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SWAT-Team Nation: The Militarization of the U.S. Police (newyorker.com)
234 points by georgecmu on Aug 9, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments



In the late 90's, the CEO of our startup told us about a raid on his Palo Alto home. His daughter was away at camp for the summer and his wife had mailed her a care package that included laundry detergent. As they later found out, detergent can be used as a masking agent for drugs.

A few days after the package was sent, Law Enforcement (DEA & local police, IIRC) surrounded the house. Luckily, back in the good old days, they didn't break the door down and start shooting, at least not in Palo Alto. They knocked, were let in, and asked the CEO's wife to open the package that the police had intercepted, upon which the laundry detergent was discovered.

The point I want to make about this whole category of problems, that seem to mock the 4th Amendment (NSA surveillance, civil asset forfeiture, militarization of police, etc.) is that we should be far more worried about incompetence than malice. We keep getting warned that these things are a pathway to tyranny but frankly, that may or may not happen. Horrific incompetence that ruins people's lives is with us today, at scale, and the problems grow with the power, money and technology given to those that wield them. We now have no-recourse no-fly lists, police raids on wrong houses that kill homeowners (so often it's no longer newsworthy), and sick elderly parents fighting for their house because their kid sold $20 worth of weed from the front porch (the latter from Sarah Stillman's other excellent New Yorker article).

Back in Palo Alto, it would have taken almost zero competent police work to determine that the care package containing laundry soap, sent to a summer camp from the home of two working professionals was almost certainly not masking drugs. But instead, complete careless incompetence.

We've talked a lot lately about the danger that we are on the road to 1984 or Brave New World. Right now, I'm much more concerned that many of our fellow citizens are already living in the movie Brazil.


The lack of accountability for incompetent authorities is part and parcel of tyranny.


One of the characteristics of a police state is the police can get away with most anything. Nor do they have to be very careful about getting and convicting the right suspect.


The key thing to remember is that a police state is not necessarily a source of evil. It's merely a condition that can easily allow evil to happen. If you do not clean your room, it will get messy because the corrective mechanism has been switched off. In a police state, the authorities can do evil things because mechanisms of accountability have been switched off. The authorities can be good or evil, but either way, they will get away with bad things.

This explains how police states can come about incrementally, through numerous incremental changes that erode freedoms and checks and balances.


Sorry, but I'm with Lord Acton, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely." You're welcome to point out examples of kind and gentle police states, I'd try Japan first, but I don't think you're going to get very far.

You may have a point in your last sentence, but I don't see how it derives from the previous paragraph.


The full quote is: "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The police and the public both deserve an appropriate level of power; to lack power is to lack agency. Occasionally that power will be abused by either party. But as power becomes unbalanced towards any person or group, corruption becomes nearly guaranteed, whether through malice, indifference, or incompetence.


You're right in all counts, and I'm ashamed I forgot the correct version of the quote. Thanks for the correction.

Continuing this line, right now the casualties are so one sided because the public is understandably very reluctant to shoot the police, even when that results in their immediate death. If that changes....


I've found myself thinking a lot about this recently: the asymmetry of self-defense.

In a civilized society, we outsource our violence to police and other agencies, with mostly net-positive results. If the police are wrong, our self-defense moves instead into the realm of courts and law (setting aside the flaws with those systems).

However, extreme abuses of police power change the equation. While there are obviously reasonable circumstances for a cop to execute you without trial (when you are posing an immediate danger), there are effectively zero circumstances where you are allowed to physically defend yourself against the police.

I'm not necessarily advocating that there should be a circumstance when it's okay to shoot a cop; rather, that there are behavioral and social side effects from that intrinsic asymmetry, which affects the relationship between the necesseties of state violence, the legal system that supports them, and the civilians caught in the middle, innocent or otherwise.

I've also been thinking about it in the context of drones and anti-insurgent warfare. In conventional war, the enemy is dehumanized generally, but no one is demonized for shooting back: it's expected behavior. But in the context of quasi-occupation, civilians have neither legal nor physical recourses for defense. Picking up a weapon automatically marks you as the enemy; your only defense is to do nothing and hope that your drone pilot is accurate and merciful. The typical rhetoric is that terrorists are the worst of the worst because they are willing to kill civilians, which I would agree with; yet wielding a gun against a uniformed soldier or even a drone effectively marks you as a terrorist all the same.

I don't own guns, and never plan to; while I'm not a knee-jerk pacifist, it's very important to me never to take a life, a pledge I would only break in the most extreme of circumstances. But I certainly hold a great deal of empathy for those who feel the need to take personal defense into their own hands, and I believe there is a solid case for seeing self-defense as an inalienable human right.

(At this point, I wonder if the best self-defense at home or abroad might be to capture or stream video 24 hours a day...)


"In a civilized society, we outsource our violence to police and other agencies...."

I suspect you'll not be surprised that I strongly disagree. Honest police (I gather most of them, in fact) know they can't be everywhere, e.g. "When seconds count, the police are minutes away." Worse, it's well established in the courts that police have absolutely no duty to protect anyone in particular; the most recent case is particularly stark, on a subway Joseph Lozito subdued a knife wielding assailant taking quite a few injuries while the NYPD officers there cowered and locked themselves away.

Hmmm, have you ever lived in an area where concealed carry is shall issue and self-defense was encouraged by the local authorities? In my home town, which I've retired to, they went so far as to say a woman had an "absolute right" to use lethal force against some home invaders, and the staff of the required concealed carry class I and my father took were all active duty police officers who were entirely supportive of citizen self-defense.

I wonder if your take on drone warfare is a bit off. Haven't followed Afghanistan that closely, but I know during our occupation of Iraq we allowed people to retain an AK-47 for self-defense, "picking up a weapon" was not an automatic mark of an enemy. Context mattered, and I strongly expect does in Afghanistan. Pick up a weapon and move towards an allied unit, likely enemy. Outside of that context, isn't so clear, especially in such an well armed society.

And you at least in part recognize that, "wielding a gun against a uniformed soldier or even a drone effectively marks you as a terrorist", although I'd substitute enemy for "terrorist", and enemy is quite enough to allow for a violent response.


> have you ever lived in an area where concealed carry is shall issue and self-defense was encouraged by the local authorities?

I have not, I have talked to several Texans for whom this is the case, given that police help was 45 minutes away. It enriched my perspective on gun culture quite a bit.

> I wonder if your take on drone warfare is a bit off.

Yeah, I'll admit that I'm not exactly extrapolating from intimate knowledge of details. And you're right that "enemy combatant" is the term generally used. I do still think that is an imbalance in that is effectively impossible for us to see those combatants as legitimate in the same way as the social construct of "soldier", because they fight for a sect or tribe rather than a nation-state. But then, past wars have often involved pre-emptively describing the enemy as sub-human, so perhaps it's just more of the same, if not a slight improvement.

I'd be very curious to learn if there has been any attempt to "sharp-shoot" or otherwise physically defend against drones. Or do they simply strike from too far away for this to be feasible?

Also, I'd wager ten-to-one that in the next decade, we'll see a Supreme Court ruling on whether personal defense drones are covered by the 2nd amendment.


Well, there's the concept of unlawful combatant per the Geneva Convention, which allows most any fate including summary execution on the battlefield. To not be an unlawful combatant is not that difficult, e.g. it requires things like a command structure and identifying clothing on the field, an armband will do. Fighting for a nation-state is not required.

According to Wikipedia, the standard Hellfire II missiles the Predator and Reaper drones use have a long range, 546 yd – 5 mi/500 m – 8 km, although these models can't operate farther than the laser designator can reach. No "sharpshooter", that is individual rifleman shooting a battle rifle cartridge has no practical chance. Maybe someone using a general purpose machine gun or better with plenty of tracer rounds in the belt, but of course that's going to be rather obvious to the operators and invite getting out of range and firing a Hellfire back. Hmmm, looking at heaver USSR/Russian stuff, these drones would be able to easily keep out of range of even the famous ZSU-23-4 4 cannon mobile AA weapon system, SAMs are going to be required.

