associate with a free society.

    Churchill once said, “Democracy means that when there’s a knock on the door at 3am, it’s probably the milkman.”

    Wonder what he’d think of the SWAT phenomenon in America today?

    Radley Balko (0334b1)

  2. Dealers will kill other dealers over a house supply, but it’s hard to believe they’ll knowingly kill an LEO, with all the risk and consequence that comes with it.

    It’s hard to believe anyone would.

    But they do.

    Patterico (de0616)

  3. If such surveillance were carried out in the service of search warrants, there wouldn’t be the clamoring over dynamic entries that there is. Some actual police work would eliminate the vast majority of wrong-door raids, which are the focus of most of the outrage over these cases. Even better, some actual intelligence about the house being entered would most likely reduce the number of dynamic entries that need to be made in the first place. If the police are watching the house they intend to search, and know how many people and what is inside, they’ll have a much better idea of what amount of force they need to use. The fact that they frequently don’t, as evidenced by the shocking number of wrong-door raids that occur, is where the problem lies.

    There is simply no way this woman would have been killed if the police had bothered to conduct some surveillance of the house and actually built a case against her before they busted down her door.

    Celeste (4d0ce8)

  4. In other words, I wouldn’t put too many eggs in the “Drug dealers wouldn’t kill cops” basket. Criminals do irrational stuff all the time.

    Patterico (de0616)

  5. If such surveillance were carried out in the service of search warrants, there wouldn’t be the clamoring over dynamic entries that there is.

    But such surveillance generally is carried out, in the cases I see.

    The Atlanta case looks like it may be a case of cops serving warrants in an unprofessional manner — again, based on information known to date.

    Patterico (de0616)

  6. Anyway, Radley, I think we can agree on this: if a supporter of SWAT teams and tactics says this looks like a botched raid, that’s bad news for the Atlanta cops.

    Patterico (de0616)

  7. Perhaps I should have posted this earlier. A commenter named Kelly Hill left this comment at my post about Kathryn Johnston:

    Kelly Hill said…
    Thank you for that beautiful poem. Kathryn Johnston was like a mother to me and I couldn’t have written a more poignant poem myself. And for the coward who didn’t have the courage to identify himself. Kathryn Johnston didn’t smoke marijuana. She didn’t even take perscription drugs, and she was proud of it. She hated the drug selling in her community and would have never condoned drug selling in her house. This whole thing is a farce, and I belive the truth will eventually come out.
    Mon Nov 27, 10:01:01 AM

    She did not leave an e-mail or website.

    nk (bfc26a)

  8. This is the fall-back position.

    First, attack anyone who is questioning the validity of the police explanations as “jumping to conclusions.” Make a series of “if….then” comments designed to impugn a 92 year old who was likely in fear of her life. Jump up and down and keep referring to one idiot commenter’s “evil” comment as if it represented every skeptic’s opinion of the case.

    Now that it appears many of the questions originally asked aren’t coming out very favorbly for th epolice……move on to the fall-back position.

    THe fall-back position will be this was an extraordinary exception, pay it no heed. Bad Atlanta cops, bad. All non-Atlanta SWAT raids (or whatever Patterico wants to call them) are fine. It’s just those bad Atlanta cops.

    King Christian X (b77209)

  9. Excellent article, Patterico; thank you, and a thank you to Prof. David Klinger, too.

    In the context of “getting the facts”, it’s possible that the informant making the claims of misconduct is either wrong — or lying — about being the informant relied on by the police in this case.

    I don’t know how many were conducting this raid; three seems to me to be more of the size of a criminal crew rather than a law enforcement operation. I don’t know that we need cattle trailers of agents, but more than would fit in a car or two helps show that it’s real cops. If you want me to put a specific number, a dozen might be a reasonable minimum for a dynamic entry warrant service. A half-dozen black&whites with lights and sirens going, visible from the target location, within seconds of the start of the breech.

    I’m very inclined to think (and act) on the idea that those who initiate the use of force are responsible for the consequences.

    htom (412a17)

  10. The cases where such surveillance is carried out are not the cases that are generating the attention. Conducting a SWAT raid for kiddie porn based on an IP address is NOT doing that surveillance. Wrong-door raids obviously were conducted without that surveillance. Sending a SWAT team to the house of a 92 year old woman when you are looking for a 6 foot 250lb man is not conducting adequate surveillance. I can understand defending the police when they do their jobs right, but there are numerous examples of them not doing their jobs, and there seems to be few if any consequence for when they screw up, so no incentive for them to do their jobs better.

