home

Botched Drug Raid Map

The Cato Insitute has an interactive map of dozens of botched drug and paramilitary raids in which civilians and officers were unnecessarily killed. While you're there, check out the 100 page "white paper" by Radley Balko, a dogged critic of the militarization of police.

From the executive summary:

Americans have long maintained that a man's home is his castle and that he has the right to defend it from unlawful intruders. Unfortunately, that right may be disappearing. Over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers. These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects.

This paper presents a history and overview of the issue of paramilitary drug raids, provides an extensive catalogue of abuses and mistaken raids, and offers recommendations for reform.

< Libby Will Seek to Use Memory Expert at Trial | Murder or Treatment? >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#1)
    by jimcee on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 08:51:23 AM EST
    Caught this story last night and it is a nat'l phenomenom that is rather scary. Just checking the map for upstate NY stories there weren't as many listings as there should be. Where I live, Utica, there was a situation where the police broke down an apartment door and held the family at gun point after subduing them roughly. It was the wrong house and now the courts are trying to sort it out. This has been happening for the last 25 years or so and can be safely laid on the doorstep of the 'drug-warriors' of both parties. Homeowners rights have been under attack since the end of WWII and this trend and the recent Supreme Court Kelo decision are just two examples of this change.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 09:00:23 AM EST
    Well said jimcee. Can the rise of military style home invasions be called anything but a rise in tyranny? On the bright side...one day they will break down the wrong door and awake a sleeping giant....like when they broke down Huey Newton's door.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#3)
    by scribe on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 09:00:26 AM EST
    My sense is this survey and the map are only scratching the surface - like it's only the civil rights cases which survived summary judgment motions on immunity and made the papers. The survey records nothing in, for example, Jersey City. And only on incident in Philadelphia. That's only based on a quick view of the map. IMHO the Po-lice go out looking for reasons to use the neat toys they bought with federal money (like Fairfax County, Va. serving nearly all its warrants - for anything - with SWAT). The survey, while admirable and accurate so far as it goes, gives the impression of being put together in the month since Hudson v. Michigan. I think an in-depth study (start with a base of all the civil rights suits filed about police conduct and add civilian complaints about police and then we're getting somewhere database-wise) would show the sorts of abuses this survey studies go on daily. But, in Scalia-world, the po-lice are professionals and need not be restrained by the exclusionary rule, so why should anyone care?

