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Time's Joe Klein Takes Obligatory, Inaccurate Cheap Shot At Atheists

Radley Balko   |   June 24, 2013   12:05 PM ET

In his cover story for the current issue of Time, journalist Joe Klein takes a long look at the therapeutic value of public service. It's an interesting piece. Unfortunately, Klein also can't resist taking a swipe at nonbelievers. While discussing the aftermath of last month's tornadoes in Oklahoma, Klein writes:

But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.

Emphasis mine. It's too bad Klein couldn't help but succumb to the self-centered atheist cliche, here. It's also unfortunate that he couldn't do a bit of research before doing so. Because he's wrong.

Shortly after the tornadoes, CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed Rebecca Vitsmun on national television. Blitzer asked Vitsmun, who had just lost her home, if she "thanked the Lord" that her family was safe. Vitsmun gracefully responded that she's an atheist, then added, "We are here, and I don't blame anyone for thanking the Lord."

After the interview, the outspoken atheist comedian Doug Stanhope started an Indiegogo campaign to help Vitsmun and her family. Stanhope hoped to raise $50,000 in 60 days. Within 72 hours, the campaign had already doubled that amount. It's currently just under $122,000, with 29 days left to go.

The American Humanist Association also kicked in $10,000 for Vitsmun, and FreeOK, a humanist group in Oklahoma, launched a fundraiser on her behalf. Vitsmun herself has since taken to raising money for other families struck by natural disasters, and wrote on her Facebook page that she'll donate all money beyond what she needs to get back to her former life . . . to the Red Cross.

But it wasn't just rallying behind Vitsmun. At the Friendly Atheist blog, Hemant Metha runs off a list of other post-tornado aid efforts from humanist organizations:

-- Foundation Beyond Belief raised over $45,000 for Operation USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

-- Atheists Giving Aid raised over $18,000 that will be given to local relief groups in Moore, Oklahoma and directly to families that need help.

-- Members of the FreeOK atheist group helped families who needed wreckage removed from their property.

-- Local atheist groups such as the Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization have organized volunteers, resources, and blood drives
-- Organizers of the FreeOK conference going on this weekend held a literacy drive yesterday to “benefit the schools affected” by the tornadoes.

At the Red Dirt Report, more examples:

FreeOK has also been active in other ways. They teamed with Panera Bread and Krispy Kreme to get breakfast to cemetery clean-up volunteers with Frontline Church in Moore, and to volunteers working through the Moore Community Center in the first week of response. They will continue to host volunteer drives in the outlying areas needing assistance in the coming weeks, like many local church organizations. The Red Dirt Party Bus, also owned by a secularist, has been used to run bulk donations around OKC and to distribution centers like the famously generous Grandad’s Bar on NW 23rd in OKC and out to Shawnee and Bethel Acres.

Of course, it's also worth noting that while some nonbelievers are vocal and organize around their lack of faith, many just don't consider it to be a critical part of their identity. I do volunteer work from time to time. When I do, I don't do it as an atheist, in the name of atheism, or in an effort to convert people to atheism. My atheism doesn't really enter the picture at all. I'd imagine that this is true of other nonbelievers. Which is probably why Joe Klein didn't see a bunch of t-shirts and banners celebrating the service work of "secular humanists."

The above story from the Red Dirt Report also relays an unfortunate anecdote in which members of a religious organization called Freedom Assembly of God walked off a cleanup site after learning that the volunteers working next to them were atheists. They apparently couldn't bring themselves to work alongside nonbelievers, even to help a family whose home had just been destroyed.

Now, I don't think anyone would suggest that those particular Freedom Assembly of God volunteers are in any way representative of most Christians. It's just too bad that people like Joe Klein can't afford the same consideration to atheists.

What Cop T-Shirts Tell Us About Police Culture

Radley Balko   |   June 21, 2013   11:12 AM ET

Earlier this week, an anonymous public defender sent Gothamist this photo of an NYPD warrant squad officer wearing a t-shirt with a pretty disturbing quote from Ernest Hemingway:

queens cop shirt

The Village Voice reports that the quote was also printed on t-shirts worn by NYPD's infamous Street Crimes Unit, which was disbanded after shooting unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo 41 times in 1999 as Diallo reached for his wallet. The Voice also reports that at least two NYPD police commissioners have used the phrase "hunter of men" to describe police work -- Bernard Kerik and Howard Safir.

There have been a number of other incidents over the years in which cops have donned t-shirts that reflect a mentality somewhat less lofty than "protect and serve." Most recently, a Northern California union for school police officers came under fire for printing up and selling these shirts as a fundraiser:


The head of the union later apologized and stopped selling the shirts. In 2008, the Denver police union was caught selling these shirts in advance of the Democratic National Convention, and the accompanying protests the city was expecting:


Charming, no? Police were spotted wearing similar shirts at the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.

Just before the 1996 DNC in Chicago, a local printer made up a batch of shirts that read, "We kicked your father's ass in 1968 . . . Wait 'til you see what we do to you." The front read: "Chicago Police," and then, "Democratic National Convention Chicago--1996." The shirt wasn't endorsed by Chicago PD or the police union, but it became so popular with city cops that Chicago Mayor Richard Daley issued a warning that any officer seen wearing one would be disciplined. And not just in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reported at the time that the shirts were also a huge hit at "Police Week," the annual convention of cops in Washington, D.C. They were such a hit in fact, that when "a Washington newspaper tried to do a story on them, the only shirt the paper could find [for sale] to photograph was a bootleg version."

In a 2011 investigative series on police shootings, the Las Vegas Review-Journal revisited a 2003 case in which LVPD Officer Brian Hartman shot and killed a man named Orlando Barlow. Hartman shot Barlow in the back, as he was on his knees, unarmed, and attempting to surrender. According to the Review-Journal, Hartman and the other officers in his unit celebrated the shooting by printing up t-shirts "depicting Hartman's rifle and the initials B.D.R.T. (Baby's Daddy Removal Team), a racially charged term and reference to Barlow, who was black and who was watching his girlfriend's children before he was shot."

That phrase, "Baby Daddy Removal Team," lives on in police culture. In 2011, officers with the Panama City, Florida, Police Department adopted the acronym as the name for their police league kickball team. You can still buy a t-shirt with the slogan from a number of online stores that sell police-themed clothing.

In 1997, police in East Haven, Connecticut, called their own softball team "Boys on the Hood," a cop-ified take on the 1991 John Singleton film. According to the New York Times, the shirts included an image of "officers pressing the heads of two grimacing gang members onto a car hood." The shirts became a source of controversy after a white officer with the department shot black motorist Malik Jones four times at close range, killing him. The officer said Jones' car was rolling backward toward him, and he feared for his life. The department has had a slew of racially-tinged incidents since, most notably in 2009, when a video of police harassment taken by a Hispanic priest was posted online and went viral. Latinos in the area had been reporting frequent incidents of police abuse, and the priest was trying to capture one such incident on camera. Instead, he was arrested. The charges were dropped when his video directly contradicted the officers' account of the incident. Meanwhile, "Boys on the Hood" continues to be a popular slogan for cop-themed t-shirts.

In 2003, officers with the Kern County, California ,Sheriff's Department went beyond t-shirts and put the slogan "We'll Kick Your Ass" directly on the department's squad cars. The sheriff later had them removed. That department too has frequently been in the headlines over the years, most recently in March after deputies beat an unarmed man to death, then attempted to seize the cell phones of witnesses who recorded the beating. It has since been alleged that they deleted some of the captured footage.

