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Boston and Militarism: The Colonial Era

Radley Balko   |   April 30, 2013   11:52 AM ET

(This is part two of a series of posts on the Boston Marathon bombings, the government response, and Boston unique historical perspective on militarism and civil liberties. See part one here.)

The first instance of government militarism in the streets of Boston is a big reason why there's a United States of America in the first place: the billeting of British troops in the city in the 1760s.

England sent the troops to Boston as tension between the colonies and London were beginning to boil over. Worse yet, the crown imposed new taxes on the colonists to fund the operation -- effectively sticking them with the bill for their own occupation. The British troops stationed in Boston backed up the crown's customs agents and tax collectors. Armed with general warrants that needn't identify specific suspects or residences, they had the power to go door to door, to break into private homes, to conduct searches for contraband, and to seize any they found.

Clippings from city newspapers and public journals during the British occupation of Boston document tension between British troops and Bostonians, with clashes beginning almost immediately after they arrived from Halifax, Nova Scotia -- and then only escalating from there. Here's an entry from February 27, 1769:

Our former predictions of what would be the unhappy effects of quartering troops in this town, have been too fully verified: The are now the most wretchedly debauched, and their licentiousness daily increasing; a particular enumeration of instances thereof, would be as tedious, as it is painful. Two women the other evening, to avoid the solicitations and insults of a soldier, took refuge in a house, at the south end of the town; the soldier was so audacious, as to enter with them: The cries of distress, brought the master of the family . . . [when] he received a stroke from the soldier with his cutlass, which brought him to the ground, where he lay senseless for some time, and suffered the loss of a quart of his blood . . . Another woman . . . received a considerable wound on her head with a cutlass; and a 3rd. woman presuming to scream, when laid hold of by a soldier, had a bayonet run through her cheek.

Here's another entry, from July 25, 1769:

A country butcher who frequents the market, having been in discourse with Riley, a grenadier of the 14th Regiment, who he said had before had abused him, thought proper to offer such verbal resentment as led to the soldier to give him a blow, which felled the butcher to the ground, and left other proofs of his violence. The assaulter was had before Mr. Justice Quincy, convicted and fined, and upon refusing to make payment, was ordered to goal; but rescued out of the hands of the constable, by a number of armed soldiers, in the sight of the justice, when they carried their rescued comrade, in triumph, thro' the main street to to his barracks, flourishing their naked cutlasses, giving out that they had good support in what they were doing, and that they defied all opposition.

And another, from December 18, 1768.

There has of late been several smart encounters between the soldiers quartered in this town and the seamen belonging to the men of war now in the harbor, they discover a very particular dislike or rather enmity to each other. This evening a number of soldiers and sailors happened to meet, when a bloody affray ensured; in which it is said the seamen were victors: Several of the parties have lost thumbs and fingers are are otherwise badly wounded . . . It is to be feared the indiscretion and animosity of these people may in the course of the winter be productive of other disagreeable consequences; and further evince that the piece and good order of the town is not like to be preserved or promoted by our military inmates.

British troops and customs agents also took possession of John Hancock's sloop Liberty after Hancock was caught smuggling cases of Madeira. The seizure from Hancock -- the much-beloved civic leader who would famously sign the Declaration of Independence large enough to ensure the King of England could read it -- inspired rioting and, in response to the rioting, deployment of yet more British soldiers to Boston.

Here's the partisan, Revolution-era historian Mercy Otis Warren, commenting on the clashes:

The disembarkation of the king's troops, which took place on the first of October, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-eight, was viewed by a vast crowd of spectators, who beheld the solemn prelude to to devastation and bloodshed with a kind of sullen silence, that denoted the deepest resentment . . .

The experience of all ages, and the observations of both the historian and the philosopher agree, that a standing army is the most ready engine in the hand of despotism, to debase the powers of the human mind, and eradicate the manly spirit of freedom. The people have certainly everything to fear from a government, when the springs of its authority are fortified only by a standing military force. Wherever an army is established, it introduces a revolution in manners, corrupts the morals, propagates every species of vice, and degrades the human character.

Even British loyalists in the colonies drew on the fear of standing armies to urge the colonies to avoid war with England. A war, they argued, would invite a more thorough and abusive occupation. Here's a particularly colorful articulation of that point from James Galloway, a friend of Ben Franklin's and a member of the First Continental Congress, writing in 1775:

Companies of armed, but undisciplined men, headed by men unprincipled, entering your homes--your castles--and sacred repositories of safety for all you hold dear and valuable--seizing your property and carrying havoc and devastation wherever they head--ravishing your wives and daughters, and afterwards, plunging the dagger into their tender bosoms while you are obliged to stand the speechless, the helpless spectators.