I don't expect a Supreme Court decision, unless unfavorable, they're very reluctant to take up 2nd amendment cases. E.g. only one 20th Century case in 1939, then Heller in 2008 and *McDonald 2010. Since then I believe they've denied cert to every case that's come to them, although in terms of "clean" cases (e.g. not a criminal trying a Hail Mary appeal he's going to lose) as I recall only a concealed carry one in New York state, despite there being a circuit split with the one covering Illinois. We'll see, but I at least am not that hopeful. They will get more opportunities on concealed carry, e.g. from the circuit covering Maryland, and I think another.


Additional thought, promoted by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds (http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/017469/): "The secret of social harmony is simple: Old men must be dangerous."


I believe the point was that a police state may not seem inherently evil as it gradually comes about, which is why it's so easy for it to happen without anyone noticing.

Therefore, the overall larger point is: the populace has an even greater need for vigilance and paying attention, and to do everything they can to keep the powers-that-be in check while they can.


> You're welcome to point out examples of kind and gentle police states

Again, we have people making assumptions and coming out with stupid readings. Where do I say that there are kind and gentle police states?

The likelihood of a kind and gentle police state is the same as the likelihood of someone's house staying neat if they never clean, or a machine never breaking down even if preventive maintenance is neglected. Entropy is not on your side.

> You may have a point in your last sentence, but I don't see how it derives from the previous paragraph.

There are a lot of people who think of themselves as "clever" but who don't create little trees or clouds of implications and converse on this basis. You are currently operating on one meta-level too low for this conversation.


Exactly -- the police screw up and the judges let them off the hook, while if a citizen makes an equivalent error he's convicted of murder and sent away for life.


Yep. A cop in Chicago or Detroit would be given much more leniency when making the same mistake as, say, a neighborhood watch captain in suburban Florida.


One's an exceptional outlier, the other's an everyday occurrence.


"I'm much more concerned that many of our fellow citizens are already living in the movie Brazil."

I might start sticking to that as a general premise, given the news.

Look for independent plumbers, if approached by Central Services, ask for a 27b/6, however whatever you do, try to avoid Information Retrieval and Gir if he has red eyes.


Incompetence explains more things than conspiracy theories. I agree with your points. Incompetent cops are more likely to shoot people than a random cabal.


There has to be more to that story.



No, because 32 pounds of marijuana and a 4,000 plant operation aren't a package with detergent.


I re-watched Brazil a few nights ago for the first time in a few years, and you couldn't be more right.

Harry Tuttle probably happens every day.


I have an experience to relate about the small town I grew up in (Bay Area).

While I was a youngster I had numerous run ins with the local cops. Nothing serious, but I remember feeling mistreated, literally manhandled by the officers to this day.

Tangentially, the town I grew up in is not typically thought of as violent, but several folks in my high school class were violently murdered over the years. We've also had the misfortune to experience a few other heinous crimes which don't deserve to be repeated in polite company.

The local police basically failed, but a few years ago the county sheriffs took over.

Whereas, as a youngster I had numerous bad encounters with local authorities, now the sheriffs wave to me when I drive through town and I see them with the local kids working more like local cops.

I've never been a fan of the police, but this has been a welcome change in my community. I realize the visibility of age can change your relationship with authority but I think there was a cultural change as well.

Now, on the other hand, I'm also painfully aware of the shenanigans that police pull all over the US. The incidents of police brutality are too numerous to mention, and the justice dispensed is a pitiable counterweight (I'm referring to the prosecution of police brutality, not the justice of the police action, for clarity's sake).

I think there are too many weapons in America in general, and the militarization of the police is just another example of that. There's always the part of this argument where someone yells "but why can we see people getting shot on the television but we can't see sex?".

I think the militarization of the police has become a part of American culture and that my experience with my local authorities is an outlier. I wish the culture of our police was based around community development and not militarization.


> I wish the culture of our police was based around community development and not militarization.

There is something funny about that sentence. We have police imitating military yet the US military, during the current Iraq/Afghanistan "military operation", came to realize that a "knock-and-talk" approach was/is more effective than "kick-in-the-door" night raids while looking for insurgents.


That's an interesting connection, thanks for sharing it.

I wonder if that's because the US military felt it had/has its back to the wall in terms of the success of its mission, and thus was forced to do the more effective thing, even though it's a bit outside of the purpose of their organization.

Conversely, police departments aren't under that much pressure to perform. Our country is experiencing a peace wave.

Instead, they're free to worry only about protecting their turf and increasing their budgets, through wasteful vanity projects like their tremendously overused SWAT teams, and over-targeting non-violent drug users.


I think it has to do with oversight. There's a strong precedent for the international community to hold a country's leaders as responsible for their military's actions. The chain of command reflects that.

Compare that to internal affairs in law enforcement. It's a terrible joke.

There are also fiscal pressures, in the way budgets are set, and with civil asset forfeiture. The US military budget is not set by how many kills they get, and units are not permitted to pillage and plunder the countries they invade.


A peace wave ... and yet, at the same time, dramatically higher budgets and paranoia due to 9/11. Do we really need/want cops with drones?


Hahahaha. Oh man.

And if they violate the Rules of Engagement, it's going to hurt a lot worse than paid time off.


I live in Houston, fourth largest city in the US.

We're a spread-out city, and our police force (at least at the time of the Occupy Houston protests) was undergoing severe budget and pension cuts. We simply are not providing police the resources they need to create a solid and friendly community relationship, are not giving them the opportunity to be anything other than random thugs in Crown Vics.


Military style gear and SWAT training requires resources. Resources that could be spent on community policing.


I rather suspect that the lifetime cost of a new officer (pension, healthcare, etc.) greatly exceeds the toys of a SWAT team.


Most of those toys are provided "free" by the federal government. Rifles that would cost the police a few thousand dollars can be purchased for (last time I looked, about a year ago) $20, as an example.

The program used to be called DRMO, I can't find a price list online right now but here's a program page: https://www.dispositionservices.dla.mil/rtd03/leso/weapons.s...


Wow - sounds like deliberate arming. But even if it doesn't cost the local department, it costs us in aggregate. (What's rational for the local government may still not be rational for the taxpayer)


And SWAT teams don't have pensions, and never get hurt on the job?

Also, I expect SWAT teams need/get more time to practice SWATting than regular officers need/get time to practice policing.


Radley Balko, mentioned in the article, has been covering this story for several years now. He has repeatedly made the point that most SWAT teams receive very little additional training.


Extra toys but not extra training to go with them?

I'm curious - what do they do when they're not on SWAT missions? Do they go back to being regular cops, or do they sit on the bench?


In most smaller departments, it's an extra duty for regular police, so they go around (usually with SWAT gear in the car) and do normal policing.


I'm out of my depth here. Perhaps someone good at hacking and analyzing government data can help?

The real comparisons seem:

1) If SWAT officers do regular policing too, then compare the incremental annual cost of their goodies versus the 1 year fully loaded (salary + pension + benefits + equipment) cost of a police officer. I won't pretend to know this answer, other than tanks seem expensive, but then again so are cops.

2) If SWAT officers don't do regular policing, or do significantly less, then you need to add that to the equation.

Slightly off-topic, I have to admit that seeing cops patrol the streets with machine guns is a little off-putting. It reminds me quite a bit of Israel.


I recently read former Seattle police chief's book "Breaking Rank" http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Rank-Expose-American-Policing... where he talks a lot about the idea of community policing and de-militarization. It's a great book.


The local police basically failed, but a few years ago the county sheriffs took over. Whereas, as a youngster I had numerous bad encounters with local authorities, now the sheriffs wave to me when I drive through town and I see them with the local kids working more like local cops.