In the late 2000s, Daytona Beach, Florida, Police Chief Mike Chitwood sold t-shirts depicting his department as a "scumbag eradication team." Proceeds from the shirts went to fund a mentor program for teens who want to become cops. That department too has had its problems, including questionable dog shootings, a cop accused of shaking down a local Starbucks, and a highly-publicized incident in which an officer Tased a woman at a Best Buy store. In 2012, Florida Circuit Judge Joseph Will called Daytona Beach officers "liars" in dismissing evidence obtained during a drug search.


It's no coincidence that the same departments and units caught wearing shirts displaying this sort of attitude tend to also get caught up in controversial beatings, shootings, and other allegations of misconduct and excessive force. The "us vs. them" mindset has become so common in U.S. police culture that we almost take it for granted. In my new book, I argue that this is the result of a generation of incessant rhetoric from politicians who treat cops as if they were soldiers, and policies that train and equip them as if they were fighting a war. The imagery and language depicted on the shirts in these stories are little different than the way pop culture, the military, and government propaganda have depicted the citizens of the countries we've fought in wars over the years.

Within the more militarized units of police departments, the imagery can be even stronger. Former San Jose, California police chief Joseph McNamara told National Journal in 2000 that he was alarmed when he attended a SWAT team conference the previous year and saw “officers . . . wearing these very disturbing shirts. On the front, there were pictures of SWAT officers dressed in dark uniforms, wearing helmets, and holding submachine guns. Below was written: ‘We don’t do drive-by shootings.’ On the back, there was a picture of a demolished house. Below was written: ‘We stop.’” In his 1999 ethnography on police culture, criminologist Peter Kraska writes that one SWAT team member he spent time with "wore a T-shirt that carried a picture of a burning city with gunship helicopters flying overhead and the caption Operation Ghetto Storm."

More recently, the San Jose, California PD's tactical unit (McNamara retired in the 1990s) has received criticism for printing up shirts with this logo:


The message gets even more disturbing in the broader police culture with the gear that's marketed to cops. The police-gear retailer Bullet-50, which according to its out-of-date information page is run by San Fransisco PD officer Joseph Salazar, features shirts that label the wearer a "death dealer," and a "thug hunter."


This shirt is for sale at a number of online shops that cater to police, although it's unclear if it actually originated with anyone from the Chicago Police Department:


As I've reported here at HuffPost, the shirt isn't wrong -- Chicago cops will indeed blow down your door for smoking pot. And at the same time, it can be difficult to get them interested in, say, investigating an actual assault.

This comment thread at the online police forum PoliceLink has more examples of t-shirts the law enforcement commenters found amusing. Among the comments:

-- "In God we trust, all others get searched,"

-- "A picture of an electric chair with the caption: JUSTICE: Regular or Crispy"

-- "B.D.R.T Baby Daddy Removal Team on the back and the initials on front with handcuffs. You should see peoples faces when I wear it....HAHAHAHA"

-- "Human trash collector. ( above a pair of handcuffs )"

-- "Take No Guff, Cut No Slack, Hook'em, Book'em and Don't Look Back!"

-- "'Boys on the Hood' Pic had two gangbangers jacked up on the hood of a patrol car with two officers."

-- "SWAT T-shirt: 'Happiness is getting the green light!'"

-- "I have one that sates "SWAT SNIPER" on the front and on back it has a picure of a "terrorist" with a shell ripping through his skull and the "pink mist" spraying from the back of his head. Below the picture it reads, "Guerillas in the mist".

-- "Save the police time, beat yourself up"

-- "An ounce of prevention is fine and dandy........ But we prefer 168 grains of cure."

-- "Be good or you might get a visit from the bullet fairy."

-- "Sniper - When you only have 1 shot at an opportunity......We'll make it count"

-- "Law Enforcement......Helping perps slip down stairs since 1766"

-- "Math for Cops.........2 to the chest + 1 to the head = problem solved"

-- "I had a couple of 'em a loooong time ago....1 showed a cop leaning on his rather long nightstick, saying "Police Brutality....the fun part of policework."......obviously not very PC....another was a picture of a LEO with smoke coming from the muzzle of his pistol, with a badguy falling backwards (lookin' like swiss cheese) with the caption.....The best action is OVERREACTION....also not very PC...."

-- "Cops make good roommates...they're used to taking out the trash."

-- "There was also one I saw where there was a big burly looking Sarge behind his desk and the cation read 'It doesn't say kindness and sympathy on the badge.'"

-- "happiness is a confirmed kill"

-- "Park Ranger T-shirt: One of funniest I ever saw: Picture of Smokey the Bear with Riot Gear and he's just poked a protester in the chest with a riot baton. The Caption Reads: "Smokey Don't Play That". Funny!"

-- "My Daddy can Taser your Daddy"

-- "School Patrol - You fail em, we jail em"

-- "Got one that says, "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted and used against you."

It's worth noting that policing is a high-stress job, and one that often puts officers in contact with some pretty awful things, and in some dangerous situations. Like other high-stress professions, and professions that encounter difficult subject matter -- defense attorneys, medical examiners, emergency room doctors and nurses -- cops often develop a morbid sense of humor. It's a coping mechanism. But it's one thing to crack jokes inside the department, or at the bar after work. It's quite another to openly advertise and promote a culture of abuse. As with most police abuse issues, the real failure here is on the part of the elected officials. They're the ones who can't resist the urge to incessantly declare "war" on things, who are responsible for setting the policies that have given rise to this culture, and who have done little to nothing to rein it in.

Radley Balko is author of the forthcoming book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

Welcome To The Police Industrial Complex

Radley Balko   |   June 19, 2013    8:55 AM ET

Want to make money on the drug war? Start a company that builds military equipment, then sell that gear to local police departments. Thanks to the generation-long trend toward more militarized police forces, there's now massive and growing market for private companies to outfit your neighborhood cops with gear that's more appropriate for a battlefield.

Some of this is decades-old news. For over 25 years, the Pentagon has been supplying surplus military equipment to police agencies across the country, largely in the name of fighting the drug war. In fact, in as early as 1968 Congress passed a law authorizing the military to share gear with domestic police agencies. But it was in 1987 that Washington really formalized the practice, with a law instructing the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Attorney General to notify local law enforcement agencies each year about what surplus gear was available. The law established an office in the Pentagon specifically to facilitate such transfers, and Congress even set up an 800 number that sheriffs and police chiefs could call to inquire about the stuff they could get. The bill also instructed the General Services Administration to produce a catalog from which police agencies could make their Christmas lists.

Ten years later, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Security Act of 1997, a portion of which created what is now known as the 1033 Program. In that bill, Congress created the Law Enforcement Support Program, an agency headquartered in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia whose sole task is to make it easier for Pentagon supplies to find their way to local police stations. In just its first three years, the office handled 3.4 million orders for Pentagon gear from 11,000 police agencies in all 50 states. By 2005, over 17,000 police agencies were serviced by the office. National Journal reported in 2000 that between 1997 and 1999, the office doled out $727 million worth of equipment, including 253 aircraft , 7,856 M-16 rifles, and 181 grenade launchers. In the October 2011 edition of the program's monthly newsletter (Motto: "From Warfighter to Crimefighter"), the office celebrated that it had given away a record $500 million in military gear in fiscal year 2011.