    Celeste (4d0ce8)

  11. Since Mr. Balko has made a comment here, I wonder if he has an opinion on Prof. Klinger’s third option, “contain and call-out.” Would that be an acceptable technique?

    DRJ (0df497)

  12. One other thing, I have to quibble with the line that “recent studies show that cops are more fearful of getting sued than they are of getting killed.”

    They aren’t studies. It was a single article in the very conservative Insight magazine that quoted a few police and prosecutors at a SWAT convention.

    http://www.insightmag.com/Media/MediaManager/Officers.htm

    I found the whole thing rather dubious, but your mileage may vary.

    [This may have been my fault. I know Prof. Klinger said research has shown cops are reluctant to shoot. And we discussed the recent article. I may have mistakenly mushed the two together. — P]

    Radley Balko (0334b1)

  13. Prof. Klinger says that the alternate suggestion many are making — that police should in all cases simply knock on doors and wait on the porch for the occupant to answer — is a silly suggestion that will pose an unacceptable risk to police.

    I haven’t seen that as “the alternate suggestion” by, well, anybody. (It’s possible someone did suggest that, and I missed it, of course.)

    But I think that’s a bit of a strawman that no warrent could be served by force.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t think that’s the “majority” view. Of course, sometimes you’ll have to batter the door down – you are, in theory, dealing with criminals for these searches.

    My position, which I think many are of similar view, is that the expansion of the violent raids is bad. It leads to more of the the presumption that anyone is guilty on flimsy (informant) evidence, and these “mistakes” keep growing.

    I’m not asking for the cops to make themselves open targets. Neither do I want them to paste a big bullseye on me and the rest of the non-LEO/prosecutor/judge community.

    This shooting may very likely result in sweeping reforms – which might cause the very sort of blanket prohibition that you say “we” are calling for. That’s the biggest problem with this, and the massive expansion of the military mind-set into the police force.

    And a cardinal rule of any martial profession …

    Way back when, I took a college PoliSci course. The (substitute) instructor started the first day discussing the vast difference between the English government and ours by extention. He said the single biggest difference between the English system was the police, the enforcer of the laws, was specifically not an arm of the Army.

    I understand why we’ve gone down that road, but I think it’s time to suggest we stop rushing down it.

    Unix-Jedi (bc56eb)

  14. Shorter King Christian X: “How DARE you not assume the cops were in the wrong! No cop ever engages in ethical practices!”

    OHNOES (f59ef5)

  15. Contain-and-Call-out is one option, along with “breach and hold,” and other variants of limited entries. We use these as the tactical situation dictates. You can also first-floor entries and isolate the suspect on the second floor (or you can do the reverse by inserting a team onto the second floor, but that’s less common for a number of reasons, not the least if which is that suspects will shoot through the floor at you)… the mantra of most SWAT teams is that there’s more than one way to do it.

    Break-and-rake is indeed sometimes done as a distraction, but it’s also done to gun-port that window and deny ground to the suspect. If you gun-port a central living room, you can effectively isolate the suspect in one end of the house. Once you gain ground, you never want to give it up.

    It’s nice to see Mr. Balko here… I wish he’d enable comments on his own blog.

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  16. Patterico wrote:

    He said that yesterday’s revelations — that the informant in the case claims police asked him to lie about having bought drugs at the location — certainly should cause the public great concern.

    If the informant is telling the truth, he said, these cops should go to prison, and the department and city will be facing the mother of all civil suits.

    I respectfully disagree with both Prof. Klinger and Patterico here. If after the raid the police asked the CI to lie about having bought drugs at all, and (by reasonable inference) also about the qualifying information for a no-knock (ie: the video cameras), then it would appear that they fabricated the warrant affidavits entirely.

    If that is the case, then their fabrication and subsequent actions in furtherance of their conspiracy directly caused the death of an innocent citizen. They were committing a violent crime in progress from the moment they fabricated the affidavit.

    Any civilian who killed an occupant in an illegal and violent home invasion would face trial on a capital charge.

    It would be a further crime against Ms. Kathryn Johnston (may God receive her soul with loving arms) and against all law-abiding citizens if they were given a free pass to kill just because they are police and had opportunity to lie under oath in an attempt to justify it before committing it.

    Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    Note: this is predicated on the facts that Patterico said “should cause the public great concern” being true. We don’t know that yet, of course, and maybe we never will.

    Occasional Reader (e06057)

  17. Occasional reader,

    I don’t understand your comment. Patterico (and I think Prof. Klinger) stated that if the police asked the informant “Sam” to lie and there was no valid search warrant, then the police should go to prison and the City of Atlanta should pay substantial damages. You apparently want the police to face criminal charges, as they should. Where is there a disagreement between you and Patterico?