The clashes between the troops and colonists in Boston grew increasingly violent, culminating in the Boston Massacre in 1770, sometimes described as the first shots of the American Revolution. The lasting impact of those clashes on the founders, and the debates they had following the Revolution, are a big reason why today we today have the Second, Third, and Fourth amendments. It also imprinted in the country's DNA a lasting aversion to the use of military troops for domestic law enforcement.

But immediately following the Revolutionary War, an uprising of disgruntled veterans quelled some of those fears, and convinced early federalists that the federal government needed more power to crush insurrections. In the fall of 1786, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays grew disillusioned after losing his savings and eventually his home to creditors, due to debts he had accumulated while fighting. Shays assembled a group of 800 other veterans and supporters to march on Boston. They planned to forcibly close down the city's courthouses to prevent them from foreclosing on the veterans' farms -- and to spring other veterans from debtors' prison. After some initial success, the movement threatened to erupt into a full-scale rebellion.

By January 1787 Massachusetts political leaders feared that Shays and his men would move on a munitions armory near Springfield. Governor James Bowdoin had asked the Continental Congress for help, but under the Articles of Confederation governing the country at the time, the new federal government didn't have the power to provide that sort of military assistance to the states. Bowdoin assembled a small army of mercenaries, paid for by the creditors hounding men like Shays. The rebels were defeated at a battle near the armory. Four of them were killed. A series of skirmishes followed, and by the summer of 1787 the rebellion had been broken.

Shays' rebellion was never a serious threat to overthrow any government, and it was put down relatively quickly. But its success in temporarily shutting down courthouses in Boston convinced many political leaders in early America that the country needed a stronger federal government than the one provided by the Articles of Confederation. "To men like Madison and Washington, Shays's Rebellion was an imperative," write the historians Christopher and James Collier. "It was the final, irrefutable piece of evidence that something had gone badly wrong. For some time these men had known that the deficiencies of American government must be remedied. Shays's Rebellion made it clear to them that it must be done now."

Memories of the rebellion replaced some of the memories of the abuses suffered at the hands of British troops, and many in the new government grew more comfortable with the use of federal force to put down domestic uprisings. In 1792, five years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Congress passed the Calling Forth Act, which gave the president the authority to unilaterally call up and command state militias to repel insurrections, attacks from hostile American Indian tribes, and other threats that presented themselves while Congress wasn't in session.

Nervousness about Shays' rebels drove the law, as did concerns about the growing discontent over one of the country's first federal taxes--an excise tax on whiskey. Under the Calling Forth Act, the president could federalize and deploy the militia "whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act.”

Two years later, President George Washington used the law to put down the Whiskey Rebellion -- the first instance of a U.S. president using federal soldiers (in this case militia -- the country didn't yet have a standing army) against American citizens.

Tomorrow: Boston falls under martial law after an escaped slave is ordered back to his Virginia plantation.

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

Sources: Mercy Otis Warren, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution: Interspersed with Biographical, Political and Moral Observations, Volume 1; Manning and Loring, For E. Larkin, No. 47; Cornhill (1805); Oliver Morton Dickerson, Boston Under Military Rule 1768-1769: As Revealed in a Journal of the Times, Chapman & Grimes (1936); Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier, Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787, Ballantine Books (1987).

This Week: A Series On Police, Protest And Militarism In Boston

Radley Balko   |   April 29, 2013   11:02 AM ET

In those first hours after the bombing of the Boston Marathon, some progressive pundits pointed out that the attacks had occurred on Patriot's Day, the holiday observed in Massachusetts and Maine to mark the battles at Lexington and Concord, the fights that began the American Revolution. Others noted the significance of the date, suggesting some connection without explicitly making one.

They were of course wrong in their implication (in some cases they seemed downright hopeful) that the attacks may have been perpetrated by a militia or some other group far on the right wing. But by the time Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended on the evening of April 19, there actually was a connection -- on in the who perpetrated the attack, but in how the government reacted to it. By the Friday following the bombing, some 9,000 cops, SWAT teams, and National Guard troops had descended upon Boston in the effort to find the remaining attacker. It was one of the largest law enforcement operations -- possibly the largest -- in one city in U.S. history.

Boston -- often called the Cradle of Liberty -- has often been the scene of political protest, political violence, and heavy-handed government crackdowns -- military, paramilitary, and otherwise. As a result, throughout American history the city has been at the center of contentious, often furious debate over how best to balance public safety, crime fighting, and national defense with liberty and individual rights. Indeed, clashes in Boston between citizens and government played prominently into the colonies' decision to fight the American Revolution itself; the dismantling of the Articles of Confederation; adoption of the Second, Third, and Fourth Amendments; the decision to include provisions for a standing army in the U.S. Constitution; the president's authority to deploy soldiers domestically; and both the Posse Comitatus Act and the efforts to dismantle it the modern drug war era.