The increasing role of the National Guard in the drug war also benefits military contractors. The National Guard straddles the gap between a police force and a military force. Over the years, Congress, state legislatures, and state governors have increasingly asked the Guard to take on the role of a domestic anti-drug agency, but to approach the job as the military might. of course supply the guard with everything from uniforms to weapons to aircraft. The National Guard was first recruited into the drug war in the mid-1980s with the Campaign Against Marijuana Production program. But it was during the lat 1980s and early 1990s that the Guard's role really began to expand. In 1989 Congress first gave the Guard funding for $40 for drug interdiction efforts -- $40 million. The next year, funding jumped to $70 million. Two years later it was up to $237 million.

By 1989, fully-armed Guard troops were stationed in front of suspected drug houses in a series of drug raids in Portland. In Kentucky, local residents grew so enraged at Guard sweeps in low-flying helicopters, they blew up a Kentucky police radio tower. In Oklahoma, Guard troops dressed in battle garb rappelled down from helicopters and fanned out into rural areas in search of pot plants to uproot. Guard troops would later tell USA Today Some would later tell media outlets they were told to exaggerate their haul in order to boost federal funding for future efforts.

In September 1990, the San Diego Union-Tribune sent a reporter to cover “the nation's first counternarcotics school, organized to teach military and law enforcement how to fight the war on drugs together.” The curriculum stressed “the need for law enforcement agencies to wage the war with searches, seizures and arrests, while the military performs surveillance, intelligence and undercover roles.”

By the 1990s, National Guard units were flying anti-drug surveillance helicopters and boarding up crack houses in Washington, D.C.; flying surveillance helicopters and cruising the streets with infrared gear to spot drug houses in Brooklyn; sealing crack houses in Philadelphia; sent to support drug raids in Baltimore; and helping serve 94 drug warrants during a massive, city-wide raid in Pittsburgh. Members of the Pennsylvania Guard assisted in raids of two factories that produced small glass vials. There were no drugs in the vials. But both states had made the vials illegal because they were often used by drug dealers to package crack cocaine. The staff of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) discovered that the Texas National Guard had received $3 million in federal funding to dress troops up like cacti and position them along the border to hunt for drug smugglers. And in the summer of 1990, an Army helicopter circled overhead as Massachusetts National Guard troops, some of them undercover, assisted police in identifying potential drug offenders at a Grateful Dead show.

According to journalist James Bovard, in 1992 alone National Guard troops across the country assisted in just under 20,000 arrests, searched 120,000 automobiles, entered 1,200 private buildings without a search warrant, and stepped onto private property to search for drugs (also without a warrant) 6,500 times. Col. Richard Browning III, head of the organization's drug-interdiction effort, declared that year, “The rapid growth of the drug scourge has shown that military force must be used to change the attitudes and activities of Americans who are dealing and using drugs. The National Guard is America's legally feasible attitude-change agent.”

The next major wave of militarization came after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the decade since, DHS has handed out billions in homeland security grants with a program far larger and better funded than even the Pentagon giveaways. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), DHS gave out $2 billion in such grants in 2011 alone, about four times the value of gear the 1033 program gave out in its own record year. The money goes for hardware such as armored personnel carriers, high-power weapons, aircraft, and other military-grade gear.

Though these are considered anti-terror or homeland security grants, because the overwhelming majority of cities, counties, and towns that get them will never be subject to a terrorist attack, the equipment bought with them inevitably gets used in the drug war -- namely, to perform raids on people suspected of nonviolent consensual drug crimes. (The federal government laid the groundwork for conflating the two issues in 2002 when it ran an ad campaign explicitly arguing that terrorism and the drug war were inextricably linked.)

But most the most troubling thing about the DHS grant program is that it has given birth to the police-industrial complex. As the CIR reported in 2011, military contractors now market directly to police agencies with messages that encourage the mindset that the military and the police are fighting the same battle. And it's lucrative. The spokesman for Lenco, which makes armored personnel vehicles, told me last year that thanks to DHS, the company has sold at least one of its "Bearcats" to 90 of the 100 largest cities in America. The CIR reports that, "The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from an estimated $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009, according to the Homeland Security Research Corp."

That not only means that there's fortune to be made arming domestic police departments for battle, there's also plenty of money left over to set up lobbying offices in D.C., hire former politicians and their staffs, and generally lobby Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House to ensure that these programs not only stay around, but that they grow in size and influence going forward.

So if you want to make money off the war on drugs, consider starting a company that makes military gear for police departments. There's a small mountain of government money for the taking. And unlike contracting with the Pentagon, you won't even need a security clearance.

(Portions of this post were borrowed from my forthcoming book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, coming on July 9th from PublicAffairs.)

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the theatrical and on-demand release of "How To Make Money Selling Drugs," a new documentary by Matthew Cooke that examines the drug trade from a variety of angles. For more info on the film, click here.

Added Heat In Mississippi's Long-Simmering Forensics Scandal

Radley Balko   |   June 17, 2013   11:54 AM ET

In January, I wrote a long feature on the Belzoni, Mississippi murder of Kathy Mabry, and how the 15-year-old crime casts light on the 20-year forensics scandal involving Dr. Steven Hayne and the dentist Michael West. In a new article published in the Mississippi Law Journal, several attorneys at the Mississippi Innocence Project and the Mississippi School of Law offer a detailed, heavily-footnoted chronology of the entire saga. From the introduction:

Over the last four decades, Mississippi has persisted in condoning systemic medico-legal and forensic malfeasance, and, more specifically, refused to adapt and properly accommodate contemporary forensic science in its courtrooms. The fact of the matter is that Mississippi has never, until very recently, made a good-faith effort to bring its medico-legal death investigation system into line to prohibit the failures of justice that have been its hallmark.

Even though the Mississippi Legislature abolished coroner's juries in the 1980s and created the State Medical Examiner's office to provide meaningful oversight of Mississippi's death investigation system, no demonstrative improvements occurred. In fact, it was just the opposite: During the early 1990s, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, the administrative agency responsible for appointing a State Medical Examiner, failed to appoint a person to the position. Among the public health consequences was a medico-legal spoils system that valued pseudoscience and expedient criminal convictions over scientific validity and defendants' basic civil rights.

As a direct and entirely natural correlation, Mississippi produced a significant number--and shocking types--of wrongful convictions and perpetrated some of the most notorious forensic fraud in American legal history . . .

The pervasive impact of Mississippi's broken medico-legal system should come as no surprise. The logical consequence of a system that encourages forensic fraud is forensic fraud; and the logical consequence of forensic fraud is wrongful convictions. Empirical evidence from every jurisdiction in the United States, including Mississippi, bears this out. In a recent national study of wrongful convictions that featured forensic testimony, sixty percent of the forensic witnesses provided inaccurate information.

This Article documents for the first time the complete, tragic history of Mississippi's medico-legal system from the mid-1970s, when initial efforts were made to improve the local, coroner-based system, to the present day. Its primary purpose is to provide a comprehensive narrative through which the state might honestly come to terms on a morally acceptable basis with the attendant failures of justice that occurred as a result of the path it chose. In that way this Article also offers up the Mississippi medico-legal system as a cautionary tale, a study in what not to do. Although all of the cases, agencies, and people discussed in this Article are from Mississippi, the lessons learned from Mississippi medico-legal system's breakdown are universal.