I wonder how much of this can be attributed to the fact that the position of Sheriff is usually directly elected, contrary to other chiefs of law enforcement that typically serve at the whim of other politicians and, consequently, their political parties?


Counterpoint: People in Arizona keep voting for Joe Arpaio.


Can you explain what actually changed when the sheriffs took over for the local police? Aside from everything was then better?


Frankly it was financially motivated. It was a lot cheaper to consolidate resources with the county.

The happy consequence of community development was not, I assume, planned.


Interesting to have this come out when yesterday the Sunnyvale police drove their tank over to a house where someone had called in reporting a murder, they asked the person to come out and then immediately shot him dead.

Three things bothered me about this;

1) WTF does the Sunnyvale police force need with an Armored Personnel Carrier? Seriously.

2) How is it you go from 'come out with your hands up' to shooting the guy dead as soon as he is visible?

3) What is the motivation for responding that 'hard'? You send a couple of squad cars, not a military unit.

So it looks like we need to change things slap down the police again. (this happened in the early 70's as well apparently (didn't live here then) when they initially were gearing up to fight drugs).


One possible explanation is fear.

I've had a few interactions with United States police and compared to their Canadian and European counterparts they always struck me as exuding bravado to cover up for basic insecurity or downright fear (with a few exceptions, but not many).

In situations where they know their counterparty is armed an overly aggressive response with a military vehicle and a summary execution of the suspect makes sense when you look at it from the perspective of scared people.

It's the same thing that drives 'force protection' when dealing with the citizens of some occupied country.


I blame "Safety First".

A police department that puts the safety of it's officers first has a rational incentive to bring overwhelming force to bear on every situation every time.

The doctrine of "safety first" needs to change. It needs to apply to the community MORE than the officers charged with protecting it. Clearly, the doctrine of overwhelming force puts the interests of the police ahead of the community they serve, which is plainly evil, even ignoring the potential for abuse in a full-blown tyranny.


Safety first is fine, so long as the police are part of the community they are policing. When they are not, then the tensions and the stakes will be more like those facing soldiers of an occupying army, with some of the bad consequence that comes with that.


The problem is that "(officer) safety first" is fundamentally in conflict with the "serve and protect" mantra that gets peddled by every PD in the country. Sometimes the police can have both, but when they can't and have to make a choice, that choice makes very clear where their priorities lie.


Generally I disagree with over-militarization of the police force, but a few points:

1) I spend a lot of time listening to emergency band scanners. Considering the low violent crime rate in Sunnyvale, I'm pretty shocked how often the Santa Clara Sherrifs Dept are called to stand-offs and hostage-type situations. If it is resolved without fatalities, perhaps it doesn't make it into violent crime statistics, but I'm not that appalled that Sunnyvale PD feels the need to own one.

2) KTVU reports that he he came out with a firearm and ran towards them.

3) KTVU reports that they responded with a couple of squad cars, but the man disregarded orders to come out with his hands up. As a murder had been reported, calling SWAT is reasonable, IMO.

Again, I agree that police forces in general are over-militarized, but we need to represent the facts accurately.

edit: Why the down-votes? He has an alternate explanation that I've acknowledged, and that he didn't provide initially.


  > Again, I agree that police forces in general
  > are over-militarized, but we need to represent
  > the facts accurately.
We agree on the militarization, I am concerned about factual accuracy, in part because I've got a personal connection with eye witnesses to this event, and their statements do not agree with the official narrative. That is perhaps the most unsettling part here. This is further complicated that it is the second time in 18 months where this has been the case for me.

Some additional back story.

1) The event was witnessed in its entirety by friends of ours who live there. They describe the sequence differently than the official sequence of events.

2) A previous officer involved shooting, on my street, was also reported as a 'charged with weapon, officer defended themselves and shot the suspect.' which was also reported very differently by the people who were standing on the curb behind the guy that got shot (and nearly caught in the cross fire). This guy had a knife and was 15 yards away from the officer when they were killed.

The similarity between both events is that there had been a 911 call, and police responded 'ready to fight.'

I've got a number of concerns with respect to the training and rules of engagement our public safety officers are operating under. I'm a big fan of the classic 'old west' rule that first shot is offense, second shot is defense. Meaning that if you fire first you are the guy doing the shooting, if the person fires back at you they are defending.

Clearly I get to follow this one, its in my 'backyard' to use the vernacular. It is certainly going to be a hot topic of discussion at the BBQ we host for the folks running for City Council. (strangely the police report through the city manager which is another topic of discussion for the BBQ)


1) The event was witnessed in its entirety by friends of ours who live there. They describe the sequence differently than the official sequence of events.

Then you need to explain how up front. right now I'm no wiser and your position is basically 'trust me, other evidence is wrong.' I agree with you about the more general point of police militarization being bad, but to do something about that you're also going to have to stand up for limitation on the 2nd amendment.


It may be hopeless, I'll write it again.

I have no opinion on whether or not the shooting was justified.

No doubt these folks will be part of the DA's process for investigating all officer involved shootings. And theirs and any other testimony will end up in the official record.

The shooting itself, the video of the shooting, and the reporting of the shooting left me with questions and concerns.

Those concerns are around how we're training our officers and what instructions we are giving them with regard to the use of deadly force.

I'm also concerned about their equipment. You dress people up and equip them like soldiers and they start thinking like soldiers. That is, in my opinion, a bad mindset for a Peace Officer.

I'm also interested in what process my city government has in place to make sure that if we do have a problem it will be addressed. And insuring that process is working.


As I already said, I agree with you about the more general point of police militarization being bad. You don't need to convince me of that.

I'm questioning your challenge of the available facts in this specific case, based on other information that you have chosen not to reveal.


And that is the thing isn't it?

When you write "this specific case" you are talking about a guy that got shot by the police.

And when I write "this specific case" I'm talking about how the Sunnyvale Police respond to a 911 calls about some guy who claims to have killed someone in his house.

Because we're talking about different things, the responses don't make any sense to the other person in the conversation.


No, that's not the thing, and you don't get to characterize what I mean in order to support your rhetorical argument. I'm disappointed that you chose this approach.

I most certainly am talking about how the police responded, and saying that it makes rather more sense when you include the full context of the call.

You originally wrote Sunnyvale police drove their tank over to a house where someone had called in reporting a murder, they asked the person to come out and then immediately shot him dead. You left out the fact that the caller identified himself as the person who had committed the murder, and you've been trying to change the subject ever since.

I have no problem with the police driving an armored vehicle* to an address where the caller has identified himself as a murderer. In a situation like that there's a high probability of getting shot at and I don't expect the police to go in defenseless. This is totally different from an innocent third party calling in to report the discovery of a murder.

* This is a Sunnyvale PD armored personnel carrier: http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/654*488/swat.raid.2.jpg This is a tank: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/22/M1_... They are nothing alike.


> This guy had a knife and was 15 yards away from the officer when they were killed.

Google "Tueller drill." You'll be surprised by what you find. Now, 45' is a bit further than that 21' that is usually cited as the "this guy can run and stab you before you can stop him" distance, but I can see why a situation very similar to what you describe was assessed as a good shoot.

(Test it yourself and see. You'll be surprised.)


The Tueller drill distance only applies to holstered handguns.


It essentially means that, as an armed person, if somebody has a knife, is threatening you, and is less than 21 feet away, then your gun should be out of your holster and pointed in their direction right away, because if you wait for them to actually charge you, the knife will probably be sticking out of your chest by the time you can draw and fire.

It certainly doesn't mean that you should shoot the guy right away or anything, but someone with a knife being shot from 20-30 feet away is not necessarily a bad shoot.


It's a bad shoot if you've got your finger on the trigger and they aren't charging you.


Watch some Tueller Drill videos: it's very clear you've got to really have your act together to survive them, and it shouldn't be hard to image someone with their gun already in their hands failing and getting a mortal wound.