So instead of doing a "Raid of the Day" to promote my forthcoming book this week, I'm going to delve into some of this Boston history. We'll start tomorrow in the colonial era, when British troops were billeted in Boston to enforce customs and import laws. On Wednesday, I'll look at the Fugitive Slave hearings of the 1850s, the city's hostility to the federal law behind those hearings, the government's resulting crackdown, and the lasting consequences of that crackdown. On Thursday, I'll look at Boston in the 1980s and 1990s, as the drug war effectively imposed martial law on the city's poor and minority neighborhoods. Finally, on Friday, I'll look at what Boston's unique place in this historical debate can tell us about the city, state, and federal government efforts to apprehend the brothers Tsarnaev.

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

Raid(s) Of The Day: The CAMP Raids

Radley Balko   |   April 26, 2013   11:20 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.

In the mid-1980s, the federal government and the state of California stated the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP. The program combined federal law enforcement and military resources with state law enforcement in an effort to eradicate marijuana cultivation in the northern part of the state.

It effectively turned parts of California into a military zone. CAMP sent U-2 spy planes over the skies to search for pot, then sent -- literally -- black helicopters full of armed National Guard troops, drug cops, and sometimes even volunteers to cut down the plants. Anyone who happened to be nearby could be detained, often at gunpoint.

Journalist Dan Baum writes in his book Smoke and Mirrors, that CAMP roadblocks started hauling whole families out of cars and holding them at gunpoint while searching their vehicles without warrants. CAMP troops . . . went house to house kicking in doors and ransacking homes, again without warrants." California Attorney General John Van de Kamp also recruited LAPD cops to raid suspected pot grows in the northern part of the state. Baum reported that the the feeling within the department was that spending a couple weeks of raiding hippies in a place like Humboldt County was like "summer camp."

More from Baum:

A CAMP team rousted a family form their home at gunpoint and shot their dog. A CAMP helicopter chased a nine-year-old girl down a dirt road and pointed guns at her. Another hovered so low over a woman taking an outdoor shower that she could see the pilot laughing. CAMP troops were searching without warrants not only the homes of suspected pot growers, but also the neighbors' homes as well, ostensibly to "protect themselves." Once inside, the troops would empty the refrigerator, pilfer what they wanted, and leave empty beer cans on sofas and counters. No home or vehicle in Humboldt County was immune from a helicopter assault and a warrantless search. The citizens of the county, who had first welcomed CAMP as a way to get rid of dangerous lawbreakers, now viewed the operation as an occupying army.

The journalist and drug law reform advocate Arnold Trebach also tells a series of CAMP anecdotes in book The Great Drug War.

At about 9 am on August 16, 1984, Charles Ervin Keys and his five-year-old son Arthur spotted a diamond formation of helicopters coming toward their home. The choppers came with 100 feet of Keys' hillside home, "shaking and blowing the tree tops." A half hour later, the largest helicopter came back while Keys was in his outhouse. The pilot maneuvered the aircraft to eye level, then hovered, "watching me defecate . . . He blew the toilet paper away and Arthur had to retrieve it for me." Later, CAMP troops entered Keys' home while he was away, without a warrant, and seized his .22-caliber rifle. Keys had already sworn he was not growing marijuana, and they had produced no evidence to the contrary. Yet when he complained and asked for the return of his gun, he was told to keep quiet, or he'd be arrested and charged with cultivation.

Marilyn Bewith, 52, described herself as a "conservative Republican." She kept a journal during the CAMP raids. From an entry on August 17, 1984: "They came again this morning at about 8:00 o'clock. A large cargo-type helicopter flew low over the cabin, shaking it on its very foundations. It shook all of us inside, too. I feel frightened . . . I see how helpless and tormented I am becoming with disgust and disillusionment with the government which has turned this beautiful country into a police state . . . I feel like I am in the middle of a war zone.

The following month, the helicopter buzzed the home of Allison Osbourne, who lived in the town of Briceland with two young girls. "It seems that we are in Vietnam or Nicaragua," she wrote. "The helicopters chased them (two 12-year-old-girls) up Perry Meadow Road, for about 20 minutes. When my daughter and her friend would hide under the bushes, the helicopters would lift up; when the girls would try to run to the nearest house, the 'copters would come again and frighten them . . . They saw guns, and though they were going to be shot!"

"As I came around a bend, a CAMP troop with an M--16 rifle was standing in the road," wrote Hal Friedberg. He told me to halt. I kept moving and told him I was later for work. He told me to 'stop or I will shoot your ass.' I stopped. I asked him why he stopped me. He told me to put my hands on the dash. He then radioed someone else saying that "I have two suspects. What should I do?" He was told to let us go . . . The whole time his weapon was pointed at us, and at some point he was joined by two other troops with weapons pointed at us . . . I was shaken and highly nervous the whole day."