Indeed. Just last week, a state crime lab in Colorado came under fire, with allegations of mismanagement, bias, and cover-up. It's just the latest in a long, sad line of such stories.

But back to Mississippi. Tucker Carrington (director of the Mississippi Innocence Project) and other concerned attorneys, public officials, and even some law enforcement have been calling for an independent investigation of Hayne for years, now. It looks as if they may be finally getting some traction in the state legislature. From Jackson's Clarion-Ledger:

State Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chairman of the Judiciary B Committee, agrees with Carrington that something needs to be done. "Our experience with Dr. Hayne is extremely troubling, and there needs to be a look at anything he is involved in," he said. "We need to look at that."

There are some other signs of growing momentum. The Mississippi Supreme Court has always been deferential to Hayne, and for the most part has curtly dismissed appeals and post-conviction petitions that have challenged his credentials and credibility. But in April, the court not only tossed Hayne's testimony in a murder case, but did so in some unusually harsh language. The New York Times also took a look at the controversy around Hayne in an article published last January. Unfortunately, the biggest roadblock to a thorough review and investigation has come from the one state official with the most power to order one -- Attorney General Jim Hood.

The state desperately needs this investigation -- to find out who may be wrongly in prison (or still awaiting execution) because of Hayne's testimony, to learn what dangerous criminals may still be free because of those wrongful convictions, and to assess the scope and breadth of the damage Hayne's reign in Mississippi has done to the state's criminal and civil justice systems. I've been following and reporting on this story for seven years now. I can say this with confidence: If there's competent review by an impartial team of investigators, we're going to see a truly terrifying report.

The Marketing Of Police Militarism

Radley Balko   |   June 12, 2013    1:04 PM ET

Lenco, Inc., makes the Bearcat, an armored personnel carrier that's popping up in cities, towns, and counties across the country. Last year, Jim Massery, a spokesman for the company, told me they now have Bearcats in 90 of the 100 largest cities in America. They also have them in lots of smaller, even tiny towns like Keene, New Hampshire. These cities and towns are buying the vehicles with anti-terror grants from the Department of Homeland Security, at a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars each.

Critics (like me) say arming every small-town police department in the country with gear more suited for a battlefield is fostering a militarized, aggressive mindset in America's police forces. Moreover, because most small towns will never see a school shooting or terrorist attack, once the gear is in place it inevitably gets used for more mundane police tasks -- mostly drug raids. But because this stuff is "free" -- the federal government foots the bill -- there's usually no local discussion or debate about whether it's appropriate for domestic policing. (There was such a debate in Keene. Residents protested, but the town went ahead with the Bearcat, anyway.)

At the time I wrote my article on Keene, Lenco was using an interesting video to market the Bearcat. Shot from a first-person-shooter point of view, the video included images of cops dressed in camouflage, shooting high-powered weapons, eventually using a battering ram affixed to the Bearcat to punch a hole in a building, through which the vehicle then injected teargas. All of this was set to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."

After the video received some criticism, Lenco sent a take-down notice to Google, and it was removed from YouTube. I'm republishing it here, because I think there are political and policy reasons to let the public see how these companies are marketing themselves to police agencies. They wouldn't use these images if they weren't effective at winning business. And that this sort of highly-militarized imagery is effective at attracting the interest of police agencies -- why that is, and what it means -- are issues worth discussing.

I bring this up again because Lenco recently released a new video, this time for public consumption. This time, the company is promoting its brand by appropriating images from the manhunt and crackdown in Boston after the April marathon bombing. I'll let you decide if this is creepy propaganda or merely a government contractor celebrating the heroism of police in the wake of a tragedy.

What I find most interesting here is the difference in tone and tenor between the way Lenco markets its products to police -- camouflage, guns firing, ass-kicking, Thunderstruck -- and the face it presents to the public: still images of heroic cops protecting and serving, set to classical piano. The first video is aggressive and confrontational. The second video aspires for inspiring. The contrast is telling.

HuffPost senior writer Radley Balko is author of the forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.

Lunch Links: FBI Dials Up Use Of Controversial PATRIOT Act Provision, David Brooks As Stalin, Don't Say Gay In Russia

  |   June 12, 2013   12:22 PM ET

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That's Not What I Meant!

Radley Balko   |   June 11, 2013    9:57 AM ET

Over at the New York Times, Adam Liptak interviews the Innocence Project's Peter Neufeld, who is none too pleased at the way Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cited his book in the majority opinion for the recent DNA collection case, Maryland v. King. In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld a Maryland law requiring police to take a DNA sample of everyone arrested for a serious crime, regardless of whether they're eventually charged or convicted.*

Kennedy writes that the practice of collecting DNA from everyone arrested for a serious crime could match DNA collected from crimes for which the wrong person has been convicted. "In the interests of justice," Kennedy writes, "the identification of an arrestee as the perpetrator of some heinous crime may have the salutary effect of freeing a person wrongfully imprisoned for the same offense." He then quotes from a book written by Neufeld and Jim Dwyer to support his contention.

From Liptak:

I asked Peter J. Neufeld, one of its authors, how he felt about the honor.

"Not great," he said.

Part of the problem was what he called an irony.

In 2009, Justice Kennedy joined the majority opinion in a 5-to-4 decision that said prisoners had no constitutional right to DNA testing that might prove their innocence. Mr. Neufeld, who founded the Innocence Project with Barry Scheck, represented the prisoner on the losing end of that case, District Attorney's Office v. Osborne.

But last week, Mr. Neufeld said, Justice Kennedy concluded that "it's O.K. for the state to take DNA, without a warrant, from mere arrestees, who may ultimately have their charges dismissed."

So Kennedy is happy to invoke the cause of the wrongfully convicted when empowering the police to collect DNA from everyone they arrest. But at the same time, he has ruled that the wrongly convicted have no right to DNA testing, even it could conclusively establish their innocence. Sorta' sounds like a justice who is expropriating sympathy for the wrongly convicted to give more power to police.

Kennedy also misquoted Neufeld. In a quote from the book, Kennedy writes that Neufeld and co-author Jim Dwyer encourage "prompt testing" of DNA to prevent wrongful convictions. But Kennedy implies that the authors were advocating for prompt testing of all arrestees. They weren't. They were advocating for prompt testing of evidence collected from the crime scene. In their book, Neufeld and Dwyer take take six sentences to explain this. In his quote, Kennedy hides those six sentences behind an ellipsis.

Liptak points out that Kennedy's quote from the book also includes a second interesting ellipsis. After misstating what the authors meant by "prompt DNA testing," Kennedy then notes that they state such testing could "prevent the grotesque detention of ... innocent people." The original quote included the words thousands of in place of the ellipsis. Liptak writes, "Justice Kennedy apparently did not want to endorse the possibility that the criminal justice system had such widespread shortcomings." That seems like the only plausible explanation. I can't imagine that Kennedy was trying to squeeze under some sort of word count limit on Supreme Court opinions.

This isn't the first time an expert has been upset about the way their work was interpreted by the Court. I describe another example in my forthcoming book. In the 2006 case Hudson v. Michigan, the Court decided in a 6-3 vote that even when police conduct a clearly illegal no-knock raid, any illegal evidence they might seize afterward isn't subject to the Exclusionary Rule. So it can still be used against the defendant at trial.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia took aim at the rule, which has long been a target of scorn among law-and-order conservatives. Scalia and the majority concluded that the rule was an inappropriate remedy for violations of the knock-and-announce rule. Instead, Scalia argued that there are other, more appropriate ways to hold police officers accountable when they violate the rule. He suggested, for example, that internal affairs departments investigations and internal discipline could be sufficient to deter cops from barging into homes without knocking and announcing themselves. If you're familiar with the phrase blue code of silence, you'll know why that's rather unlikely.