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#4)
    by peacrevol on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 09:05:06 AM EST
    These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having their homes invaded while they're sleeping, usually by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.
    the worst part of these invasions is not being scared its these swat members having to risk their lives and everyone else's around them to try to apprehend a nonviolent offender. i mean if somebody beats down my door and i just happen to have my pistol in hand, i myself may not be able to wait for them to identify themselves before i start shooting. they dont come in quietly. they throw in smoke grenades and kick in doors. that sort of surprise is what makes bullets start flying.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#5)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:00:09 AM EST
    I used the interactive map and selected the entire U.S for the last 10 years. There were 215 hits which matched any of the criteria. If we use the "fact"
    These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per year by one estimate,
    from that one unidentified source, then during that same 10 year period there would have been 400,000 raids, or there bouts. Probably less so we'll arbitrarily make it 200,000 to keep the math simple. 215 divided by 200,000 equals .001075. If we use the 400,000 estimate, that number becomes .0005375. So the statement at the top of the interactive map, which the developers of the map apparently take issue with,
    "If a widespread pattern of [knock-and-announce] violations were shown . . . there would be reason for grave concern." --Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in Hudson v. Michigan, June 15, 2006.
    seems accurate. There has been no showing of a wide spread pattern of anything except a very low percentage of botched raids.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#6)
    by roy on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:23:57 AM EST
    Patrick, Balko responds to numerical concerns like yours here. Highlights:
    1) The map doesn't claim to be, and is nowhere near comprehensive.
    2) The 40,000 raids per year is in itself a big problem.
    3) If you're going to argue that there isn't a problem here because "only" 40 or so innocent people have been killed in paramilitary police raids since 1985, I wonder, what is a good number?
    Sadly, he doesn't allow comments at his blog.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#7)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:38:19 AM EST
    1) The map doesn't claim to be, and is nowhere near comprehensive.
    Fine double, triple, quadruple the numbers then. It's still a very low margin of error.
    2) The 40,000 raids per year is in itself a big problem.
    Well, those are his numbers not mine. If he thinks that's too high he should revise his comments.
    3) If you're going to argue that there isn't a problem here because "only" 40 or so innocent people have been killed in paramilitary police raids since 1985, I wonder, what is a good number?
    Well, I only used the last 10 years, not from 1985. So I don't think all 40 were killed in the latter 10 years. There clearly were 40 tragedies. None is the only good number, but you tell me how to perfect a human system. Seems to me there is overall a very low percentage of "botched" police raids in this country. I would be concerned over every one of them, but they hardly indicate a systemic failure.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#8)
    by Joe Bob on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:38:19 AM EST
    This is just sort of tangentially related to the discussion but, as someone in the construction business, I find it interesting: Do you know what can happen when tear gas is used inside a structure? It permeates every concievable porous surface it comes into contact with: upholstered furniture, gypsum wallboard, wood, etc. If you ever disturb those surfaces, e.g.: scrape paint, strip woodwork, refinish wood floors, the tear gas residue is released. I learned of this after hearing a local story about some people who attempted to renovate a tax-forfeited property. Prior to their taking possession of the property there had been an incident where someone had holed up there with a gun and was flushed out by police with copious amounts of tear gas. Ultimately, the house was totally written off.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#9)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:41:02 AM EST
    Joe, Depends on the type of gas used. Many years ago, CS, CN gas were most common and now they are hazardous materials and require extensive cleanup. Plus they were incendiary. To my knowledge they are now rarely if ever used, pepper spray, or OC, is now the industry standard.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#10)
    by Radley Balko on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:47:07 AM EST
    Patrick, I don't think you're looking at this correctly. At least once a week (it's likely more), an innocent person or family is terrorized by a forced entry SWAT raid. That this is a low percentage of the overall raids conducted is irrelevant. To put it another way, we could start sending SWAT teams out to enforce all search warrants and misdemeanors, from document searches to overdue parking tickets, and the percentage of raids ending poorly would fall even lower. But the overall number of innocent people targeted would probably go from about one per week to several. Is this still okay? There are two issues, here. The first is whether or not sending SWAT teams out to apprehend nonviolent offenders (not just pot smokers, either. Increasingly, they're being used to arrest gambling suspects) is a policy that ought to be employed in a free society. The second, related issue is that due to the widespread use of SWAT teams, many people are getting hurt, killed, or wrongly terrorized. Dozens per year. That the latter is a small percentage of the overall number of raids is irrelevant.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#11)
    by peacrevol on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 11:58:35 AM EST
    first it's for drugs...then it's for poker . what's next? are swat teams going to raid my next door neightbor's home putting my daughter's life at risk because my neighbor was neglecting to pay parking tickets or b/c he shot an eagle or b/c he picked a bluebonnet in texas? i watched dallas swat for a few episodes and invariably they'll go into a dwelling full of people and make everybody go outside and lie down in the yard. then when it sums up what everybody was charged with, usually only one person or two people, if anybody, is even charged with anything at all. so what's the point of sending a swat team out to serve a warrant on a previously nonviolent suspect who in the end may not even be charged? my problem w/ the swat invasion is that swat always tries to take people by surprise, and that can sometimes be more dangerous b/c the residence of the house being raided dont know what's going on. why cant they just rap a tap tap on the door and serve their warrant? or, better yet, just leave them the hell alone until you catch them in the process of selling drugs.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#12)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:16:39 PM EST
    Radley,
    Is this still okay?
    I'm not syaing it's OK. I'm saying it's not indicative of a widespread pattern of abuse. No abuse is OK, but unfortunately it is going to happen.
    There are two issues, here. The first is whether or not sending SWAT teams out to apprehend nonviolent offenders (not just pot smokers, either. Increasingly, they're being used to arrest gambling suspects) is a policy that ought to be employed in a free society.
    You of all people should know that a non-violent offense isn't always committed by a non-violent person. I concur that a valid threat assessment should be done routinely in the planning of any mission and that in order to use a SWAT team certain parameters should be met, ie fortification, presence of firearms, past history of violence, location etc. That the offense the enty is going to based on is non-violent, isn't always the best threat indicator.
    The second, related issue is that due to the widespread use of SWAT teams, many people are getting hurt, killed, or wrongly terrorized. Dozens per year.
    Yes the more something happens the more chance there is for abuse and error. That doesn't make the use of SWAT teams wrong. I'm only about halfway through the "whitepapers". Want to save me the time and tell me what you think should be done? or how you think SWAT teams should be deployed. I think it's a matter for each jusrisdication to address. Los Angeles is different from Lebenon Kansas. Despite the fact that both may have SWAT teams, one agency may see fit to use theirs in different roles. If they abuse that decision they have to answer to the city counsel who have to answer to the citizens.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#13)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:20:30 PM EST
    Sorry, I should of proof read that before I hit post.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:41:31 PM EST
    Patrick, are there any hard numbers on injuries and/or fatalities to compare raids with and w/o SWAT teams?