    DRJ (0df497)

  18. oh, so now i’m irrational because my position necessitated the assumption that the police were committing criminal acts? that’s rich, particularly in light of the fact that the police wrongfully assumed kathryn johnston was a criminal and initiated lethal violence against her home. moreover, my position does not require that assumption. so many of you are comfortable sacrificing thousands of faceless american soldiers to bring liberty to iraq, but cry “irrational” when someone expresses a willingness to sacrifice just a small number of our domestic soldiers to restore liberty to america.
    professor klinger is exhibiting moments of irrationality. he suggests that dynamic entries can be useful to avoid violent confrontations by overwhelming the occupants of the house. maybe if the occupants are in a drug-induced stupor where it would take 30 seconds for them to decide to do anything, otherwise it smacks of the “shock and awe” we used to initiate operation enduring quagmire. how’s that working out for you?
    he trotted out the old “cops fear being sued more than they fear being killed.” think about that for a moment and tell us where you stand. would you rather be sued or killed?
    professor klinger (like most cops and former cops) is a little dim on the constitution. he “firmly believes society must enforce laws passed by a majority of the people in our constitutional republic.” won’t somebody explain to him that the constitution protects the rights of the minority against that majority? if a majority of the people somewhere believe that blacks should be lynched for showing disrespect to whites, does this mean we have to enforce that?
    patterico’s “it now seems terribly unlikely that the woman was a criminal, but the possibility can’t be ruled out” applies with equal force to him and all the other strangers here. let’s put our host to the proof of his innocence!
    rationality itself is overrated. when patrick henry said “give me liberty or give me death” was he being irrational? the jehovah’s witnesses think so; they took their challenge to the state motto of new hampshire, printed on all its car license plates, all the way to the u.s. supreme court and won. this is more about moral philosophy than rationality, and i don’t think i have the right stuff to be a jehovah’s witness.

    assistant devil's advocate (57e5f3)

  19. I just wanted to respond to Mr. Balko’s initial comment. First, I thank him for ID’ing me as a “a well-respected scholar.” I appreciate it.

    Second, I would like to give a bit more information about the research I’ve done on SWAT teams, for the info Balko offered is a bit off-base.

    1) I wasn’t “commissioned by the National Tactical officers Association …. to produce a study they could trot out” to defend bad police work. I had wanted to do a study that examined various aspects of SWAT teams, including the service of high-risk warrants, so I approached the NTOA and asked if they would be willing to assist me by lending their name to the project in order to increase the participation rate. They agreed. I think you can see that Balko’s characterization of that study is not quite correct.

    2)I conducted that research as a pilot study with the intention of seeking funds form the National Institute of Justice to conduct a more complete investigation into SWAT teams. NIJ funded the larger study, which included data collected during the pilot study. The final report I submitted to NIJ was then sent by NIJ to two anonymous persons for peer review. I incorporated their comments into the final report that NIJ has archived. It is thus not correct to indicate that my research was not peer reviewed.

    3)The report came out in 2005, not 10 years ago.

    Here is the reference info on the report.

    “A Multi-Method Study of Police Special Weapons and Tactics Teams.” Final report to National Institute of Justice. Grant #2000-IJ-CX-0003. 2005. (With Jeff Rojek).

    Dave Klinger (4e2176)

  20. I sure that I mentioned “knock, announce, and present” in this series of threads, at least in the context of how it used to be done.

    htom (412a17)

  21. Good to have you weigh in here, Mr. Klinger.

    It’s also a little simplistic to brush off the NTOA as merely a “PR mouthpiece” for SWAT teams. The NTOA is sometimes asked to comment on incidents, or provide expert-level after-action reviews of critical incidents, but the NTOA is primarily a training and information-sharing tool for tactical team members and police departments. Its membership is restricted, and its publications available only to members, primarily for security and opsec reasons… you don’t share your playbook with the opposing team. Among the NTOA’s largest goals are to share “lessons learned” to prevent tragic mistakes from being made twice, refine tactics, and to help standardize training. I’m sure that even Mr. Balko can acknowlege that these are worthy goals.

    To dismiss the NTOA as “basically the PR mouthpiece for SWAT teams” is far from an accurate or fair characterization in my opinion. And yes, I am a member.

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  22. Prof. Klinger,

    What year was the pilot research completed? I seem to remember the BBC recently saying in a story about the Culosi shooting last year that the study came out in 1998.