> A previous officer involved shooting, on my street, was also reported as a 'charged with weapon, officer defended themselves and shot the suspect.' which was also reported very differently by the people who were standing on the curb behind the guy that got shot (and nearly caught in the cross fire). This guy had a knife and was 15 yards away from the officer when they were killed.

A knife is a deadly weapon. I think that's downplayed quite a bit when everyone is worried about guns. 15 yards may be a bit a a distance to start shooting, but there's a lot of information left out that to assume is negligible would be a mistake. For example:

Did the suspect advance from behind cover or were they in plain view for a period before advancing?

How far was the suspect from other bystanders? Were others in possible danger?

In this case, what does "charged" mean? Running full-tilt, or advancing at a quick pace?

Were the bystanders looking at the situation from the beginning, or talking among themselves until someone noted something was happening and they all redirected their attention?

These are all just some of the details that may or may not be noticed by individual bystanders, and may or may not have affected their view of the situation. Eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable for other reasons as well (discussion can make people believe they saw things they didn't).

That's not to say the police accounting is infallible, just to suggest that all testimony needs to be examined closely.


The Tueller Drill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tueller_Drill) tells us to deal with a potential adversary with an edged weapon within 21 feet with utmost seriousness (do a search on the phrase and watch some videos, they're chilling). Given the rough eyewitness estimate of "15 yards" and whatever the officers estimated we can't dismiss the possibility the shooting was entirely justified.


I had not been aware of that. Thanks.


I completely agree with you, especially that all testimony has to be examined closely. The knife case the guy was literally standing in the middle of the intersection (that was wear the blood stain was left) So about as 'out there' as you could get.

If I thought it was a simple problem I'd have a simple answer (that would be wrong [1]) I'm more interested in fixing the process, understanding what in the officer's training lead him to shoot at that moment in time, what other options were considered, and what changes should we put in place to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.

[1] "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." -- H.L. Mencken


> strangely the police report through the city manager which is another topic of discussion for the BBQ

Why is that strange? In California, in the usual case (i.e., not in charter cities with a different arrangement), the city manager is the appointed operational head of the city of government, and the city council (including the Mayor, who is effectively just the presiding officer of the council) is a (part-time) legislative body.


Thanks for sharing - I wasn't aware you had different and (potentially) more reliable sources.


Interesting to have this come out when yesterday the Sunnyvale police drove their tank over to a house where someone had called in reporting a murder, they asked the person to come out and then immediately shot him dead.

Good grief Chuck, how many ways are you going to mischaracterize what happened in one sentence? The guy called the police saying that he had committed a murder, and indeed police found the body of a woman in the house. Per a neighbor's testimony, the police turned up with sirens wailing, and about an hour later later shots were heard (of them killing the guy).

According to the police (whose account of events is open to question) the guy refused to come out at first and then charged them.

Now, I am not excusing the fact that they shot him, and I am not willing to take their account of things at face value absent evidence. But leaving out the facts that the guy reported himself to be a murderer, and that this report seems to have been true, and that there was a considerable interval between the arrival of the police and the shooting of the suspect, is spectacularly misleading.

I realize this might be the result of error rather than intention, but you should apologize to people for having only provided them with half the facts.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/08/08/sunnyvale-stando...

[...] What sounded like gunfire had been heard earlier at the home, and a person called police around 8 a.m. and said he had killed someone inside his home in the 600 block of San Pedro Ave., Capt. Dave Pitts said.

At 8:53 a.m., a SWAT vehicle was driven onto the front yard of the home. Roughly 10 SWAT officers wearing bulletproof vests then approached the front of the home. A few moments later, a voice could be heard on a loudspeaker saying “Come out with your hands up.”

A team of about six SWAT officers entered the home about 10 a.m. and within seconds, several loud gunshots were heard. [...]


I've read the paper. I know the people who live across the street and were standing outside and watched the whole thing go down. The accounts differ.

As with most things, what is reported, what people saw, what people thought they saw, and what actually happened can often be disjoint. I'm interested in the DA's report (although those take a loooooong time to come out)

I have fundamental questions though about the rules that our public safety department is operating under. And I will get those answered.

One, what is the justification for driving around in an armoured vehicle? There is so much information on how what you do "just before" a situation can totally change the way you react in a situation, it seems unreasonable to roll into a situation like a squad of marines rolling on to the beach head.

Second, what is the standard used for engaging deadly force? How is that established, trained, and on what basis was it arrived at?

Third, what is the process for evaluating the training effectiveness and its implementation in our police force? What does it tell us about this event?

Fourth, in our policy what precedence to we place on safety, is it citizens first or officers first?

As I mention elsewhere, it was the combination of events that got me asking these questions, not just this one. So it goes from "hmm, that was a sad story" to "hmm, is there a problem here that needs to be fixed?"

I know how to fix problems, step one is verify that it is one. That is where I am now.

This bit annoys me though:

  > I realize this might be the result of error
  > rather than intention, but you should 
  > apologize to people for having only 
  > provided them with half the facts.
Given that I know some of the eye witnesses, and I know that the reported story wasn't the same as the their story, I felt like the folks with 'half the facts' might be people who only read it or watched it in the news. So I consider myself to be in possession of slightly more facts than those folks, but I make no claim as to the overall percentage. And that leads me to the second annoyance.

As I wrote, (and was misread), the thing that bothered me wasn't the shooting. I recognize that there is no way at this stage for me to have any sort of informed opinion about the justifiabilty of that shooting. What bothers me is how the police responded. And to a lesser extent the equipment they brought with them.

Since nobody disavowed this as some rogue event, I must conclude that they responded as they were trained to do. And it is that which has me bothered. Trying to understand how we are training our cops to respond, and what is the motivation for training them in that way.

Sorry you missed all that.

EDIT: formatting


As someone who used (almost 10 years ago) to be involved with my state's emergency preparedness infrastructure (I worked in public health at the time), and who worked closely with law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics in that capacity, I can answer your fourth question easily: officer safety comes first. That's official and unofficial policy of almost every PD in the nation. I'm not convinced it's the proper approach, and neither are a minority of LE I've spoke to about it, but there's a whole rationale behind why officer comes first.

I do complete share your concerns about police militarization and police brutality. I've actually seen it much, much closer up than vast majority of people here, and not in the capacity I refer to above; it's not pretty, yet it's very routine for most LE.


Every event I have been involved in that was reported by the media has had basic matters of fact incorrectly reported. Basic stuff that gives no political advantage, like the type and color of a car involved in a wreck; not stuff that you could argue is to support bias, like the number of people at a political rally. If they can't bother to get basic facts right, I have difficulty extending trust to them on matters that require interpretation.


If you have extra facts then share them instead of arguing that mere possession of same makes you right.

This bit annoys me though:

Well, too bad! You don't say what facts you have from your neighbors, and you haven't contradicted the claim that the guy called police to report himself as having killed someone and that the body of a woman was found in his house. Now those are salient facts and you know it; you should not have omitted them from your original description of the situation.

What bothers me is how the police responded.

If anyone calls up the police saying that they've killed a person the police are setting out with a possibility that they're going to be encountering an armed and dangerous individual. There's a huge difference between 'I'm calling to report a murder' and 'I'm calling to tell you I just killed someone.' You originally reported this as an example of the first situation, which is clearly not the case.

I didn't miss anything here. Now if your neighbors' report of the facts is substantively different, then by all means share their version, but since the 9-11 calls is a matter of public record and can easily be obtained by the media I'm going to take the claim that the dead guy called in saying he'd killed someone at face value. How you can omit that from your summary is just beyond me.


>But leaving out the facts that the guy reported himself to be a murderer,

Sorry to interrupt with a slightly different issue, but anybody can call the police, tell them some story, and cause SWAT to show up at your location. SWAT-ing is a thing. It happens. So is SWAT teams mistakenly showing up at the wrong address, and all sorts of other human errors. It happened to Brian Krebs recently, and it can happen to anyone.