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#15)
    by Radley Balko on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:54:50 PM EST
    The proper use of a SWAT team is when the suspect presents an imminent threat to someone else. So emergency situations like hostage takings, bank robberies, terrorism, riots, etc. These are the reasons SWAT teams were conceived in the first place. But not routine warrant service, which is the overwhelming reason SWAT teams are sent out today (a trend motivated largely by poor incentives at the policy end). When you kick in doors, invade homes, and wake people in the middle of the night, you're creating confrontation and inviting violence, not defusing it. You write that "a nonviolent offense isn't always committed by a nonviolent person." I guess I don't understand your point, here. Are you saying that a suspect's history shouldn't matter when deciding whether or not to send the SWAT team? The point is that (1) these raids submit people who've committed low-level offenses to a disproportionate level of violence, and (2) they put the people on the receiving end in the horrifying predicament of needing to determine if the home invaders are cops or criminals, and whether to shoot or submit. Even when the suspect is a shady character to begin with, if he isn't immediately threatening anyone, why risk the dynamic entry and possible confrontation?

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#16)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 02:26:51 PM EST
    Sarc, Not that I'm aware of, but of interest, and not noted in this thread is the fact that tactical entry teams, used by DEA and other narcotic enforcement teams are not the same as SWAT. So the premise that SWAT teams are being used is not necessarily correct. In my own agency I have served on both and while entry tactics may be similar, they are not always so. I have yet to see a narcotic tactical entry team perform a deliberate entry. Deliberate entries are a tactic designed for stealth and slow methodical searches. Used best for barricaded suspects. Radley,
    So emergency situations like hostage takings, bank robberies, terrorism, riots, etc. These are the reasons SWAT teams were conceived in the first place.
    Yes, those are some of the reasons they were developed, although most bank robberies require detectives, not SWAT, but it became pretty clear that some of the tactics they used worked well in other situations. Information and technology evolve, so do their uses.
    When you kick in doors, invade homes, and wake people in the middle of the night, you're creating confrontation and inviting violence, not defusing it.
    I would argue, oppposite to your position, that most warrant services are not conducted in the middle of the night, however, the whole point of the dynamic entry, as it's known, is to take advantage of initial confusion and control a situation before it can escalate. There's a fine line between controlled confusion and being controlled by it, and that's a strong argument for full-time SWAT teams.
    Are you saying that a suspect's history shouldn't matter when deciding whether or not to send the SWAT team?
    I'm saying the person's history is more important than the case they are being currently investigated for. For example, you're serving a search warrant for ID theft, a non-violent crime right? A person with a history of violence and weapons charges is different that a person with no such history when determining the threat to officers entering the residence.
    Even when the suspect is a shady character to begin with, if he isn't immediately threatening anyone, why risk the dynamic entry and possible confrontation?
    That's the kind of vague language that gets everyone in trouble. If you have to go deal with someone, you do so appropriately. Based on specific articulable facts, such as prior violent history, weapons, location, fortifications, etc. No tactical teams, SWAT or otherwise, prepare for a best case scenario. To do so invites almost certain disaster and leaves them ill prepared to deal with the unexpected. I'm not defending the truly botched entries, I'd just not willing to define the whole concept with the numbers you, yourself, are providing. Of course, I'm one of "them," and if you believe the people here, I'd be out of a job if drugs were legalized. Which is what we're talking about anyway, right?