    As for peer review, while at Cato, I asked three leading criminologists about your study — Peter Kraska, Sam Walker, and Joseph McNamara — and all told me that though they’d all seen and heard of your study, you had never submitted it for the formal peer review process, so it was basically useless from an academic standpoint. Kraska and Walker added that if you had submitted it, they would certainly have known about it (both, by the way, described you as a top-notch scholar, and Walker said he’s closer to you on some of these issues than he is to Kraska — they just both expressed doubts about this particular study).

    I’m not an academic, so I don’t know if what you describe above counts as “the formal peer review” process or not. I’m just going on the word of three of your peers.

    I have also heard from two other criminologists (who asked not to be named) that the study was essentially a direct response to Kraska’s work, and that it was more for the media than for serious academic consideration. I’ll take you at your word that NTOA didn’t come up with the idea. But there’s no question that they cite that study rather often.

    In any case, I thought I would provide you an explanation for the conclusions I drew in my prior post.

    Radley Balko (0334b1)

  23. As one who mentioned “knock first”…

    My reference was to a specific case here in Oregon that involved a 49 member interagency task force, an armored personnel carrier (NG), flash grenades and placing a spit hood on one partially clothed woman.

    Having read the warrant and investigated the scene, several observational discrepancies appeared. The most glaring of course was the need for “dynamic entry.” Any observation of the occupants, any discussion with neighbors would have shown that these were genuinely nice, kind hearted people. Their next door neighbor is an 80+ year old woman and several children lived in the neighboring apartment complex.

    All that was found was a gram or so of herb and a pipe.

    The city lost its task force.

    My point being that pre-raid surveillance has to be done. There are enough wrong-address raids, enough cops dead over small amts of pot (Twin Falls, Idaho). Enough distrust between police and citizens.

    Legalization will not be a panacea but will be a step away from this abyss of chaos. The drugwar cannot be removed from the equation. If the argument had no merit, groups like LEAP would not be growing as quickly as they are (LEAP now has 6500 members).

    The question of having laws in place that must be enforced is dubious when those very laws are founded upon concepts with no relevance to truth, justice or medical science. If the concept of zero tolerance was anything but a pipe dream pursuit of its aims might be justified.

    The folks, US citizens, our neighbors, like Miz Johnston, Donald Scott, Pedro Oregon Navarro, the Rev Accelyne Williams, Patrick Dorismond, etc, ad nauseum, who have lost their lives because of the failures of our system, demand some resolution.

    As an advocate of legalization I’ve heard the ad hominem BS for far too long. We ALL seek a reduction of the tragedies our drug idiocy perpetuates.

    Regulation over chaos could have saved several people in Atlanta from one crappy Thanksgiving weekend.

    allan (f05b8b)

  24. I noted that my commenters are repeatedly arguing that it doesn’t matter whether people invading your home claim to be police or not, because some robbers do home invasions posing as cops. (This is something I know to be true because I have handled such cases myself.) But Prof. Klinger agreed with me that robbers also pose as cops conducting traffic stops. That doesn’t mean citizens can shoot at a cop at a traffic stop.

    What an inappropriate and misleading analogy! Here’s a better one: Surely you remember the case of Cara Knott, in which a young woman driving on a lonely stretch of Interstate 15 was pulled over by an “overly friendly” CHP officer and murdered? As a result, motorists (especially women driving alone at night) are advised that they do not have to stop immediately if they believe the environment is not safe, but can instead drive to the nearest lighted, populated area. Given that the danger of people pretending to be cops is real in both traffic stops and dynamic home invasions, taking steps to assure personal safety by both drivers and homeowners would seem to be appropriate.

    Mike G in Corvallis (30cbc0)

  25. Prof. Klinger,

    A couple more things:

    I should add that I attempted to contact you three times while researching my own paper on this issue, and you didn’t return my calls.

    Which is fine — you’re of course under no obligation to. Just wanted to make that clear in case someone were to ask why I didn’t just call to ask you about the paper. I did try.

    I also don’t mean to suggest that your research was somehow inadequate. I guess the problem is that no one I talked to had or could actually assess the study to determine its value.

    There are other objections to the way that study is often used by supporters of paramilitary tactics.

    But that’s another discussion for another time.

    Radley Balko (0334b1)

  26. To clarify my last comment, an appropriate reaction by homeowners and apartment dwellers would be to insist that the police use some method of unambiguously announcing themselves — one that was unique, could not be “counterfeited” by felons, and would be recognizable even by people who were half-asleep or disoriented by concussion grenades.