So, without regard to whether there is an actual heinous criminal pedophile terror suspect holed-up in his house, or whatever else is going on; we do want SWAT teams to err on the side of professionalism and restraint, not on the side of driving armored vehicles into peoples' houses, killing their pets and generally terrorizing their victims.

You won't have to look long to find plenty of examples of police acting with complete disregard for the safety of suspects, suspects' property.


Yes, and that's a problem, but that's not what's at issue here.


It is certainly my issue here :-)


What, that third parties could call in a SWAT team? Why not make that your issue on one of the (sadly numerous) examples of this actually happening, as opposed to one where it seems to have actually been appropriate?


For a recent example of a third-party essentially calling in a SWAT team on someone, see: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2013/03/the-world-has-no-room-fo...


There's been a recent spate of this for political reasons: https://www.google.com/search?q=brett+kimberlin+swatting+or+...


Hermosa beach also has an armed vehicle. On busy weekends they park it in the middle of the street in central downtown so everyone sees it. I assume the reasoning is to intimidate people which is quite messed up.


What I want to know is who gives them this much money, and why?. I thought the US economy was still in pretty poor shape, and they pretend to argue for months of stuff like $80 billion sequester, when they're probably giving more than that per year to police departments to buy military equipment like this and be trained by the DHS and the Israeli military.

Again - why? Why is the police becoming para-military? Do they fear another major protest and want to respond in force? What's the motivation behind all this.


"What I want to know is who gives them this much money, and why?"

Nobody gives the police this money. The police take the money from people they arrest. It is called asset forfeiture, it is legal, and it is widely used by police departments to pay for all that expensive military equipment they use.

"Why is the police becoming para-military?"

To gain more power over the population, to arrest more people, and to funnel more money to the well-connected corporations that benefit from this sort of tyranny.


Unless that's enough to fully fund the police it's easy enough to divert funds based on that extra income.


> Why is the police becoming para-military?

Becoming? In the 1990s, when I was in college, state and local police recruitment information overtly described the organizations as paramilitary. Armed police forces are inherently paramilitary organizations, and always have been.

They're getting another influx of military equipment and personnel with combat experience (and expectations shaped by that experience) because the US military is gearing down after a over decade of greater-than-usual war.


A lot of things like Humvee's and APC's come from retired or surplus military equipment. Your sheriff's department isn't buying those things with your tax money.

The Army does, and then gives it to the sheriff's department when they're done with them.


There was a lot of DHS money that went out to local jurisdictions to buy paramilitary equipment after 9-11. A lot of that was probably lobbied for by manufacturers and distributors of said equipment.


You really can't figure it out? www.infowars.com


i live in sunnyvale, a few miles from where this occurred.

i first want to say that our 'police' are honestly the nicest and most caring of all departments i've dealt with. i've interacted w/ them a dozen or so times over the last few years. after a tragic event a year or two back, one of the officers took it upon himself to check in w/ me after a few weeks and again after a few months to see how i was doing and offer support.

additionally, sunnyvale's 'police' are actually 'public safety officers' additionally respond as trained firefighters and EMTs. they carry the gear for fire/medical in the trunk of their squad cars.

for your questions,

#1 it's a "santa clara county regional rescue vehicle".

#2 after an hour+ he came out armed. police are protecting neighboring houses in addition to themselves. i'm pretty sure the guy wanted to die.

#3 they did respond w/ just a couple of cars. they summoned SWAT after it was apparent he wasn't going to come out, and he's already admitted to killing someone in the house.

it's sad that he was killed, but he already stated he'd killed on person and he came out armed. SWAT did what they were trained to do, and neutralized a threat. 6 or 7 shots were fired from rifles of highly trained personel. in a dense residential setting, i'd much rather have SWAT pulling the trigger than by a hoard potentially nervous cops w/ less training. you often read stories that police fire 40+ rounds when someone makes a similar move.

for the record, i'm not a fan of the militarization of police in the US by large. but i just wanted to put in a word of defense for sunnyvale as they've been the most restrained and caring of all the departments i've known.


good article on cost and performance benefits of cross-trained public safety workers in sunnyvale:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/01/local/la-me-sunnyval...


The Sunnyvale police report that the man "charged them with a gun"[1] to which the only logical response by police is to shoot him.

Now, if the man hadn't responded in a threatening way and had come out peacefully, then the police probably wouldn't have shot him. If they did, then this would be a bigger deal than you're making it out to be.

Taking a tank to the house was probably overkill, but I think the police are under a "use it or lose it" mentality when it comes to their toys.

[1] http://www.mercurynews.com/crime-courts/ci_23821648/sunnyval...


He called the cops himself, and charged on them with a gun (seemly without firing).

I think this was suicide by cop... And the cops that have some sort of extreme fear of the population (perhaps justified, considering how badly the US population had been treated recently?) did what the guy wished.


I agree with point #1, saw an APC rolling around in my town. Very confused. My town has below-average rates of violent crime compared to both the state and the nation.

Although rather than being worried about our police becoming militaristic (they are pretty good, I feel), I was mostly concerned with who paid for it!


Well, ultimately, you did. But really, there were funds made available through the Department of Homeland Security for local police departments to purchase military surplus armored vehicles (and weapons, helmets, etc.), as part of the post-9/11 anti-terrorism push.

IMO, the money would have been better spent on training instead of hardware. The NYPD budgets 150 rounds a year per officer for firearms proficiency testing & training. The NYPD is also known for violating the civil rights of the people they interact with -- if only they knew more about the law...


The NYPD suffers from a severe lack of a local gun culture---the city has a bit over 50,000 each of legally registered handguns and long guns, and there aren't many places to shoot---as you note does very little proficiency training, I myself shoot around 200 handgun rounds per range visit, their leadership is notoriously gun ignorant and saddled them with Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) rounds for a long time, and still uses the heavy New York trigger modification, and the force is notorious for a very large fraction being poor in gun fights.

There was a recent incident where ALL the civilian casualties were from the cops, and most specifically we believe from one who screwed up big time, the other did the right thing for himself and others, to the extent we could determine.


150 rounds a year is probably approaching an order of magnitude too low. You need 1000's of repetitions to achieve conditioning that can overcome combat stress.

I suspect this had lots to do with the Fruitvale Station incident. Taser cartridges cost 30 or more times more than bullets, so the conditioning strength of taser use was a whole lot weaker than the conditioning strength of firing the pistol. I see this as a big problem.


Nah, see the reply I made in this subthread. The people who run the NYPD are cheap, stupid about guns, and don't give a damn about any civilians who aren't politically powerful or the like, e.g. they run one of the most restrictive concealed carry permitting systems in the nation. Plus there's a lot of pro-criminal sentiment in the city's movers and shakers.

Ah, I now remember there's a recent RAND report on how badly this is done.

But you're generally right about the required amount of training, and that explains the various Federal unit cartridge procurements that have raised so many eyebrows (mostly because people don't know they're indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity ones, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDIQ). I only looked closely at the one for the fish police as I like to call them (NOAA armed officers who police things like sea fishing, see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ole/), it attracted attention due to a clerical error listing it under weather forecasting, and running the numbers resulting in appropriate quantities for training, obviously a lot more than the NYPD's 150/year.


Exactly how many repetitions do police get with TASERs, then?


No idea whatsoever, besides us all noting TASER rounds are fantastically more expensive, i.e. I suspect we'd not be surprised if most officers in the nation have practiced firing 1 or 0 rounds. As an (fire-)armed citizen, so called "less lethal" weapons are not particularly practical to cart around, or wield while checking out a bump in the night while also carrying a flashlight, so I have not seriously studied them and e.g. the way they're deployed and used by police.

They're still potentially lethal, so as a citizen without all the protections police have I might as well use the most effective means of self-defense, I'll be judged the same if an adversary dies and very likely if not. Especially since I'm not expected to intervene in situations like the police are.