Within a year, the CAMP program had extended to other states, and by 1985 was operating in all 50. The program is still operational today.

Raid Of The Day: Brenda Van Zwieten

Radley Balko   |   April 22, 2013    1:49 PM 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.

Brenda Van Zweitan, 51, was shot and killed during a 2010 drug raid on her home by the Broward, Florida Sheriff's Department. According to police, Van Zweitan was holding a handgun when they approached her in the home, and then refused to drop it when ordered to do so. Van Zweitan's boyfriend was arrested without resistance.

In the weeks before the raid, however, Van Zweitan had been robbed, and the man she believed committed the robbery had threatened her on the Internet. Her friends and family also pointed to the fact that she had no prior criminal record, and that the police entered the home in a particularly aggressive and terrifying manner -- by smashing through a sliding glass door -- to suggest that she likely wasn't aware that the armed intruders in her home were police. Van Zweitan was also a PTA member, a grandmother, and a local political and environmental activist.

The raid came after two suspects police had arrested claimed to have bought marijuana and prescription drugs from Van Zweitan. The police reported finding prescription pills plus small quantities of a variety of illicit drugs in the house, although Van Zweitan's boyfriend was charged only for possession of marijuana. (Her family said after the raid that she had valid prescriptions for the pills.) The SWAT officers who shot her were later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Van Zweitan was the third person in five years killed by area SWAT teams conducting drug raids.

Sources: Mike Clary, "Friends and relatives remember Pompano Beach grandmother killed in drug raid," Sun-Sentinel, March 15, 2010; Michael Mayo, "After another fatal SWAT drug raid, is it time for better approach?," Sun-Sentinel, March 24, 2010.

Photo Of The Day: Mayor Seals Support For Civil Unions With A Kiss

Radley Balko   |   April 17, 2013    3:37 PM ET

I was in Bisbee, Arizona yesterday to do some reporting for a story on how the artsy, bohemian little town just north of the Mexican border is taking a stand in favor of civil unions -- in defiance of the rest of the State.

Late in the afternoon I met with Mayor Adriana Badal for a photo and interview. Badal, who is straight and married, has been leading the effort to afford legal rights to same-sex couples. With me were Jennifer Garland and Melissa Reaves, a lesbian couple hoping to be the first married (or "civilly unioned," I guess) when and if the new law takes effect.

When it was time to take the photo, Mayor Badal asked me how she should pose. I jokingly said something to the effect of "Show me a pose that demonstrates how you feel about gay marriage." She quickly grabbed Reaves, and I snapped this photo.

Granted, Bisbee is a small town. But it's rare to see a politician show that sort of spontaneity, whimsy, and even take a bit of a risk. It was kinda' great.

Look for the story next week.


Raid Of The Day: NYPD Mistakenly Raids Octogenerians Martin and Leona Goldberg

Radley Balko   |   April 17, 2013    3:15 PM 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.

On March 31, 2004, six officers toting riot shields and military-style weapons rapped on the door to the Brooklyn apartment of 84-year-old Martin Goldberg and his wife Leona, 82. When Goldberg opened the door, police stormed the apartment, pushing Mr. Goldberg aside and ordering him to the floor. “They charged in like an army,” Goldberg, a decorated World War II vet, told the New York Post.

“They knocked pictures off the wall.” The police had the wrong apartment. The investigation veered off course 10 days earlier, when an informant pointed police to one of two housing project buildings as the home of a drug dealer. The cops just stormed the wrong building. Shortly after the raid, Leona Goldberg was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. “It was terrible. . . . It was the most frightening experience of my life. . . . I thought it was a terrorist attack,” Mrs. Goldberg told the Post.

An NYPD officer later told the paper, “Obviously, there was a breakdown in communication. These were relatively inexperienced officers, and they may have been less than vigilant.”

Source: Stew Padasso, "NYPD Raid Elderly Couple (wrong address)," April 3, 2004.

Raid Of The Day: Atlee Swanson

Radley Balko   |   April 11, 2013    7:10 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.

On July 9, 1997, a team of NYPD cops conducted a 6 a.m. no-knock raid at the East Harlem home of Atlee Swanson.

The police broke into Swanson's home, then demanded to know where "Joey, Jason, and Sean" were. Swanson said she knew no one by those names. The officers refused to show Swanson a search warrant, handcuffed her, and told her she faced 7 to 15 years in prison for selling drugs from her home. She was then put in a holding cell for 31 hours.