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#17)
    by Patrick on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 02:42:22 PM EST
    Now, I have a question, Why is the Visalia California raid considered botched? On January 9, 1998, when police entered the residendce to arrest a suspect in a gang related, multiple homicide, the suspect shot and killed Jim Rapozo. The suspect was was also killed when his fire was returned. I don't necessarily think that one was a botched raid. It's more like an example of why they should prepare for worst case scenarios. I'm sure there are others with which I would take issue, but I wanted the rationale on that one.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 06:49:20 AM EST
    Which is what we're talking about anyway, right?
    For me Pat...always. Poker too. I wanna be free...especially from military style home invasions over plants or cards.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#19)
    by SeeEmDee on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 07:48:04 AM EST
    As usual, the question devolves into the ol' 'angels\head\pin' arguments, without ever looking at the root of the problem itself. Namely, the militarization of police forces that came about as a result of the drug laws. Those same drug laws were crafted at a time when the budding eugenics movement was used to justify pre-existing prejudice...and to create an artifice where racial minorities could be oppressed under the rubric of 'public safety' instead of outright, naked, in-your-face racism. Were the laws not in existance we would not even be having this argument. As to the mission creep SWAT teams have experienced over the years, from dealing with terrorist situations to attacking and killing penny-ante poker players, the vehicle for that was a feared and expected Armageddon between outgunned police and the supposedly WMD-purchasing narcos. The narcos were supposed to be buying up all manner of heavy weapons to use in cataclysmic firefights with poorly armed police, hence the impetus for acquiring military-style weaponry. But those firefights between supposed LAW-rocket wielding 'wiseguys' and the police never took place. The closest that ever did happen was the famous California bank robbery involving men armed with full-auto AK's and body armor. That's it. To continue to allow our police to act like Mad King Georgie's goons of two centuries ago, all for the sake of trying to create the impossible (a 'drug-free America'), is to risk further disaffection among members of the body politic. Disaffection that an increasingly class-oriented and class-sensitized society cannot afford to create. One day, someone with nothing left to lose, and a white hot fury at being treated this way will, with his last act make those who so traumatized him without reason regret they did so. That in turn may begin a process that could lead to much worse taking place. This country hasn't had a civil war in over 140 years, and I surely don't want to see one in my lifetime. But if the police believe that they will always be able to run roughshod over the rights of innocent civilians, as these raids have shown has happened, and not pay a substantial penalty in the future courtesy of that aformentioned pissed-off citizen, they ought to quit drinking. That's how the first civil war, the Revolutionary War, got started. No one needs that now.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#20)
    by Patrick on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 08:52:49 AM EST
    Kdog, You hit the nail on the head. Military style invasions. They are not military invasions. Since police will always have the authority to conduct searches, it seems counterintuitive to remove their ability to do so as safely as possible with tactics that are proven to work. If cops across the country make one mistake a week or likely more as the author
    At least once a week (it's likely more), an innocent person or family is terrorized by a forced entry SWAT raid.
    pointed out, out of the 770 raids per week (Based on 40,000 per year) is that sufficent to condemn the whole policy in your eyes. It isn't in mine. Besides to put a finer point on it, the vast majority of these raids are not SWAT raids but SWAT style raids conducted by narcotic units with tactical entry teams. Surely a fine distinction, but a valid one.
    from dealing with terrorist situations to attacking and killing penny-ante poker players
    Ahh yes, they list one and describe one or two raids out of the hundreds of thousands of raids and somehow you're able to define this as their new role. Besides I watched Goodfellas, isn't gambling in Florida and other states mob connected. I suppose you'd like them just to knock and ask to be invited in.