On the other hand this has little to do with the Fruitvale Station incident, the error there was in drawing the wrong weapon and not recognizing that before pulling the trigger (when I looked at the officer's face his expression of horror was very clear).

It could be addressed by simply putting it in a hard or very strange place to draw from, so the muscle memory of drawing the two is sufficiently different. Even a waist cross-draw with it located on the non-dominate side of the body, since it's less lethal, and wouldn't be effective at all again body armor, weapons retention is less of an issue. That was my first thought after seeing the incident (well, there's also second guessing the decision to escalate the level of force used, but I didn't seriously consider that; again, as a civilian, all this will never come up).


I find a flashlight and OC spray incredibly useful, and very rarely (in the US) would ever carry a ccw handgun or rifle/shotgun without a light (mounted to weapon or for use in hand) and also pepper spray. And a knife, which is incidentally a retention tool for the firearm, but mainly utility (except when I had my overt body armor, where I carried a large fixed blade near to on-vest pistol).

Without a non-lethal option, you're stuck. There are situations which don't warrant a lethal response, or which don't absolutely require a lethal response, but where if you get close, weapon retention becomes a serious issue, turning the whole thing into a lethal force justified encounter. Which is a huge problem for police who open carry handguns; less of an issue if you CCW.

Tasers are huge, and unless openly carried or in a house, are basically the same form factor as a handgun. If I were a high-risk person (smaller, female, disabled, etc.) in a place where I couldn't or wouldn't carry a handgun, it would be an option. It might also be an option in a place where use of force but non-lethal force was likely, like a mental hospital, bar, etc. Otherwise, the optimum seems to be OC/knife/light, and then handgun.


Do you have a flashlight that you like for EDC? I have not been able to find a flashlight that I am happy with. It seems you get to pick two of the following: size, light-output/general quality, and cost. The first two are straight forward but the cost criteria might be unique to me. I don't want to have to treat the light like it is a sacred totem and/or I don't want to have to worry about losing the light.

I do not face the same quandary with a pocket knife. I always have either a Spyderco Tenacious or Persistence on me. (Depending on local laws and wardrobe requirements) Size and quality criteria are easily met with the tenacious/persistence. The kicker is they cost ~$45 so I don't have to worry about losing them and I never feel guilty abusing them if I need to scrape or pry something. The cherry on top is that I can throw a zip tie on the thumbhole and I essentially have an auto opener that is legal where actual auto-opener would not be.


I carry a NovaTac 120T or 120P and a Kershaw Ken Onion Shallot (damascus) when I'm wearing "field" type clothing, and a little Fenix P2D and a Ken Onion Leek (d2 composite) more often. I have about 15 leeks (and gave out about 50 as gifts); I love assisted openers, and they're a great design, with great steel (especially the CPM M4 or D2 versions).

I tend not to lose things when actually wearing them; it's when they go into storage that it becomes a problem, and I've solved that with labeled/inventoried plastic bins and baggies. So, I didn't really care about cost (maybe $100?). I got Fenixes when slickdeals said Amazon/etc. had them on sale (some around $10), and I got some other stuff from PXes in Iraq and Afghanistan (where it was also cheap -- like the Cold Steel SRK was $49, so I got a bunch).

(on the other; I don't have a California CCW because I don't live in San Mateo County (the only Bay Area county which is vaguely lawful in how it issues CCWs); for states where I can, Ruger LCR or G19 depending on clothing, rarely a 1911. If I move to San Mateo, probably Sig P938.)

The only lights I've been amazingly impressed by are the Surefire shotgun foreends I put on my Mossberg 590s, and the kickstarter programmable rechargeable light (hexbright).


I carry a Preon penlight with 2AAAs. It is a pain in the butt with the switch being too easy, but I also stick a pepper spray pen next to it in my pocket, and that's enough to keep it from getting pressed accidentally.

For a knife, I most often carry a Kershaw Cryo or a Ken Onion Ripple. I have no illusion about using either for self defense.

See this page: http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/knifelies.html

A lot of that applies to guns as well.


Yeah, a lot of the stuff on that page is true, but you can address it through "situational awareness" -- i.e. not letting a high-threat person get close enough to you to suddenly stab you.

The very specific case of someone grabbing a gun is the one area where I feel comfortable using a knife in self defense. Other than that it would be my absolute last choice (unarmed, even, might be better).

I'm generally in my house, in my car, or in an office somewhere -- all fairly secure environments, where I have 10-15 seconds to draw, or possibly even grab a long arm. My goal is to have a house/office on enough land that it takes >60sec for even SWAT to get to the front door after initially being noticed (a 150mph helicopter might be difficult, though), and maybe 30+ seconds to breach it (minimum).


And for whoever downvoted me for political reasons, I am a 2nd amendment supporter. It just so happens I'm against a lot of the macho BS that surrounds guns as well. Logic and principle demand both.


The C2 Taser is not huge, and it has a flashlight form factor.


As an (fire-)armed citizen, so called "less lethal" weapons are not particularly practical to cart around, or wield while checking out a bump in the night while also carrying a flashlight, so I have not seriously studied them and e.g. the way they're deployed and used by police.

The C2 TASER is a flashlight.

I would not go around my house searching for the bad guys, in any case. You hole up in your safe room and dial 911 from behind cover. Massad Ayoob recommends against going on the prowl to search out the bad guys. The pros don't even do that alone without backup. He notes that it's also a good way to get yourself shot when the cops do arrive on the scene.


The C2 TASER doesn't look like it would be easily used with a handgun. I've got a small Surefire with an activation button in the back and a lanyard so I can let go of it if needed.

One needs to distinguish between "a bump in the night" that might be an intruder but probably isn't, and a known intruder. It's impractical to call the police for every instance of the former, and nowadays down right unwise unless absolutely necessary ("Don't talk to the police"). But I would of course hole up and call them if I'm sufficiently certain.


> The C2 TASER doesn't look like it would be easily used with a handgun.

No, you should have a light attached to your handgun, or use the technique of separating centermass from your light. The point I was making is that the C2 Taser is its own weaponlight, which you indicated you didn't know.

> One needs to distinguish between "a bump in the night"...I would of course hole up and call them if I'm sufficiently certain.

Going forth in the dark of night and presenting yourself to an intruder is probably not going to be the best strategy, especially if it's an intruder. Your home safety plan should probably include procedures for identifying an intruder without putting yourself in harm's way. For myself, I can usually tell by the sound. If I can't, I'm locking the door and I have a means of blocking it as well. If they bust through, then they face the consequences.

In California, the law is that a citizen has a "duty to retreat." You can only legally use deadly force against someone if you've already tried to do so, or you think it's not an option.


When I ponder why the War on Drugs continues, even on fronts that have been pretty well settled (marijuana), I don't think it takes much more thought beyond understanding money and bureaucracy.

Political and law enforcement agencies have been fueled by federal money and grants, which they've poured into militarizing the police. You stop the War on Drugs, then you stop that money flow. These former warriors may not experience a net-loss in pay or jobs, but they get kicked back to office duty, their departments are slashed...at some point, some middle manager or higher-level exec loses their exciting, plum job. It just takes a bunch of these to continue pushing the idea of the War on Drugs, and it has nothing to do with the actual harm of drugs.

This is related to the militarization of police because that's what agencies happened to pour their money into (well, can you blame them? The top level of fed government called it a "War on Drugs"). Imagine if they poured that money into fighting the drug problem, but through social services. We'd be complaining about the nanny-state of social services, but somehow, I'd think that be a much more pleasant situation than turning cops into heavily armed community warriors.


> Some forty Detroit police officers dressed in commando gear ordered the gallery attendees to line up on their knees, then took their car keys and confiscated their vehicles...(More than forty cars were seized, and owners paid around a thousand dollars each to get them back.)

So the people were not arrested, or charged with crimes, yet their personal property was confiscated by the Police.