To support his thesis that are better methods to deter knock-and-announce violations, Scalia cited the work of criminologist Samuel Walker, who has done extensive research on police professionalism. In the book Scalia cited, Walker concluded that there has been enormous progress "in the education, training and supervision of police officers." Scalia argued that this progress was making the Exclusionary Rule obsolete. But Walker's thesis was that this progress had come about because of Supreme Court decisions applying the Exclusionary Rule, particularly during the Warren court. Police departments implemented better search procedures because with out them, their arrests would be continually thrown out by the courts. To cite his work to argue against the rule was to completely miss his point.

Like Neufeld, Walker wasn't happy to see his work misappropriated. Shortly after the Hudson decision came down, Walker wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times headlined, "Thanks for nothing, Nino." (Nino is Scalia's nickname.) Walker wrote:

A FRIEND OF mine e-mailed me last week with some exciting news -- the Supreme Court had cited one of my criminal justice policy books in an important, late-term decision. My law professor friends tell me that being mentioned by the court is a huge deal. And my 93-year-old mother in Cleveland will certainly be impressed that her son has finally done something worthy of note.

Alas, as I surfed the Net for news about Hudson vs. Michigan, my excitement quickly turned to dismay, then horror. First, I learned that Justice Antonin Scalia cited me to support a terrible decision, holding that the exclusionary rule -- which for decades prevented evidence obtained illegally by police from being used at trial -- no longer applies when cops enter your home without knocking . . .

Scalia's opinion suggests that the results I highlighted have sufficiently removed the need for an exclusionary rule to act as a judicial-branch watchdog over the police. I have never said or even suggested such a thing. To the contrary, I have argued that the results reinforce the Supreme Court's continuing importance in defining constitutional protections for individual rights and requiring the appropriate remedies for violations, including the exclusion of evidence.

Imagine devoting your life to academic research, then learning that the Supreme Court has just cited your research to support an opinion that contradicts everything your research has found. And that opinion is now the law. It must be infuriating.

(*The Maryland law that the decision upheld is actually pretty narrow, as these laws go. If you're never charged or convicted, for example, you can ask that your DNA profile be removed from the state database. The problem is that the majority opinion was written broadly enough to include states far more onerous DNA collection laws.)

Morning Links: Schneier On Spying, Billy Joel Meets Police Militarization, And Dippin' Dots

  |   June 11, 2013    9:36 AM ET

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Raid Of The Day: Witness To A Misdemeanor

  |   June 10, 2013    2:05 PM ET

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Disturbing DOJ Report Finds Sexual Abuse At Juvenile Detention Facilities Is Down, But Still Prevalent

Radley Balko   |   June 6, 2013   12:09 PM ET

A new report (PDF) from the Bureau of Justice Statistics paints an unsettling picture of juvenile detention centers in the U.S.

According to the survey of minors incarcerated at both privately and publicly run facilities, 9.5 percent of the jailed kids reported that they had been sexually victimized in the previous 12 months. A little less than 8 percent were victimized by staff, the others by fellow inmates. Interestingly, the rate of staff sexual misconduct is nearly twice as high at state facilities (8.2 percent) as those that are privately or locally operated (4.5 percent).

If there's some good news in the report, it's that the overall victimization rate at state run facilities is down, from 12.9 percent in 2008-2009, to 9.9 percent in 2012. The worst states are Georgia, Illinois, Ohio and South Carolina, which had victimization rates topping 15 percent. The best were Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia, which had no reported incidents at all. The report indicates that about 3.5 percent of inmates reported sexual contact with staff members that involved the use of force of coercion. That's still way too many, but that number is down too, from 4.7 percent in 2008-2009.

Any sexual contact between staff and inmates at a youth corrections facility is troubling. But forcible contact is most alarming. So it's worth throwing some shame on the worst offenders. The BJS survey found eight facilities in which more than one in 10 incarcerated youth reported that they had been forcibly sexually assaulted by a staff member in the previous 12 months. Birchwood in South Carolina led the way, with an appalling rate of 21.7 percent. Ponder that. If the survey is accurate, one in five kids at this facility reported being sexually assaulted by a staff member. (Statistically speaking, at a 95 percent confidence level, the rate of victimization at Birchwood is somewhere between 14.2 and 31.8 percent.)

The other centers topping 10 percent are Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio (15.2 percent), Illinois Youth Center (14.0 percent), Augusta Youth Development Campus in Georgia (13.6 percent), Eastman Youth Development Campus in Georgia (13.1 percent), Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Ohio (13.0 percent), Corsicana Residential Treatment Center in Texas (10.5 percent), and Sumter Youth Development Campus in Georgia (10.3 percent).

It's good that these numbers are falling. But there's still a lot more work to be done.

Raid Of The Day: Bruce Lavoie

Radley Balko   |   June 5, 2013   11:29 AM ET

Note: The "Raid of the Day" features accounts of police raids I've found, researched, and reported while writing my forthcoming book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. It's due out in July, but you can pre-order it here.

At 4:30 am on August 3, 1989, officers with the Hudson, New Hampshire, police department met at the police station for a briefing. They'd be executing three simultaneous drug raids that morning in an apartment complex on Roosevelt Avenue. The raid on Bruce Lavoie, a 34-year-old machinist, would be done by Sgt. Stephen Burke, Officer Ronald Mello, and Albert Brackett, the town's chief of police. The chief was wearing a t-shirt with the word "Police" printed on the front and back. The other two officers were wearing black tactical uniforms.

A confidential informant claimed to have seen Lavoie sell a pound of marijuana to his upstairs neighbor, 25-year-old Kevin Hughes. Under New Hampshire law, in order to obtain a warrant for a no-knock raid, police must show specific information that the suspect either is violent or is likely to dispose of evidence. They had no such information on Bruce Lavoie. They stated in the warrant affidavit only that "individuals involved in drug dealing frequently carry firearms." Nashua District Court Judge Gauthier signed the warrant, anyway.

When the police broke in, Lavoie, 34, and his sons Jonathan, 8, and Steven, 6, were asleep in the master bedroom. Lavoie's other son Robert, 11, was asleep in his own bedroom. Bruce's wife Susan was sleeping in the living room. Chief Brackett announced his presence by smacking the Lavoie door three or four times with a battering ram, sending it flying open with the final blow. Susan Lavoie woke up with a start. She had recently been victim of two serious encounters with a neighbor, one in which he choked her, and another that ended with him beating on the family's door with a baseball bat. She feared he had come back for more.

In one hand, Sgt. Stephen Burke carried a Ruger 9 millimeter sem-automatic pistol, with a flashlight taped to his forearm. In the other hand he carried a 20-pound ballistic shield. Mello carried a shotgun with a flashlight strapped to its barrel. When the door came open, the two of them entered the house, both crouched behind Burke's shield. Seconds later, Burke fired his gun. The bullet sped through a hallway wall, into the room where young Robert Lavoie was sleeping, pierced a vacuum cleaner parked in the bedroom, then penetrated a second wall before stopping in a hallway on the other side. Burke would later say he didn't remember discharging his weapon.