When Swanson finally returned home, she said her apartment was "trashed and vandalized." Three years later, Swanson received a copy of the search warrant in the mail. Only then was she informed that the cops had mistakenly entered the wrong apartment building.

Source: C. Virginia Fields, "Report and Recommend- ations on the Execution of No-Knock Warrants: In the Aftermath of the Death of Alberta Spruill," Office of the Manhattan Borough President, June 2003.

Radley Balko   |   April 9, 2013    1:19 PM ET

The recent killings of two prosecutors in Texas, a Colorado Department of Corrections official and a sheriff in West Virginia have law enforcement groups and the media once again buzzing about an alleged "war on cops" or, in some instances, a broader trend toward violent anti-government sentiment. Over at The Atlantic, Philip Bump does a good job debunking that idea. (He also quotes me.)

Unfortunately, thorough and skeptical analyses of police fatality statistics like Bump's are rare. The "war on cops" talk heats up every time that one or more high-profile police killings hit the news. But there's just no evidence that it's true.

I've pointed out a number of times that the job of police officer has been getting progressively safer for a generation. Last year was the safest year for cops since the early 1960s. And it isn't just because the police are carrying bigger guns or have better armor. Assaults on police officers have been dropping over the same period. Which means that not only are fewer cops getting killed on the job, people in general are less inclined to try to hurt them. Yes, working as a police officer is still more dangerous than, say, working as a journalist. (Or at least a journalist here in the U.S.) But a cop today is about as likely to be murdered on the job as someone who merely resides in about half of the country's 75 largest cities.

You can read the linked pieces above for more evidence that police officers today are as safe as they've been in decades. But I want to discuss why it's important to push back against this "war on cops" narrative.

It should go without saying, though I will: This has nothing to do with trying to diminish the tough job that police officers do or to cast aspersions on those who have been killed. But there are other reasons why journalists need to do a better job of reporting this story accurately. (Beyond the hopefully obvious value of reporting things accurately for the sake of reporting them accurately.)

For example, one effect of false perceptions about the dangers of policing that I've noted before is that they can sway public debate on issues like police budgets, police use of force, police militarization and what sort of accountability cops should face when they're accused of violating someone's civil rights. Exaggerating the threat that cops face can make policymakers and public officials more reluctant to hold bad cops accountable or more willing to outfit police departments with weapons and equipment better suited for warfare.

This would explain why police groups tend to perpetuate the myth. But why does the media credulously report their narrative? Part of it is probably just laziness -- a lack of will or interest in seeing whether the claims are backed up by any data. The "war on cops" meme also fits the "if it bleeds, it leads" idea. "While this officer's murder is tragic, generally speaking, law enforcement officers are safer on the job today than they've been in 50 years" just isn't as interesting as "This may be part of a growing trend of cop killing."

Much of the media also appear to be infatuated with the idea that we're in the midst of a dramatic rise in anti-government, anti-authority, pro-militia, right-wing, white nationalist -- pick your extremism -- violence in America, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. (Just last weekend the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page report on the "sovereign citizen" movement, a group that authorities say is responsible for six deaths in 12 years.) In the interest of fairness -- or some might say false equivalence -- I'll note the conservative media seem just as enamored with the idea of a growing threat of violence from Muslim extremists and environmental radicals, again despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

But there's a more pernicious effect of exaggerating the threat to police officers. In researching my forthcoming book, I interviewed lots of police officers, police administrators, criminologists and others connected to the field of law enforcement. There was a consensus among these people that constantly telling cops how dangerous their jobs are is affecting their mindset. It reinforces the soldier mentality already relentlessly drummed into cops' heads by politicians' habit of declaring "war" on things. Browse the online bulletin boards at sites like PoliceOne (where users must be credentialed law enforcement to comment), and you'll see a lot of hostility toward everyone who isn't in law enforcement, as well as various versions of the sentiment "I'll do whatever I need to get home safe at night." That's a mantra that speaks more to self-preservation than public service.

When cops are told that every day on the job could be their last, that every morning they say goodbye to their families could be the last time they see their kids, that everyone they encounter is someone who could possibly kill them, it isn't difficult to see how they might start to see the people they serve as an enemy. Again, in truth, the average cop has no more reason to see the people he interacts with day to day as a threat to his safety than does the average resident of St. Louis or Los Angeles or Nashville, where I live.

Last week I had lunch with a certified expert in police use of force -- a guy who teaches classes to police about how and when to use force, how much to use, and under what circumstances. I'm fairly cynical, and I've just written a book that covers much of this ground, but I was still surprised by what he told me. In too many use-of-force classes, he said, cops aren't taught about appropriate vs. inappropriate force so much as they're taught what to say and do to justify whatever force they've already used. In other words, the courses aren't about training, they're about ass-covering. Today, these courses stress officer safety above all else -- including the civil and constitutional rights and the safety of the citizens the police are supposed to be serving. They teach cops to use more force, sooner, more often, and how to justify it after the fact.