Can a Police officer walk up to me on the street and take my wallet and keys? I don't think so, so why can they do it here?

In all seriousness, it's shocking and scary the Police can do whatever the hell they want to.


Yes, the police can steal anything from you that they want. They do not need to arrest you or charge you with a crime, or even show evidence that a crime even occurred. The burden of proof is on you that you didn't break any laws. The idea is that they're charging your property with a crime, not you, and since your property is not a person it has no rights.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that this kind of asset forfeiture is constitutional.


In some jurisdictions it's illegal for the police to seize property like this for their own use, and all proceeds have to go to local schools or such. Thankfully for local police the FBI is happy to officially take custody of the seized money and then pass most of it back to the police, letting them bypass those laws.


Looked it up and I was wrong about this being the FBI, it's actually the DEA.


>Can a Police officer walk up to me on the street and take my wallet and keys? I don't think so, so why can they do it here?

I'm pretty sure they can. And more than that, they can do it in such a way that it would cost you far more than your wallet (possibly your car) to fight it in court.


As others have pointed out, apparently the police can seize your property under certain circumstances. This was discussed recently when the article mentioned in this blog post was submitted here, well worth the read IMHO https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6161465


How is this different from highway robbery or privateering?


The only difference is it's almost impossible to defend yourself against these robbers.


This is sanctioned by the State.


That was the difference between privateers and pirates


What's it called when a state unleashes privateers on its citizens?


Civil War.


The police can do what they want, without repercussions. (OK, if they really screw up, they get suspended with pay.) We traded one class of criminals for another. The Joker would be pleased, I reckon.


The police broke into our home when I was 12 based on an anonymous tip from a kid I didn't know at school that I was selling cocaine.

They let themselves in our home after waiting for my parents to leave one day, confronted me, then attempted to plant evidence in our garbage can (and didn't because I was smart enough at 12 to question why they were putting something IN our garbage can).

All because of another kid at school (12 years old!!!) I didn't know telling one adult that I sold cocaine, without any evidence.


So the police stopped planting evidence because a 12 year old called them out on it? This sounds like a made up story.


Nah, you can assume at least one of them had a slumbering conscience that was awakened, and/or they weren't willing to kill the 12 year old witness and knew his testimony plus perhaps forensics would reveal, or at least put into sufficient question, their planting of evidence.


Another measure of tyranny (especially of the accidental/incompetence instead of malice kind) is the ease with which false accusers can get away with lying, for how long, and how bad an impact it can have on the accused.

Another way of putting it: In your society, how toxic and volatile is suspicion?

No society is perfect, and even though things are great in many ways, society in the US definitely has some oppression in it. The way forward is to take off political blinders (both left and right) and to be honest with ourselves about it.


I'm as troubled by the militarization of the police in America as anybody, but I'm also a bit troubled by how few of the stories deploring it note that it didn't occur in a vacuum. It grew out of encounters in the 1980s and 1990s where police found themselves drastically outgunned by people they were attempting to arrest.

Here's a couple of examples:

* The 1986 FBI Miami shootout (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_FBI_Miami_shootout): eight FBI agents armed with revolvers and shotguns confronted two suspects, one armed with a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine. The two suspects were killed, but not before killing two of the FBI agents and wounding five others. The ensuing FBI investigation cited the insufficient stopping power of the agents' service revolvers and the difficulty of reloading a revolver while under fire as key problems, and led to the Bureau moving from revolvers to automatic pistols chambered in a heavier caliber (which eventually became standardized as .40 Smith & Wesson).

* The 1997 North Hollywood shootout (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Hollywood_shootout): officers of the Los Angeles Police Department armed mostly with 9mm and .38 Special pistols confronted two bank robbers wearing body armor and wielding fully automatic rifles fitted with high capacity magazines. The officers quickly found that rounds fired from their pistols could not penetrate the robbers' body armor. A SWAT team armed with AR-15 rifles was called and eventually managed to bring them down, but not before eleven officers and six civilians had been wounded. Many metropolitan police forces began moving to arm more officers with rifles like the AR-15/M-16 as a result.

None of this justifies using SWAT tactics against unarmed civilians in a civil forfeiture case, of course. But it helps to explain how and why the firepower of police today is so much greater than it was, say, twenty-five years ago, and why the SWAT mindset grew from a small corner of the law-enforcement mind to something more front and center. (The other piece of the story is 9/11, which opened a floodgate of money and materiel to local law enforcement in the name of homeland security.)


I don't think that this is related at all, actually.

Criminals have been outgunning police for ages. It's literally impossible for police to have proper weapons deployed at every location at every time - just as it is literally impossible for the Marines in Afghanistan to have proper weapons at every place at every time. The criminals have the advantage of choosing when and where their crimes are committed, and the police the disadvantage of having to respond. This has been going on for thousands of years in all nations, yet this militarization is largely an American phenomenon.


There's plenty of documentation showing how these shootouts led directly to American police forces up-arming themselves. For example, see this (http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/miami-shootout-20th-anniver...) 2006 speech by John Pistole, then Deputy Director of the FBI (now TSA Administrator):

What also undoubtedly saved future lives were the lessons learned that day—lessons that transformed law enforcement tactics and training. Most immediately, special agents were issued semi-automatic handguns to replace the revolvers that many of the agents carried that day.

Or this (http://www.policemag.com/channel/weapons/articles/print/stor...) article from Police, "The Law Enforcement Magazine":

The [1997 North Hollywood] shootout gave law enforcement a compelling reason to better arm patrol officers with semi-automatic rifles.

There's plenty of room to argue whether this up-arming was an appropriate response to these events, but that's a very different question than whether or not they were connected.


That's not what we're really taking about.

"Uparming" individual officers from revolvers and shotguns to semi-automatic handguns and semi-auto "assault rifles", not inaccurately called "patrol rifles", not to mention concealable body armor, only makes sense. I in fact do or can do every one of those (my threat level is not high enough to routinely wear (uncomfortable) body armor).

It's the "no matter who you have to kill, go home safely", and the routine use of frank paramilitary stuff like SWAT teams and no-knock warrant for threats that don't require them that's an issue. Or look at puppycide, it's telling that so many police encounters with civilian's dogs end with the latter being executed. The Postal Service doesn't try to get away with that.


That evidence does not address the issue.

In order to show cause and effect, you must account for the other experimental groups (nations) which were subjected to the same stimuli yet reacted differently (far less than 2.7 SWAT raids per 10,000 residents).


Again, these are different questions. You're talking about establishing a statistical model to determine whether nations, in general, would respond to such incidents the way the US did. I'm talking strictly about establishing why the US did what it did.

If your point is that America is an outlier in this regard, I agree with you! But when you're trying to establish cause and effect in one specific case it doesn't really matter what other data points outside that case say. What matters is the internal dynamics specific to that case.


When the specific causes are not unique but are shared amongst many other experimental sets, then yes you must explain why the cause had one effect in your set but did not have that effect in the other sets.


From the wikipedia article. I'll admit, the first sentence is opinion of the author, but the rest backs up that opinion. I remember watching the 1997 video and the commentary afterward. There was a very large amount of support for adding military weapons to police departments.

I'm sure that 9/11 happening just four years later helped to further arm police departments when budgets for 'anti terror' increased. How else to spend the money except on armored personal carriers and fancy new equipment?

The ineffectiveness of the standard police patrol weaponry in penetrating the robbers' body armor led to a trend in the United States toward arming selected police patrol officers with semi-automatic 5.56 mm AR-15 type rifles.[14] Seven months after the incident, the Department of Defense gave 600 surplus M16s to the LAPD, which were issued to each patrol sergeant;[30] other cities, such as Miami, also moved to supply patrol officers, not just SWAT teams, with heavier firepower.[31] LAPD patrol vehicles now carry AR-15s as standard issue, with bullet-resistant Kevlar plating in their doors as well.[32] Also as a result of this incident LAPD authorized its officers to carry .45 ACP caliber semiautomatic pistols as duty sidearms, specifically the Smith and Wesson Models 4506 and 4566. Prior to 1997, only LAPD SWAT officers were authorized to carry .45 ACP caliber pistols, specifically the Model 1911A1 .45 ACP semiautomatic pistol.[33]


I would suggest that the stories about 9/11 anti terror funds and police being outgunned are mere rationalizations.