Chief Brackett entered the house last. He hit the living room, where he put Susan Lavoie on the floor. According to police accounts, Burke then continued toward the master bedroom, where the door was partially open. As he neared the door, he said saw Lavoie, dressed only in his underwear, attempt to shut the door. Burke thrust his shield into the door, knocking Lavoie back into the bedroom. As Lavoie fell, Burke claimed the man grabbed at his gun gun, at which point he "felt pressure" on his left hand and "heard the gun discharge." Burke later said he didn't remember firing that shot, either.

The bullet struck Lavoie in the left side of his chest, then angled down into his abdominal cavity. He'd later die in surgery. His last words: "Why did you shoot me? What happened?"

Robert Lavoie, the 11-year-old, later told investigators that he woke to the pounding at the door, saw armed men enter the apartment, and heard a gunshot. He then saw them run into his father's bedroom and heard more shots. Jonathan, the eight-year-old, said he woke to gunshots, then looked and saw his wounded father lying on the mattress next to him.

Chief Brackett would later say he heard Burke scream "Let go of my gun!" just before the second gunshot. Mello claimed he heard Burke yell "He grabbed my gun!" after the second shot, just as he saw the two figures fall to the mattress.

In subsequent interviews, the paramedics who responded to the shooting said the police acted suspiciously. Hudson Fire Department Lt. Robert Bianchi and firefighter David Sassak said that when the call came in, they weren't told that they were responding to a shooting, but rather to an "unknown problem." If they had been told it was a shooting, they would have sent more personnel. When they arrived, Chief Brackett ran out to the ambulance and told them someone had been shot, but that it "wasn't one of ours." Brackett then told Bianchi that he wanted "only certain paramedics" to treat Lavoie. When Bianchi tried to call for the needed extra help, Brackett wouldn't allow it, and said instead that he and the other officers would give him whatever help he needed. Bianchi said that when he then asked for the officers to retrieve the stretcher from the ambulance while he treated Lavoie in the house, the officers wouldn't comply. He and Sassak had to leave Lavoie unattended to get the stretcher themselves.

There were other oddities in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Susan Lavoie said the police told her that her husband had only been shot in the arm, and was in good condition. It wasn't until she arrived at the hospital that she was told he was dead. When she and Lavoie's brother then asked to see the gunshot wound after he was pronounced dead, Chief Brackett wouldn't allow it. Crime lab reports would later show that none of Lavoie's fingerprints were on Burke's gun, nor was there any gunshot residue on Lavoie's hands.

The police did find a "small amount" of marijuana in Lavoie's house, as well as what they called "residue" of cocaine. Lavoie was unarmed when he was shot.

On the night of the raid, Susan Lavoie told police that one of the officers, dressed all in black, looked like Michael Keaton in the Batman movie. According to witnesses, at a public hearing on the raid the following month, several off-duty officers from Nashua showed up in Batman t-shirts to mock her.

Facing mounting public outrage over Lavoie's death, Chief Brackett commissioned a review of the raid and his department from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Not surprisingly the resulting report -- written by former LAPD Officer Robert McCarthy -- was reluctant to criticize his fellow men in blue. In fact, of the 17-page report, less than one page addressed the Lavoie shooting, the reason the report was commissioned in the first place. According to the Nashua Telegraph, McCarthy praised the Hudson Police Department for its "high degree of professionalism" in "aggressively attack[ing] the drug problem." Despite the fact that neither Susan Lavoie nor her sons heard any police announcement, and that Susan Lavoie thought she was being attacked by a neighbor, McCarthy concluded that the police "wore easily identifiable uniforms," "loudly announced they were officers," and "gave clear commands." McCarthy then used an odd comparison to blame Bruce Lavoie for his own death: "The grabbing of the steering wheel of a speeding police car by a suspect could create the same result."

Of course, a suspect who commandeers a speeding squad car away from the police officer driving it knows full well what he's doing. Bruce Lavoie confronted Sgt. Burke during a 5 am no-knock raid on his home, after Burke had already fired a bullet inside of Lavoie's home. McCarthy's report also completely disregarded statements from Susan Lavoie and the Lavoie children. Even if the Hudson cops did announce themselves as loudly and clearly as they claimed, it's certainly conceivable that the sleeping family may not have heard them, may have been overcome by panic or fear, may have thought they were the unstable neighbor, or, given that Burke had already fired his gun in their home for no reason, simply didn't believe them when they said they were police. McCarthy's report showed a complete lack of empathy for the people -- even the innocent people -- subjected to one of these raids. McCarthy's report -- which again was commissioned in response to public anger of Bruce Lavoie's death during a drug raid -- went on to recommended that Hudson police officers get pay raises and better benefits.

McCarthy's report, and the general official response to Lavoie's death, also demonstrated one of many double standards that would begin to emerge in the handling of these botched drug raids. Chief Al Brackett asked for a no-knock raid because, he argued in his affidavit, drug dealers like Bruce Lavoie tend to be dangerous. Thus, they need to be taken by surprise. This is why they did a no-knock raid at 5 am. But post-raid, the officers and McCarthy argued that Lavoie should have known they were the police --even though they used tactics designed to make him unaware of their presence. Consequently, they argued, Bruce Lavoie was the only one to blame for his own death. But these two assertions can't exist side by side. One can't argue that violent, volatile tactics are necessary to preserve the element of surprise, then argue that the suspect shouldn't have been fully aware that it was the police who were invading his home. But that's exactly what they argued, and it's what police have argued in the years since when a no-knock raid ends in tragedy.

A subsequent report on the Lavoie raid from the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office reached the same conclusion, although that report did at least direct some strong criticism at Burke for the shot he mysteriously fired shortly after entering the house. It also concluded with a paragraph about how drug raids are "a tense and potentially dangerous activity." This paragraph was included to get at Burke's state of mind during the raid, and to excuse his actions as those any reasonable police officer would take under similar circumstances. Notably, it fails to mention that the police crated those tense and dangerous conditions when they decided how and when they'd serve the search warrant. While it went to great lengths to consider the mindset of Sgt. Burke in needlessly firing his gun shortly after entering the Lavoie house, it failed to consider the mindset Bruce Lavoie, a man with a full time job and no criminal record, asleep with his two young boys, who woke up to the sound of a gunshot, and then to the sights and sounds of armed men in his home. The report also failed to explain why Hudson police would decide to carry out a "tense and potentially dangerous" drug raid in a home in which three children were sleeping inside. There are only two possibilities: They either hadn't done enough investigating to know there were children inside, or they didn't care.

The following year, New Hampshire Superior Court Judge William Groff dismissed the evidence seized by police as well as a confession after another raid in Hudson, finding that the police had "flagrantly violated" the state's knock-and-announce requirement. That raid on 21-year-old Christopher Roystan occurred in April 1989, four months before the raid that ended Bruce Lavoie's life. The knock-and-announce rule wasn't just a formality, Groff implored in his ruling, but an important safeguard to "protect citizens' rights to privacy in their homes and prevent unnecessary violence which could result from unannounced entries." Groff found that, as in the Lavoie case, the search warrant affidavit contained no specific information suggesting Roystan could be violent. Instead police asked for -- and were given -- a no-knock warrant based only on boilerplate language about how, in the officer's experience, "drug dealers often keep weapons and ammunition in their homes."