The Force Science Institute, for example, trains law enforcement officials in how to investigate allegations of excessive force. But browse the archives of the organization's newsletter and you'll mostly see articles justifying the use of Tasers and questioning claims that they cause injury or death; justifying (or at least mitigating the criticism of) police use of force in even egregious, high-profile incidents (such as the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting); and promoting junk science explanations of in-custody deaths like "excited delirium." You'll have a much more difficult time finding articles about how to de-escalate volatile situations or how to create a police culture that emphasizes dealing with difficult subjects without using force -- or at least with the minimum amount of force possible. This is a group that certifies investigators of police shootings, police use of stun guns and other allegations made against cops, and their educational materials show a strong bias toward highlighting research that justifies force.

Back in 2008, a SWAT team in Lima, Ohio, raided the home of a suspected drug dealer. During the raid, one SWAT officer perfunctorily shot and killed the suspect's dogs. As he did, another officer was ascending a flight of steps in the home. That officer mistook his colleague's gunfire for hostile fire and, seeing some shadows coming out of an upstairs bedroom, he opened fire into that room. Inside was 26-year-old Tarika Wilson. She was on her knees, as she'd been instructed. She had one arm in the air and the other holding her year-old son. Wilson was killed. Her son lost a hand.

Officer Joseph Chavalia was charged with manslaughter (a pretty rare thing in these cases). At his trial, one use-of-force expert -- someone who trains police officers on when it's appropriate to use force -- actually testified that not only had Chavalia not done anything wrong, but if anything he was too slow to fire on the unarmed woman and her child. (Chavalia was acquitted.) This is the training too many police officers get today -- shoot first, worry about what you're shooting at later.

All else being equal, we should certainly strive to keep police officers as safe as possible. But cops assume a risk when they sign up for the job. That risk involves putting the safety of others above their own. That's kind of the whole point of having law enforcement officers in the first place. Many of the older cops I interviewed for the book told me that sense of sacrifice -- really the public service aspect of the job -- has been lost over the last few decades.

Of course, there are other factors that have contributed to the psychological isolation of police. One example is the move from foot patrols to squad cars or, more broadly, from proactive to reactive policing. When cops walk beats, they become a part of the communities they patrol. Residents see them out and about. They learn names, faces and places. When police patrol in cruisers, they're walled off from neighborhoods. Most of their interactions with the public on a typical day will be the result of conflict or confrontation. Imagine a job where nearly all of your interactions with other people are negative -- you're either confronting someone you suspect has done something wrong, dealing with a volatile domestic dispute, or responding to a complaint about a crime, most always after that crime has been committed. No matter what your job, if most of your interactions with other people are negative, it's going to make for a pretty miserable existence. Now add a baton, a gun, a Taser, and the authority to use force.

So we have cops whose interactions with the public are negative the vast majority of the time, who are constantly told they're fighting a war, and who are constantly reminded that their job is highly dangerous and getting more dangerous, and that they could be killed by anyone at any time. When they start to see the people they serve as the enemy, they begin to treat them that way. The people in the communities treated that way then respond in kind. Thus, we get the hostile, often volatile cop-community relationships we see in too much of the country today, in which citizens don't trust cops enough to help them solve crimes, and cops feel so threatened and isolated that even well-meaning officers won't report fellow officers who break the law.

The fact that cops are safer today than they've been in a half century is great news. It should be big news. It's something we ought to be celebrating. Reporting that and challenging -- or at least attempting to verify -- opposing pronouncements from law enforcement groups would not only be getting the story right; it would help with the problem of cops who see people as the threat and their jobs as a mere quest for survival.

No, better reporting probably won't eliminate these problems. But it will at least stop contributing to them.

Raid Of The Day: Pedro Navarro

Radley Balko   |   April 8, 2013    8:53 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.

In the summer of 1998, two Houston police officers pulled over a car with three men inside. One of them, 28-year-old Ryan Baxter, admitted he had been drinking and smoking crack. He was subsequently arrested for public intoxication and for providing alcohol to a 15-year-old who was also in the car.

Already on probation, Baxter cut a deal that would let him off the hook if he told the cops where he had bought his drugs. Baxter's story eventually led the police to 6711 Atwell Street. At 1:40 am, nine officers from the city's anti-gang task force gathered outside of apartment 16. The informant knocked on the door, and when it opened, the officers swarmed the place. As the cops came in, Pedro Navaro, 22, ran back toward his bedroom. The police followed, squeezing into a narrow hallway as they pursued him. At some point, Officer David R. Barrera's gun "accidentally discharged," striking Officer Lamont Tillery. Mistaking Berrera's gun for hostile fire, the other officers emptied their weapons at Navarro, killing him. He was shot 12 times, nine times in the back. The police found no drugs in the home.