    Otherwise, it might be a good idea for the police to assume that there’s an “ARMED RESPONSE” sign outside every house they raid, and to ponder all of the implications of that before they go in.

    Mike G in Corvallis (30cbc0)

  27. DRJ at 11/28/2006 @ 8:54 am wrote:

    I don’t understand your comment. Patterico (and I think Prof. Klinger) stated that if the police asked the informant “Sam” to lie and there was no valid search warrant, then the police should go to prison and the City of Atlanta should pay substantial damages. You apparently want the police to face criminal charges, as they should. Where is there a disagreement between you and Patterico?

    The difference between criminal charges and capital criminal charges. For a killing committed in the course of committing a violent felony.

    Occasional Reader (e06057)

  28. As a former academic (and published author in my own field), I would say that prof. Klinger’s study meets the “peer review” standard.

    It’s standard practice (particularly if you submit your work to a trade publication in your discipline) for the journal’s own expert panel (or experts they select) to review your work, and send it back to you with comments, suggestions, and documentation of methodological flaws (if any). Some articles are accepted as written, but others require revision and are usually resubmitted with the recommended changes incorporated. Articles can also be rejected outright.

    I’m not a journalist, but I can’t imagine it’s very unlike a journalist’s relationship with their numerous editors, something I’m certain Mr. Balko has experienced.

    TheNewGuy (114368)


  29. Balko #1: Klinger is a well-respected scholar. He also happens to be an opponent of the war on drugs. But he’s also a former police officer, and has long been a staunch advocate for SWAT teams. In fact, many years ago, he was commissioned by the National Tactical Officers Association (basically the PR mouthpiece for SWAT teams) to produce a study they could trot out every time a botched raid brought up new public criticism of SWAT teams. That study is still frequently cited by SWAT defenders, even though it was never submitted for peer review (it was completed about 10 years ago). That doesn’t make Klinger wrong, of course. But it probably is important to put his biases on the table (just as everyone knows mine and yours) when evaluating his opinions.

    Balko #22: As for peer review, while at Cato, I asked three leading criminologists about your study — Peter Kraska, Sam Walker, and Joseph McNamara — and all told me that though they’d all seen and heard of your study, you had never submitted it for the formal peer review process, so it was basically useless from an academic standpoint.

    Balko #25: I also don’t mean to suggest that your research was somehow inadequate. I guess the problem is that no one I talked to had or could actually assess the study to determine its value.


    Mr. Balko,

    Your statements in comments 1 and 22 contradict the conclusion in your comment 25. For the record, perhaps you will take this oppportunity to clarify what you think about Prof. Klinger’s report.

    DRJ (0df497)

  30. Occasional reader,

    Thank you for clarifying that.

    DRJ (0df497)

  31. I don’t know what I think, because I haven’t seen it.

    I only know what other criminologists have told me about it, and what NTOA says about it to the media.

    I don’t think there’s anything contradictory about pointing out that according to the experts I’ve talked to, the report hasn’t been properly peer reviewed, that it may have been commissioned for PR purposes — but that even given all of that, the research in it may still be perfectly fine.

    Radley Balko (0334b1)

  32. Were all the police members on the unit that forced entry involved in the activities that are now so highly suspect?

    That is, did one group or individual designate the “target site” and another group make the forced or “dynamic” entry? Or was it a mixing of individuals?

    If the individuals who made the assessment/determination were also all the ones who made the entry, maybe that suggests a organizational weakness. That is, having the “entry team” (or at least the leader) making an independent assessment of the designator’s evidence would seem a safeguard, as well as necessary for the force to plan on potential threats.

    I find some terrible implications in the above.

    If the entry force was not involved in the designation activities, then the procedure/practice set them up, as well, and all the ones in that house that night – police and deceased – were innocent victims of those others.

    However, if the folk who allegedly asked the informant to lie comprised the entry team, then the deceased may well have been the only innocent person in the house when the door went down and the bullets flew.

    jim (a9ab88)

  33. Mr. Balko:

    I tried to email you today via the address listed on your web-site, but it didn’t go through. I also tried to reach out to you through a mutual friend, but no luck so far. The report should be available through DOJ, but I can send you a copy via email tomorrow. Just call or email me at the University with your preferred email address and it’ll be in your in-box before 10:00 am.

    Dave Klinger (f3df12)

  34. Mr. Balko,

    Thank you for responding to my comment. I did not realize you were basing your opinion on what other people told you instead of reading the report for yourself. I hope you will read Prof. Klinger’s report and share your thoughts.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  35. While Prof. Klinger appears to be quite reasonable, I have to say that I find his argument highly misleading, in the same way I found some of TheNewGuy’s comments misleading over on Volokh.