Groff's ruling highlighted another trend that would play out alongside the increase in paramilitary drug raids over the next 20 years -- the increase in gun ownership in America. As Groff wrote, the "potential for serious injury or death to innocent persons when police resort to unannounced entry is also manifest. In New Hampshire, where many law-abiding citizens own guns, the potential for violent responses that might be aroused in a startled homeowner suddenly faced with armed unknown persons, endangers citizens and police alike."

The defense attorney in that case found that more than half the warrants executed by Hudson police over the previous two years were served with no-knock raids, many authorized by search warrants with the same boilerplate language.

Hudson police also videotaped the Roystan raid. Groff seemed alarmed by what he saw:

It is doubtful that the court would have appreciate the extreme violence attendant to the execution of the warrant by mere verbal description. The actions of the Hudson Police in this case, which is apparently representative of their general procedure in executing all search warrants for narcotics, underscores the importance of the enforcement of the knock and announce rule. The potential for unnecessary violence and injury to police and citizens by virtue of the indiscriminate use of such tactics is staggering.

The remarkable thing about that passage is that a state judge who regularly ruled on the reasonableness of searches (and presumably signed off on search warrants himself) apparently had no idea about the manner by which search warrants in his jurisdiction were being served. Judges are supposed to be the backstops for the Fourth Amendment. Here, even a judge who understood the amendment's value and importance was oblivious to what was happening after the warrants were signed.

In a bit of candor, Lt. Don Hamel, head of Nashua, New Hampshire's narcotics division, admitted that police departments in the state were changing the way they conduct raids in the wake of the Lavoie raid and Groff's ruling. "The tide is turning. The courts are looking into affidavits and search warrants much closer, and I think that's a good thing. It does rock us back on our heels a bit, but in the end it's making us better."

But other chiefs around New Hampshire reacted to Groff's ruling with a shrug. In the Nashua Telegraph, several dismissed the decision as an isolated case that probably wouldn't affect their own procedures. Unfortunately, they were right. Hamel was wrong. The raids would continue, in New Hampshire and elsewhere. And skeptical judges like Groff would soon become anachronisms.

In November 1990, the town of Hudson reached a $800,000 settlement with the Lavoie family. Part of it went to Susan Lavoie immediately, and part of it to the Lavoie boys when they turned 18. Susan Lavoie was also able to force some changes in department policy. The Hudson SWAT team was disbanded for two years. In a 1994 interview with the Nashua Telegraph, Richard Gendron said the department was doing more "consent searches" for drug warrants instead of nighttime raids, although the department still continued to do some raids with the help of SWAT teams from police departments nearby.

Stephen Burke resigned from the Nashua Police Department five months after the raid to take a position with another, undisclosed police agency. Chief Albert Brackett resigned a year later to take a job as a deputy with the Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff's Department. He would be investigated in 1991 after a suspect died of massive internal bleeding while in his custody. Brackett had chased the man down, tackled him, cuffed him, then put a knee in his back for several minutes, ignoring the suspect's pleas that he couldn't breathe. He was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in that case too. He was subsequently promoted to detective.

The Lavoie children had nightmares for years, and required intense pschological counseling. Robert Lavoie dropped out of school at 16. In 1998, at the age of 21, he was packing up his belongings to move out of the house where his father was killed when police pulled over the U-Haul truck he was driving. Police searched the truck and found LSD. He was charged with possession with intent to sell.

Susan Lavoie remarried, then was separated after filing several domestic violence complaints against her new husband. She also accumulated a criminal record of her own in the following years, including charges for writing bad checks, punching a police officer, and drunk driving. She eventually lost custody of her children.

Sources: "Son of Hudson Man Killed in 1989 Drug Raid Is Arrest," Manchester Union-Leader, December 5, 1998; "Deputy had role in earlier fatal raid," St. Petersburg Times, May 11, 1991; Andrew W. Serell, "The Death of Bruce Lavoie," Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General, August 25, 1989; Kris Frieswick, "Hudson Will Pay Widow $800,000," Manchester Union-Leader," November 17, 1990; Pat Grossmith, "Police Didn't Knock First," Manchester Union-Leader," July 31, 1990; Pat Grossmith, "Some Police Use No-Knock Search Warrants," Manchester Union-Leader, August 1, 1990; Cheryl Dulak, "Probe Backs Officers," Nashua Telegraph, November 7, 1989; Carolyn Magnusun, "One Year Later, Lavoies' Pain Lingers," Nashua Telegraph, August 1, 1990; Carolyn Magnuson, "Police Refused More Medics for Lavoie," Nashua Telegraph, August 30, 1989; Cheryl Dulak, "State A.G. Chided Over Lavoie Probe," Nashua Telegraph, November 28, 1989; Kevin Landrigan, "Lavoie Probe Sheds Light, Raises More Questions," Nashua Telegraph, August 29, 1989; Cheryl Dulak, "Troubled Times," "They're Good Kids; They Went Through Hell," and "Police Department Has a Different Look," all from the Nashua Telegraph, September 2, 1994.

Drug War Priorities

Radley Balko   |   May 29, 2013   11:20 AM ET

This awful story has been making the rounds the last few days.

A woman was choked and raped following a 911 call to police in which the dispatcher told her to ask her attacker to "go away".

The incident, which occured late last August but was only widely reported last week, took place in Josephine County, Oregon, when a woman's ex-boyfriend tried to break into her home.

Instead of sending an officer to the scene, the police dispatcher advised, “I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away? Do you know if he’s intoxicated or anything?”

The man eventually forced entry to the house, wherein he proceeded to "brutally rape" the woman before fleeing. After the attack, police went in search for 29-year-old Michael Bellah, and arrested him.

The Sheriff's Department blamed the lack of resources due to recent public funding cuts. “There isn’t a day go by that we don’t have another victim,” said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. In Josephine County, 80 percent of sheriff’s deputies lost their jobs when the cuts were made. The few that remain cannot respond to emergency calls during the evening or on weekends . . .

After the government budget cuts, which occurred before the rape incident, Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said in a press release that victims of domestic violence should "consider relocating to an area with adequate police services."

Heartbreaking. I don't know the fiscal situation in Josephine County, so I don't have an informed opinion on whether those cuts were necessary, or whether or not they really were severe enough to put its citizens at risk. But I did do a couple quick searches, and I found a few stories that make me question Sheriff Gilbertson's narrative.

-- From a November 15, 2012 article in the Mail Tribune: "A harvest season crackdown on Josephine County medical marijuana growers suspected of having significantly more of the drug than allowed under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program led to the seizure of 930 pounds of bud and criminal charges for 26 people . . . "

-- Here's a February, 2013 story from KDRV TV: "Working with the Rogue Area Drugs Enforcement team in Grants Pass, the agencies tracked the drugs to a home on Panther Gulch Road near Williams. Police seized 161 pounds of marijuana, along with small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and mushrooms."

-- Here's a January 2013 story from KTVL: "Detectives in Josephine County took two drug dealers and their goods off the streets this week.The Rogue Area Drug Enforcement Team used a search warrant to go into a home in Wolf Creek, where they found 15 pounds of marijuana, four ounces of heroin and some methamphetamines."