Six of the nine officers involved were investigated. A grand jury would later clear five of them, and indict one for a misdemeanor. He was later acquitted of misdemeanor charges. All were later fired from the Houston Police Department.

Sources: Lisa Teachey and Jo Ann Zuniga, "Six officers in Oregon case fired," Houston Chronicle, November 2, 1998; Tim Lynch, "Another Drug War Casualty," Cato Institute, November 30, 1998; S.K. Bardwell, "Police Shot Man 12 Times in Raid," Houston Chronicle, July 21, 1998.

Sunday Evening Dog Blogging

  |   April 7, 2013    5:47 PM ET

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Raid(s) Of The Day: "Operation Carribean Cruise"

Radley Balko   |   April 5, 2013    6:07 PM 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.

James Bigelow, a retired lieutenant with the Washington, D.C. Metro Police Department, awoke early on the cold morning of February 22, 1986 to the sound of his doorbell and a knock at the door. That was quickly followed by the sound of a sledgehammer smashing into the same door. As he and his wife ran downstairs, they were met by a team of narcotics agents, along with those agents' guns.

Bigelow, 58 at the time, had a brother who was a former deputy police chief in D.C. His son was still a police officer with the department. Somehow, the cops had still managed to mistakenly raid his home. Bigelow and his wife sat at gunpoint while police ransacked their home. They found nothing. They didn't bother fixing the front door, which they had clear of its frame.

At about the same time, Thomas Timberman awoke to a sharp knock at his door. When Timberman, a career foreign service worker, answered the door, he was met by two agents dressed in dark clothes, carrying shotguns. They didn't tell him they were police. Instead, they told him he should go look at the door to the basement apartment he was renting out. That door too had been knocked off its frame. Timberman rented the apartment to a colleague, a senior official at the State Department. That official was on vacation at the time. Eventually the officers admitted they had made a mistake. They had intended to raid the home next door.

That same morning, narcotics agents also raided the home of Ewan Brown, who worked for the Washington Post. According to Brown, the police quickly looked over the house, after which the head of the raid team said, "I think we have the wrong house." They spent the next two hours tearing the place apart, anyway. Brown tried to point out that his house didn't match the description of the house described in the warrant. He tried to tell them that neither he nor the nephew who lived with him fit the description of the dreadlocked Rastafarian the police were looking for. They found no drugs, briefly apologized, and left. "It was like the allied troops at Normandy," he'd later say.

In all, 530 police officers -- 12 percent of the Washington, D.C. police department -- plus federal agents from the IRS, U.S. Parks Police, ATF, Immigration, and the IRS conducted 69 simultaneous raids all across the city. "Operation Caribbean Cruise" intended to target a ring of Jamaican drug smugglers. It was the largest planned police operation in Washington, D.C. history. They had anticipated making over 500 arrests, seizing hundreds of pounds of marijuana worth millions of dollars, and confiscating dozens of automatic weapons. The early morning raids were the culmination of a 16-month investigation.

The final tally: 27 arrests, 13 of them for mere possession of marijuana. The cops also seized 13 weapons, and found $20,000 in illegal drugs. In the end, the number of people the police department had assigned merely to handle the paperwork for the rests they had expected to make exceeded the number of people who were actually arrested. They found none of the alleged Jamaican drug dealers. "The dismay of police was evidence soon after the raid began at 5 a.m.," the Washington Post reported, "as officers, some solemn-looking and others laughing at their misfortune, congregated around police vehicles outside the targeted homes and packed away their shotguns, bulletproof vests, sledgehammers, and helmets."

Still, the D.C. police department had little sympathy for the people they had wrongly raided. From the Washington Post:

Deputy Chief Shugart said that police had received a number of complaints from people who said that police had mistakenly raided their homes. He said that in those cases, the police had gone back to the source of the allegations and confirmed that the information in affidavits filed in support of the search warrants was accurate.

"They [the people who protested the police actions] don't control all the people in their homestead," he said, adding, "We will work with them to make repairs" of any unnecessary damage done during the raids."

