How did our police transition from being friendly locals to impersonal hostile strangers? Has this change made us safer?
The cornerstones of modern effective policing actually date back to 1829 and England, when Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force in London, based in Scotland Yard (hence them sometimes being referred to as Bobbies, or, in a more pejorative sense, as Peelers).
Arising out of his reforms came what are known today as the Principles of Policing, and we’ll list all nine of them before moving on with our article.
- The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
- The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
- Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
- The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
- Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
- Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
- Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
- Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
- The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.
The core concept is that the police operate with the support and approval of the citizenry they serve. This was evidenced by the concept of police officers walking the beat, armed with nothing more than a short wooden truncheon discreetly in a pocket, and integrating into the neighborhoods they serve. Peel’s most famous statement stresses the integration between the police and community by saying ‘The police are the public and the public are the police’.
We can see the epitome of Peel’s principles expressed in that lovely television series from the 1960s, The Andy Griffith Show, which ran from 1960 through 1968. As you surely know, Sheriff Andy Taylor was known, respected and liked by all in his North Carolina (fictitious) town of Mayberry, and he never carried a gun. He didn’t need a gun, because a friendly word, a fatherly word, sometimes a stern word and sage advice was all he needed to keep the peace.
The year after The Andy Griffith Show ended its run, policing in the US took a turn for the worse. After several years advocating the concept, the then police inspector Daryl Gates of the LAPD (subsequently to become a controversial police chief) was given permission to develop the nation’s first SWAT team, which deployed for in 1969, first in a raid against a holdout cell of the Black Panthers. The SWAT concept was modeled after the Marine Special Forces.
After some controversy, Congress provided the next tool for the militarization of the police, when in 1970 it passed a new law authorizing ‘no knock’ raids for federal narcotics agents. After repeated abuses of this power and many probably unnecessary casualties as a result of such raids, the law was repeated in 1974, but strangely, the concept lives on to this day, even without a federal law authorizing it.
Originally, in the 1970s, there were only a few hundred SWAT raids each year, but since that time, the number has been inexorably growing, while the trigger point for requiring a SWAT deployment has been successively lowering. This article says the number of no-knock raids increased to 3,000 in 1981, and grew massively further to 50,000 in 2005 (that’s 136 times every day), and suggests that over 40 innocent bystanders have been killed.
As well as the 40 innocent bystanders who have been killed in gratuitous shoot-outs, many of the people being raided have also been killed in totally unnecessary circumstances, in situations that would not have occurred if one policeman had simply and calmly knocked politely on the guy’s door and had a discussion with the person when he answered.
The article also points out that criminals sometimes now pretend to be police on a no-knock raid, and, even worse, the police have moonlighted as criminals, conducting unauthorized no-knock raids to seize cash and drugs for their own personal gain and resale.
The article (it is short and you should read it) also points out just a few of the too many dubious uses of lethal force by police in no-knock raids. What it does not and apparently can not point out, however, is any case where the ‘official review’ of use of force in a no-knock raid has ever been ruled unlawful or inappropriate, or any charges being filed against the police who conducted the raid (or, even better, filed against the judge who inappropriately authorized it). Our police are increasingly unaccountable for their actions, even when their actions result in the unnecessary loss of life.
Until recently, one of the worst cases of no-knock raids was the shooing of US Marine veteran Jose Guerena in Tucson. After shooting at him 71 times (and hitting him 22 times), the police then did not allow any medical aid, and watched Guerena slowly die from his wounds over the next hour. In justifying their actions, the police claimed that Guerena shot at them first, but subsequently it was shown that his rifle was unfired and the safety catch still on. An official report exonerated the police (naturally). Details here.
In addition to no-knock warrants, the ‘knock and announce’ type warrant has become more and more closely identical to a no-knock warrant. In theory, a knock and announce warrant requires the police to knock on the door and call out to the occupants, giving them a chance to voluntarily open the door prior to breaking it in and invading the property. But how loud a knock, how loud an announcement, and how long a wait is involved prior to the police then breaking down the door and swarming inside, with their fully auto weapons ready to gun down anyone they encounter? That’s a grey area, and the courts have been increasingly permissive about what the police can get away with.
There are also repeated allegations that police did not knock and announce prior to breaking in to properties. Of course, in a situation where you have a team of half a dozen or more police officers all claiming they followed procedure fastidiously, and one or two citizens, now either dead or in custody for some trivial crime (perhaps ‘resisting arrest’), who will the courts believe? The police, every time. The police are no longer accountable.
After the ‘success’ of the first LAPD SWAT team, other police departments were quick to copy. After all, it gave the police new fancy clothes to wear, new vehicles to drive, and new toys to play with – who wouldn’t love that. By 1975, there were approximately 500 SWAT teams around the country.
More recently, in the hysteria fueled by 9/11, the new Department of Homeland Security (now the third largest cabinet level agency in the country, with only the DoD and Veterans Affairs larger) has been awarding grants, totaling over $32 billion so far, enabling police departments everywhere in the country to outfit themselves with military vehicles and military weapons. The federal government seems to want to encourage the militarization of even the smallest town’s police departments.
Does any Police Department not have a SWAT team now? Even small towns have SWAT teams. In 1983, already 13% of towns sized between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team, and in 2005, that number had grown to 80%.
It isn’t only PDs that have SWAT teams these days. Some of the most unlikely federal agencies also have SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Education.
SWAT raids now seem to be the standard way for the police to interact with the citizens they are protecting and serving. Whether it be the SWAT team that raided a small group of Tibetan monks who had overstayed their visas while on a peace mission, or the repeated SWAT raids on home games of poker, any and every police action seems to warrant a full SWAT deployment.
Think about the slogan ‘To Protect and To Serve’. The police are neither protecting us nor serving us when they hide behind face masks, helmets, and body armor, and break into our houses in the dead of night for no substantial reason. They’ve totally lost sight of their mission. Instead of protecting and serving us, they are recklessly endangering us and dominating us.
Here’s a great history of the rise of SWAT culture in US policing. (If the link is dead, search for ‘Rise of the Warrior Cop’ in Google, you want to find a Wall St Journal article from July 19, 2013.)
All of the preceding has merely been introduction. Please now read an appalling story of the latest SWAT raid, and in particular, the circumstances in which it took place. The police received an anonymous tip suggesting that a child rape suspect was somewhere inside an apartment complex. They had no specific information that the suspect was in the woman’s apartment that they terrorized, and they had no warrants supporting any of their activity. But when the woman was slow to comply with their demand to let them in and search with no warrant, that ‘confirmed’ to them that he must have been in her apartment.
Yes, if you don’t voluntarily surrender your constitutional rights, you are now presumed guilty of harboring a rape suspect, it seems, even if you are a 59 year old middle class nurse with no police record or past problems.
Look back up to the nine principles of policing. How many of those are still being observed today?
We read a lot about the terrorist threats against the US. Some might think that the greatest threat, and the greatest acts of terrorism, involve not Muslim extremists, but our own law enforcement officials, and rather than breaking the laws, they are aided and abetted by permissive laws and even more permissive courts.