    California bank robbery involving men armed with full-auto AK's and body armor. That's it.
    That was not a SWAT operation, but does lend itself to good discussion of tactics. The SWAT team did not arrive until the very end, but end up killing the remaining suspect. Of course he was innocent until proven guilty.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 09:01:10 AM EST
    Pat...I don't think I ever said there is never a reason to use military-esque tactics. A hostage situation, an armed suspect holed up somewhere. It can save lives. The tactics are being used in instances where it unnecessarily endangers lives. Like when the NYPD killed Alberta Spruill looking for some dope and got the wrong house. They had no info that the suspect was armed...only that he sold dope. In a free society, law enforcement takes on more risk...and rightly so. In the US we err on the side of freedom and individual rights....or so I'd hope.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#22)
    by Patrick on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 09:10:46 AM EST
    Kdog, I don't disagree about the risk, but I also understand that there will be human error, along with abuse and and incompetance in any human endeavor. If the level of that error, abuse and incompetance was significantly higher, then I might believe wholesale changes were necessary, but I don't see that here. To me the whole white pages paper seems an end around on legalization. Demonizing the police and tactics for a political purpose. I don't think we'll agree on that topic, we've beat each other up around it too many times already.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#23)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 10:38:35 AM EST
    I think we have different levels of tolerance of error, incompetence and abuse on this issue. I think the invasion of someone's home is no small mistake. We aren't talking about bogus parking tickets here....we are talking about men with guns barging into people's homes.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#24)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 11:11:17 AM EST
    Patrick, You're still missing the even bigger point here. The bigger point is that despite all of these botched raids and all of these innocent people being killed and lives destroyed, it hasn't done anything to stop people from using drugs. Nothing. In fact, it's likely made the overall problem of drug abuse in this country worse. No argues that if there's an actual threat to us, and that paramilitary activity is necessary, that we can't accept a certain level of collateral damage. The point here is that we already know full-well that trying to stop drug abuse this way doesn't work. The collateral damage is happening for no benificial reason whatsoever.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#25)
    by Patrick on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 01:52:13 PM EST
    I think the invasion of someone's home is no small mistake.
    As do I, I think we disagree on what to do about it. I'm off camping for 5 days in the Sierra, some of you will take my lack of response as aquiesence... It's not, I'm just having fun with my family! Good day!

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#26)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 02:05:11 PM EST
    "There are two issues, here. The first is whether or not sending SWAT teams out to apprehend nonviolent offenders (not just pot smokers, either. Increasingly, they're being used to arrest gambling suspects) is a policy that ought to be employed in a free society." Actually there's only one issue. In a free society pot smoking and gambling (and a lot of other things) shouldn't be illegal in the first place.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#27)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 03:28:06 PM EST
    Have fun Pat. What I'd do about it is set stricter guidelines as to when it is acceptable to do a home invasion.

    Re: Botched Drug Raid Map (none / 0) (#28)
    by jimcee on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 08:41:05 PM EST
    This isn't just an end run for drug legalization but an honest exposure of overused police tactics. I didn't think the ATF/Davidian raid involved drugs but perhaps I missed that part. It certainly involved 'military style' tactics. I also don't think that the Ruby Ridge debacle did either and both ended terribly, sadly. No one was ever held to account for these incidents and that just compounds the misery. Whether intentional or inadvertent the police caused the needless deaths of innocent women and children and to what end? Is the public more or less safe afterwards? Patrick have a good time.