Shugart's dismissive attitude toward the people who'd just had guns pointed at them and had their homes ransacked shows just how far law enforcement officials could be removed from the people they served. First, merely verifying with, say, a confidential informant that the raided house was the same addresses where the informant claimed to have bought some drugs doesn't mean it was a legitimate raid. Informants lie. They're especially likely to lie if they've just sent the police who work with them, pay them, and know where they live to the wrong house. But even Shugart was correct -- even if the homes, curtilages, or properties of innocent people were being used by drug pushers without their knowledge -- that doesn't change the fact that he'd just sent armed men to storm the living rooms and bedrooms of innocent people at five o'clock in the morning. If drug dealers were selling form the porches or front yards of D.C. residents while they were at work, or sleeping, or on vacation -- and if they'd just done a 16-month investigation, you'd think this would be a detail D.C. police would have picked up -- perhaps that's a good reason to apprehend the suspects during a controlled buy, instead of with dynamic entry pre-dawn raids.

Not that the D.C. police weren't embarrassed. But they were embarrassed that they hadn't collected a larger bounty to lay out on a table for the news cameras, not that they had just subjected innocent people to unnecessary violence. Borrowing from Winston Churchill, one unnamed city official quipped to the Washington Post, "Never have so many gathered together to confiscate so little for so much overtime."

Sources: "Operation Caribbean Cruise passage culled from Linda Wheeler, "Beureacratic Pressures Blamed for Failure of D.C. Drug Raids," The Washington Post, February 27, 1986; Linda Wheeler, "Officers' Unneighborly Error," The Washington Post, February 27, 1986; Linda Wheeler and John Ward Anderson, "Grand-Scale D.C. Police Raid Achieves Small-Scale Results," The Washington Post, February 23, 1986.

ProPublica On Prosecutor Accountability In New York City

  |   April 3, 2013   10:07 AM ET

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Raid(s) Of The Day: Operation D-Day

Radley Balko   |   April 3, 2013    8:35 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.

In May 2008, as part of a massive effort tellingly codenamed "Operation D-Day," Florida law enforcement and DEA agents raided 150 homes around the state that were suspected of growing marijuana. The impetus for the raids was a new state law that dramatically increased prison sentences for growing pot. Floridians faced up to 30 years in prison for pot plants, even if police had no evidence that the plants were intended for anything other than personal consumption.

One of the raids hit the Opa-Laka home of Noel and Isabel Llorente, Cuban immigrants who say they came to America to escape government oppression and the commando tactics of Cuban police. Noel Llorente, who was just leaving for work, was pulled from his vehicle, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed at gunpoint. The agents then ripped the Llorente's front door from its hinges, and confronted Isabel Llorente. She thought she was being robbed, and was attempting to call the police.

The police had raided the wrong house. The Llorentes said they were given only a curt apology, and the police were on their way. They left no search warrant, and no contact information for the Llorente's to arrange to repair the damage the police did to their home. "When I asked them about the door, they said, 'Sorry," Noel Llorente told a local TV station. "When I asked them about my reputation, they said, 'Sorry.'"

Despite the heavy-handed tactics and the saturation raids, the police found all of 10 guns. Of the 135 people they arrested, only 10 merited felony drug charges.

Sources: "Federal Agents Raid Wrong S. Fla. Home In Search For Drugs,", May 2, 2008; Larry Lebowitz, "Couple alleges DEA raided wrong house," Miami Herald, May 5, 2008; Norm Kent, "The Perils of the Grow House," Counterpunch, January 16, 2009.

Raid Of The Day: Indoor Gardening Hobby Brings Pot Raid

Radley Balko   |   April 1, 2013   12:56 PM ET

From the Kansas City Star, just this week:

"This is how we were awakened: banging, pounding, screaming," the mother, Adlynn Harte, said Friday. "My husband opened the door right before the battering ram was set to take it out."

The father allegedly was forced to lie shirtless on the foyer while a deputy with an assault rifle stood over him. The children, a 7-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, reportedly came out of their bedrooms terrified, the teenager with his hands in the air.

And all because the couple, Robert and Adlynn Harte, bought indoor gardening equipment to grow a small number of tomato and squash plants in their basement, according to a lawsuit filed this week. The equipment was never used for marijuana, the couple says, and no one in the family has ever used illegal drugs.

Nearly a year after the SWAT-style raid, the Hartes still don't know what evidence deputies used to persuade a judge to grant a warrant to search their home in the 10300 block of Wenonga Lane on April 20. Their requests for records that could provide such information have been denied by the sheriff's office.

The most likely reason the department won't release the records is that they don't want the public knowing how paltry their evidence was -- in this case, it appears to have been insufficient to distinguish a perfectly legal gardening hobby from a marijuana grow.

These investigations and ensuing raids of people who garden have been going on for years. In fact, in one of our earlier Raid of the Day entries, Sandy and Grace Sanborn were raided in 1999 merely because the couple's son had shopped at a store that sold hydroponic equipment -- because the latter is often used to grow marijuana. And if your gardening habit doesn't get you raided for where you shop, there's also the chance it could get you raided because your local drug cops don't know the difference between marijuana and whatever legal plant you happen to be growing.

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.