Here's a November 2012 press release from the Oregon State Police:

Investigations conducted during the last 30 days by the interagency Rogue Area Drug Enforcement (RADE) team shows the team was inundated with a variety of cases, the majority involving marijuana. Due to the nature of the investigations and the cultural closeness of those involved in the unlawful manufacture and distribution of marijuana in Josephine County, RADE is now able to provide some information for these case investigations including the most recent investigation that led to three arrests Tuesday and the seizure of over 250 pounds of marijuana.

Oregon State Police (OSP) Sergeant Jim Johnson said RADE opened seventeen cases during this time for which 26 people were either arrested or have charges pending. Because a number of the cases are submitted to the Josephine County District Attorney's Office for potential charges toward additional suspects, not all of the mentioned cases list names of persons related to the investigations.

According to Johnson, the majority of the cases involved individuals associated with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) and focused on growing or possessing significantly more marijuana than allowed under the program.

I also found this revealing quote from Sheriff Gilbertson in a Mail Tribune article about how Oregon's medical marijuana law was turning the plant into a cash crop in places like Josephine County.

"Medical marijuana is a joke," said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson in an interview with the Mail Tribune. "The amount of people who have those cards is ludicrous. My understanding is that only about four percent of the cardholders have legitimate ailments.

"This is creating a nightmare for law enforcement," he added. "Who is going to knock on all those doors to check if they are legal? It would take several full-time deputies just to do the checks. We don't have the resources for that."

His department frequently receives calls from people alleging that individual medical marijuana growers have too many plants, he said.

"When that happens, we have to take a deputy off another case to check it out," he said. "It's time-consuming."

That quote is from 2010, presumably before the cuts to Sheriff Gilbertson's department. But all of the other stories ran after the rape in August of last year. It's also true that multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces are usually funded with federal grants. Gilbertson couldn't redirect the task force to more conventional police duties if he wanted to. They don't report to him. But they're also staffed and at least partially funded by local law enforcement agencies like Gilbertson's, and there's no obligation to participate. (As a point of fact, according to the R.A.D.E. Interagency Narcotics Team website, the Josephine County Sheriff's Office is not a current participant in the program, although it has been in the past. The police department in Grants Pass, the county seat of Josephine County, is a participant.). Moreover, while there's abundant federal funding for anti-drug efforts, there's little to none for more conventional policing. That and policies like drug-related asset forfeiture skew local police agencies to make drug investigations a far higher priority than they otherwise would. There's just much more money to be had for drug arrests.

The story reminds me of Jessica Shaver, whom I wrote about in 2011. When Shaver was assaulted outside a bar, she was forced to track down her assailant herself because no one at Chicago PD seemed interested in investigating the crime. But when a neighbor later reported some pot smoke coming from her apartment, Shaver was hit with a full-on SWAT assault.

The problem here isn't that there are no resources available for law enforcement officers to respond to 911 calls in Josephine County. It's that federal, state, and local officials have decided that preventing Josephine County residents from getting high is more important than preventing them from getting raped.

MORE: The partisan political reactions to this story are typically awful. Wonkette's Rebecca Schoenkopf mockingly calls Josephine County a "libertarian paradise," and chides the dumb rubes for rejecting property tax increases that would (allegedly) fund police officers to respond to 911 calls. (More likely: It would fund more drug raids.) The post then takes the obligatory shots at people who favor local government over national government. You can find similar reactions at ThinkProgress and The Stranger.

Here's the thing. Maybe part of the reason Josephine County is facing budget woes is because more than half the land in the county is owned by the federal government. The federal government doesn't pay property taxes. And property taxes are primarily how local government is funded. Perhaps, just perhaps, the county's residents reject the idea that their federal tax dollars are going toward buying up local land that is sapping the county's tax base, and they resent the notion that if they then want basic services -- like police protection -- they are then asked to make up the difference through higher property taxes. And perhaps -- just perhaps -- they also resent the federal government because while county residents can't get the local cops to respond to a woman being raped, the federal government is imposing its will on the state by funding task forces to raid medical marijuana facilities in a state where voters have expressed a clear will to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes.

But that would require an analysis of this story that involves some nuance, extra reading, and empathy. Better to just make Ayn Rand jokes and mock the dumb, low-income bumpkins for mistrusting the government.

Some Late-Morning Links: Ft. Worth Police Kill Two In Two Days, Beaver Attack, SWAT Team Raids Sex Show

  |   May 29, 2013   11:06 AM ET

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When Congress Voted Down The Fourth Amendment

Radley Balko   |   May 24, 2013   11:36 AM ET

Earlier this month, President Obama nominated North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt to head up the Federal Housing Finance Authority. Here's a fun little nugget about Watt that has little relevance to the job he's seeking, but has lots of relevance to the current debates over leaks, press investigations, wiretapping, and such:

Back in early 1995, the new Republican majority set out on its "limited government" agenda with a bill to chip away at the Exclusionary Rule, the policy that says evidence found in the course of an illegal search can't be used against the suspect at trial. (Though there are some exceptions.) During the debate, Watt introduced the following amendment to the bill:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That of course is the exact language of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The House killed Watt's amendment by nearly a 3-1 margin.

There have been a number of public opinion polls over the years showing majorities of American opposed to the Bill of Rights when they aren't told the language they're being polled about is actually from the Bill of Rights. Probably the most famous example came in an April 1969 segment of 60 Minutes focusing on a poll commissioned by the show which asked respondents questions like should the government be able to ban peaceful demonstrations?, and should the government be allowed to censor news stories?, and should the government be able to try someone again after they've been acquitted were already prohibited by the Constitution?. In each case, a majority sided in opposition to the Bill of Rights.

Ten years later, a Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans couldn't identify the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and nearly 40 percent thought the press had too much freedom.

During the height of the drug war, a September 1989 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 62 percent of Americans said they would "be willing to give up a few of the freedoms we have in this country if it meant we could greatly reduce the amount of illegal drug use." Another 52 percent agreed that police should be allowed "to search without a court order the houses of people suspected of selling drugs, even if houses of people like you are sometimes searched by mistake." Another poll showed 70 percent support for warrantless drug raids on public housing tenants, a policy later adopted by the Clinton administration before it was shot down in federal court. Other polls taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed majority support of government-mandated drug testing for a wide variety of professions, including hotel employees, lawyers, professional athletes, and entertainers. A 2002 Gallup poll found 7 in 10 Americans thought public schools should be permitted to randomly drug test all students.

In 1991, the American Bar Association commissioned a poll that found that only "one-third of adult Americans can correctly identify the Bill of Rights and fewer than 1 in 10 know it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government." That was about the time that the right was making a big to-do about the Supreme Court decision holding that laws against desecration of the American flag were unconstitutional. Polls taken from the era consistently found that Americans opposed the ruling by about a 3-1 margin. Amusingly -- or perhaps horrifyingly -- while these polls consistently show that startlingly high percentages of Americans oppose basic civil rights protections from government abuse, this particular poll found that 3 and 4 respondents thought the Constitution should guarantee everyone free health care.

Most recently, a HuffPost poll taken just last month found that a third of Americans -- and 55 percent of Republicans -- support making Christianity the official state religion. Oddly, at the same time, six in 10 Republicans also concede that doing so would be unconstitutional.

All of which is a good reminder of why we have a core set of basic rights that we don't put up for a vote. (Hell, you might even call them inalienable!) It's worth remembering the next time you hear a politician cite public opinion polls in defense of some new law that will give the government more power, and the rest of us less freedom. As the old saying goes, democracy is three wolves and two lambs deciding what's for dinner.