    He describes the “right way” to execute a warrant with dynamic entry (although many of his suggestions, such as gaining better intelligence about the residence) would apply to an ordinary warrant as well), and implies that the cops who don’t do these things are cutting corners in a way that makes the situation far more dangerous — and I agree with all of that wholeheartedly.

    But the problem I have is this: there is no way on earth that we can actually expect LEOs to follow all the steps in the “right way.” Unless we plan to double or triple police budgets, they don’t have manpower to sit there and surveil every structure they intend to search for extended periods of time. Moreover, gathering intelligence is boring, time-consuming work that often is unproductive. It’s not the sort of job that people are going to be eager to volunteer for.

    Yes, I think “contain and call out” is infinitely superior. But it will lead to lost evidence. We can’t expect LEOs to do all the work to put together a criminal case, put together a large team of people to “contain” the house, and then simply sit by and let the case fall apart because you’re giving the suspects the opportunity to destroy the evidence. It goes against human nature to suggest that cops are going to be willing to do that every time.

    People cut corners. Either you keep them out of situations where that’s a problem (the position of many people here), or you accept it as a cost of doing business (the position of the law enforcement types here). But you don’t — you can’t — pretend that it won’t happen, that there’s a third way which involves Doing It Right.

    It’s like describing a way to fight a war — a real war, not the war on drugs — without any collateral damage. There may be a theoretical way to avoid any civilian casualties — but only at the expense of actually fighting the war effectively. If you could only drop bombs when you were certain there were no civilians in the area, and only in situations when you knew you wouldn’t miss the target, you’d drop about 1% of the bombs we actually drop, and you wouldn’t accomplish anything.

    David Nieporent (7291ac)

  36. Patterico, thanks for that article. Sometimes I’m amazed that this blog is only a part-time gig for you. Excellent work.

    This is the blogosphere at its best. You’ve done an in-depth interview as good as I’d expect from a major publication, along with the almost-real-time interaction with an active audience that you can only find on a blog.

    Phil (88ab5b)

  37. in the same way I found some of TheNewGuy’s comments misleading over on Volokh

    David, would you care to elaborate on this? I’m not attempting to be confrontative or a smart-ass here, but I really don’t understand what you feel was dishonest about what I wrote.

    I thought I’d been fairly clear in my points… but perhaps not. I can assure you that I’m in no way attempting to be disingenuous… please enlighten me if you don’t mind

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  38. I second Phil’s comment.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  39. NewGuy: I did explain it, later in the thread where you thought I was accusing you of being dishonest. (I wasn’t. “Misleading” is not meant as a character attack.)

    My complaint is that you were portraying the ideal approach — with all appropriate safeguards for everyone, cop and homeowner alike — as if it were the routine approach. If it always happened the way you described it, if LEOs only sought no-knock warrants against the worst offenders, if LEOs always did their homework first, if they always double and triple checked what CIs told them, (if they always managed to hit the right address!), if magistrates always acted as a real check on cops, only granting warrants when PC was strong and only granting no-knocks in truly exceptional circumstances, I would have many fewer concerns.

    But that isn’t the case. In real life, people commonly do (to use the technical legal term) half-assed jobs. (Not just cops, of course.) In real life, just to take one example, magistrates often act as rubber stamps, which means that cops — even honest ones — are likely to get lazy. In real life, police departments have limited budgets, so they don’t have all the personnel to do these raids properly. In real life, police departments need to justify the existence of their SWAT units by using them, even in situations that don’t require their use. Etc.

    David Nieporent (7291ac)

  40. David # 39:

    That is EXACTLY the point. Lazy, incompetent, simply mistaken, dishonest, honest, etc. etc. are all adverbs describing factors which occur in real life. If everything WAS double checked and competently done ETC. then Radley would have much less to write about on this topic.

    But the fact is it is not working that way, clearly, with devastating results. Maybe if we took the millions or billions of dollars being IMO wasted to create SWAT teams in every little podunk town for no reason that I can see – and spent that money on fixing the system, adding checks and balances, boistering community civil policemen instead of guys playing army in our neighborhoods we’d have better results v. costs.

    There is just no way IMO that the number of warrants being served by SWAT teams is, well, warranted. Extreme situations? – no problem. But it seems this practice is becoming the norm because something “might happen” to the police – so the trade off is endangering a lot of innocent people and destruction of privte property.