The police departments can have all of these weapons, the issue is how they are deployed and the consequences for violating the terms of engagement. If police officers were regularly sentenced to prison for killing puppies, for no knock raids, or killing innocents, then there would hardly be any controversy.


I agree but your first comment says "I dont think it is related at all". That is what I was responding to.


In Balko's book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Warrior-Cop-Militarization-Americ...

he talks about various aspects and how those incidents were relatively rare, and militarization has not been happening all that much because of outgunning, but rather government incentives for the War on Drugs and measures designed to have closer coordination between the military and police forces.


A related earlier discussion with some interesting comments: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6022638

(That discussion is not about the same story, but both stories are about the same Radley Balko book.)


"When does it make sense to use machine guns, armored vehicles, and flash-bang grenades on a crowd of people"

Obvious answer: on a battlefield, when the crowd of people is an opposing army.


How is not obvious to US citizens that the "enemy" that Manning was charged of aiding was themselves?

As a Brazillian, to me US looks like there is some sort of weird government vs. citizen war... And citizens are clueless about it, except a few fringe groups.


It's much wider than "a few fringe groups", the sorts of media sources you'd see that take a step back and try to look at the "big picture" are de facto organs of the state and aren't going to portray those of us getting ever more skeptical about the state in a favorable light, let alone accurately estimate our numbers (for fear they're getting really large).

It is a cold civil war, mostly getting steadily hotter (there are reverses, after the Waco and Ruby Ridge massacres the FBI took so much heat they largely reversed their direction).


An interesting and related HN thread:

“Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book”

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6001843


Just a small comment from a European to our friends in the states: you guys are nuts! No, seriously, I loved living in the states a couple of years ago and still have many good friends there. But sometimes it's just surreal to watch you from this side of the planet...


Worth noting that the first country I ever saw a public display of military-style force by the police (APCs rolling around in public, and cops carrying SMGs and assault rifles) was Spain, in 1992. On a recent trip through Germany I saw another APC emblazoned with police insignia rolling around the airport.

By way of comparison, US cops generally walk around only with sidearms - rifles and shotguns are left in the trunk or car and aren't pulled out in most encounters. Similarly, APCs / armored cars are not used for patrol by most departments, but called out for specific tasks.

The idea that this is a strictly American thing is ridiculous...


Y'all are nuts too, what with your freedom to drink in public and buy unpasteurized cheese.

Barbarians!


> “systems governed by bad policies and motivated by incentives will produce bad outcomes."

This can be applied to the entire US government, not just the police.


This can be applied to any system, not just the US government.


To me the most blatant depiction of how rapidly this change has occurred, is to watch action movies from the 80s even the 90s. In many, the police wear suites and only carry a revolver to apprehend the perps. Granted it is fiction, but it is a reflection of the current state of law enforcement.


It used to be that police were members of a community, serving a function as a part of that community. Now, they are often more like soldiers of an occupation force. Their weapons are often getting deadlier, they are wearing body armor, and often armored vehicles and helicopters are involved.

What we need is less show of force and more community involvement. Just like in Iraq & Afghanistan, we need more "hearts and minds" won to bring the cost of enforcing peace and the rule of law down to reasonable levels.


It's interesting that you're noting this, given the large number of officers who are ex-military. Seems quite possible to me that this is part of the reason for militarization of police forces in the first place.


Saw an interesting re-run of the U.S. news magazine show "60 Minutes" on my DVR yesterday. It was about how some police agencies are starting to us counter-insurgency techniques in an effort to control gangs in the cities. Many of those advocating are former soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan eager to apply lessons learned.

Good COIN is as much a PR game as anything, and to the degree that the police make friends and help out the local citizenry by going out of their way to be friendly, that's a great thing. But at the end of the segment, it showed a bust on a couple of small time drug dealers. A bread truck pulls up, and out pops a team of guys armed for a firefight: tactical vests, boots, helmets, night-vision, assault rifles. Looked like part of a badly-orchestrated marine amphibious landing.

I love the idea of community policing. Get the cops outta the cars and walking around. But after 9-11 we're turning police departments nationwide into clubs for retired and wannabe assault troops. Policing is dangerous specifically because you're supposed to be one of the community. The second you switch into an "us versus them" attitude, or start thinking "I'll do anything necessary to make sure I make it home safely tonight" then you're violating the public trust. Cops are the guys walking up to traffic stops carrying nothing but a holstered pistol and facing god knows what. They're not just another armed gang out to control public opinion by showing off their cool toys and weapons.

There's a difference between good COIN and good policing. I think we've forgotten that. Same goes for the difference between good close quarters combat and good COIN.

I also have a simple question: if SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, then what's so special about it when you're using it tens of thousands of times a year? It's just SOP Weapons and Tactics. That's whacked.

I wonder where the hell the politicians are in all of this and what happened to our country's mores. It used to be that police who took their job so seriously they wanted to act like paratroopers were ridiculed by the community, many of whom were just as trained as the cops were in the organized use of lethal force. Now we've created a system where only a very few folks get combat training in the military and then automatically filter into jobs where such training can be "transferred" Meanwhile the community, including the judges and politicians, are too afraid of being the guy who caused the next terrorist attack and too ignorant of what techniques are actually necessary to perform the role of supervisor.

The 60 Minutes reporter was very impressed by all of this anti-gang activity. You can tell a lot by the kinds of fluff pieces the media runs, and it's a bad spot we've gotten into.


I'm much more bothered by the wanna-be assault troops than the retired assault troops. Both on a scared-for-my-personal-safety level and on a go-join-the-military-you-wannabe-tryhard level.


This.

Retired infantrymen have already been in combat. Furthermore, they've already received a lot of training on rules of engagement and counterinsurgency. Many of them have an aversion to combat situations because they've experienced them and know that they suck. Wannabe troops, on the other hand, have Hollywood and tough-guy fantasy as their preparation. I'll take the first, thanks.


> Retired infantrymen have already been in combat

Maybe that depends on the time period. The 80's and early 90's cliche/trope was former military who never got to see action being gun crazy.

I imagine your view of "action" in the military sense depends very highly on whether you've seen any, and of what time. Fighting an entrenched insurgency where you have to wonder every moment whether you are going to be ambushed, whether every building you enter harbors an enemy combatant, that's probably enough to wean most off any illusions as to the glory.

Edit: to be clear, I'm using "you" in the general sense here. I'm not trying to imply any sort of military background of anyone.


The most prominent early SWAT team was brought to us by our good friend Daryl Gates and was more honestly called a "Special Weapons Assault Team"; the current backronym is merely for public consumption.


The symptom is the military gear and tactics. The disease is too much government spending.


That must be it. Proof: the violent and unnecessary military police shootings in Norway, Sweden and Denmark that are all over the news every day.


Government spending is not the problem here; much of the money used to buy this sort of equipment comes from asset forfeiture.

http://www.vice.com/read/bad-cop-blotter-asset-forfeiture-th...


Pp


It's an arms race between the cops and robbers. 30 years ago the cops carried .38 special revolvers and maybe a shotgun. After incidents like the North Hollywood Shootout, where criminals had body armor and semi-automatic rifles, cops had to step it up. You can't stop a bank robber with body armor using a .38 special.

Eventually, the cops will have to step it up again when criminals get access to armored vehicles, better body armor, and bigger guns.

In 10 years the LAPD will probably have an F-22 to shoot down the helicopter a gang of bank robbers starts using.




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