    Just a fun liitle statistic when you cmpare 2005 cop fatalities by felonious acts (55 – 50 by gunfire) to traffic deaths statistics provided by the NHTSA. Cops are 1/2 as likely to be killed by a felonious act as a person is just driving their car.

    nickcharles (0591d5)

  41. Oops, I should have referenced the source for the 55 police deaths – it is from FBI reports available on the their website.

    Nick

    nickcharles (0591d5)

  42. Fair enough, David.

    My personal experience with these types of raids it that we never half-assed it; the stakes were too high, and we took pride in what we did as professional operators. Our lives were on the line, right along with the suspect and any bystanders. We’d also didn’t want to lose our evidence (and the case right along with it)… which you risk if you lie or bullshi* a warrant out of the judge (not to mention that he’ll never sign another of your warrants if you make him look like an ass). We never hit the wrong address, never shot the wrong guy, and virtually always found what we were after, though we did have a few where we missed the suspect (ie. he had left shortly before our arrival). No matter how quickly you try to act on tips, that’ll happen, though I must confess that I hate freezing my ass off in the snow for hours, only to find an empty house.

    My experience may be atypical, but professional, progressive teams generally do get it right in my experience.

    I’ve worked for several teams in several areas of the country. Given a choice of which team to join (which did happen several times), I tried to make a judgement based on their answers and approaches to current controversies in SWAT tactics. I won’t bore you with the details… but suffice it to say that I would never have joined a more-balls-than-brains, “hell, son, we jes’ kick the door in and git’ em” team. Perhaps that’s selection bias on my part, which I fully acknowledge.

    To answer your last paragraph, any human process has error… it’s a consequence of having human beings involved. The question we should be asking is whether the problem is large enough (looking objectively at solid numbers) that we should consider eliminating these raids. That takes a sober, clear-headed risk-benefit analysis with good statistical data to help illuminate the scope of the problem. That data could show the problem to be vanishly rare… but if the incidence is sufficiently large that we’re unable to live with it as a society, then something has to change. In that event, the follow-up question that has to be asked is whether there is a way to retain the valuable and beneficial parts of the process without discarding it entirely.

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  43. David,

    It seems to me that we need SWAT teams now more than ever. Not for drug busts, perhaps, but definitely for school shootings, workplace standoffs, miscellaneous hostage situations, and (sadly) potential terrorist events. If you want to argue that we should scale back law enforcement’s use of these techniques for drug offenses, that’s worth discussing but I’m not sure I want a blanket rule that eliminates this type of force.

    DRJ (0df497)

  44. Patterico, thanks for that article. Sometimes I’m amazed that this blog is only a part-time gig for you. Excellent work.

    This is the blogosphere at its best. You’ve done an in-depth interview as good as I’d expect from a major publication, along with the almost-real-time interaction with an active audience that you can only find on a blog.

    I appreciate it, Phil. Prof. Klinger can probably verify that I’ve been burning the midnight oil and getting up early. With the Atlanta story and the Ramadi story both running at once — both fascinating to me, but with a lot of issue to chase down for each — I’ve been putting all my evening hours into the site. I may need a break.

    Patterico (de0616)

  45. It seems to me that we need SWAT teams now more than ever. Not for drug busts, perhaps, but definitely for school shootings, workplace standoffs, miscellaneous hostage situations, and (sadly) potential terrorist events. If you want to argue that we should scale back law enforcement’s use of these techniques for drug offenses, that’s worth discussing but I’m not sure I want a blanket rule that eliminates this type of force.

    I’m not sure I proposed a blanket rule of the sort you describe. Also, I’m not really sure that we have the incidents you describe “more than ever.” (I do know that in the most infamous of those incidents, Columbine, SWAT did… absolutely nothing. They sat on their asses while people were being killed.)

    David Nieporent (7291ac)

  46. David Nieporent,

    Thank you for your reply.

    DRJ (0df497)

  47. […] Prof. David Klinger, whom I interiewed in this post regarding the Johnston case in Atlanta, was on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today. You can hear the program here. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Prof. Klinger Interviewed on NPR (421107)

  48. David,

    Let’s stick to the subject at hand… Columbine has little or nothing to do with this.

    As an aside, it’s more than a little unfair to slag on the officers involved in Columbine… it was a paradigm-breaking incident that prompted an entire change in SWAT tactics nationwide. It’s akin to calling the 9/11 airline passengers cowards… would you support denigrating them for not taking down the terrorists?

    Also, you should read the final report on Columbine. Harris and Klebold were basically done with their rampage 16 minutes into the incident. I’d defy anyone to show me any non-full-time SWAT team that could have paged out, responded, set up, safely made entry into that school, and reached Harris and Klebold in time to stop the carnage.

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  49. Also, you should read the final report on Columbine. Harris and Klebold were basically done with their rampage 16 minutes into the incident. I’d defy anyone to show me any non-full-time SWAT team that could have paged out, responded, set up, safely made entry into that school, and reached Harris and Klebold in time to stop the carnage.

    I don’t think it was quite that quick, but the shooting was over relatively soon, yes. But the teacher who was killed lay there bleeding to death for several hours, as I recall.

    And I hardly think it’s fair to compare untrained airline passengers to a group of trained professionals whose entire raison d’etre is to perform jobs like rescuing hostages. I don’t want to be too flip here, but do we really need to give people glorified titles and fancy equipment to stand around outside a building? I think ordinary police can handle that. What’s the point of having SWAT if not for rapid reaction to an actual deadly hostage situation? (To kick in grandmothers’ doors because someone supposedly bought $50 worth of cocaine?)

    David Nieporent (7291ac)

  50. David Nieporent,

    I’d love to see you weigh in on my latest post, regarding the suggestion that there should be *federal* legislation on no-knock warrants.

    Patterico (de0616)

  51. entire raison d’etre is to perform jobs like rescuing hostages

    There were no hostages at Columbine, only bodies… and hostage rescues are the highest-risk and most-dynamic of all SWAT operations. It’s really not something you want to just throw together on a napkin on the hood of a cruiser.

    But the teacher who was killed lay there bleeding to death for several hours, as I recall

    The teacher’s name was David Sanders, and JeffCo SWAT was dinged for not having a tactical medic on the team who could have reached him. Regular EMS are not trained for that, and there is a legitimate criticism to be made there. However, don’t overlook the fact that it took hours to clear the school, officers didn’t know how many suspects there were (up to six were reported), didn’t know if they were waiting in ambush (they were dead by shortly after noon), and had to move carefully to avoid all the UXOs (mostly unexploded pipe bombs) left by the gunmen.

    They sat on their asses while people were being killed

    David, I realize you’re a young lawyer, and it’s your job in the courtroom to take positions and make statements like this to advocate for your clients, but you need to be extremely careful about saying things like this outside of that environment. My feelings on post-hoc judgment tinged with arrogance and condemnation are mostly unprintable, but if you ever said something like that to the wrong person, you’d be risking serious personal injury.

    Consider any of the following: (Note: Do NOT actually do these things… you’d get the beating of your life, and you’d deserve it)

    Tell a rape victim “You could have fought harder. How you could you let him do that to you?”

    Tell a paramedic who just watched a family of six burn to death in their minivan and couldn’t get them out “You didn’t even try… you just let those people die”

    Approach a Vietnam veteran and say “it’s ’cause of pussies like you that we lost.”

    You need to understand that people who have been in critical incidents, either as a victim or first-responder, carry psychological burdens and scars as a result of the experience. Those things can manifest in all sorts of ways, including PTSD in severe cases. They can also manifest as extreme rage in response to what would otherwise be a off-handed statement, particularly one like yours.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not angry at you… we’re just a couple of boobs typing on a blog. However, you should have enough sensitivity to appreciate what saying something like does to a person who is already hurting from their experience. Even aside from rubbing salt in their wounds, you’re practically asking them to take that pain out on you, and you don’t want that.

    If you were just some 14yo idiot posting from your parent’s basement, I’d let it go, but you’re educated enough to appreciate what I’m saying, and you’ve been an otherwise reasonable fellow so far, so I took the time to write this. Please take it in that spirit.

    TheNewGuy (114368)

  52. The idea that most or even a high percentage of drug suspects would knowingly commit capital murder to protect a small drug supply I think flies in the face of common sense. Dealers will kill other dealers over a house supply, but it’s hard to believe they’ll knowingly kill an LEO, with all the risk and consequence that comes with it.

    I didn’t see Prof Klinger, Patterico or anyone else make that claim Mr Balko. I’ve been following your coverage of Corey Maye at talkleft and your own site and find that you have mistated in incorrectly applied other posters positions vis-a-vis police entries on multiple occassions.

    In most cases, I believe you have corrected those errors when they were pointed out, and think you should do the same here. Prof Klinger seems just about right on to me, with 15 years of experience on a tactical team, as a member and team leader. His positions seem pretty unbiased and well thought out. Kudos to Patterico for posting this interview. It’s a good perspective.

    patrick (d928f7)


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