May 12, 2010


Here's Radley Balko's update on the Columbia, MO SWAT raid video, including the story of how the video came to light and bits of a heartbreaking email from the adult female victim in the targeted household.

As he points out, this is not just a case of misconduct by the Columbia Police: it is a national problem. "Odds are pretty good," he writes, "that your local police department is doing the same thing." And he adds: “calling for the heads of the Columbia SWAT team isn’t going to stop these raids.”

He's right that America's misguided drug policy is ultimately to blame for the militarization of police and excrescences like the Columbia raid. A change in national policy is long overdue, obviously. I do think, though, that one step in the right direction would be to hold police departments and the offending officers responsible in cases of clear abuse. Rolling heads can be a deterrent to the most aberrant behavior in the short term, while the long term (and frankly, long-shot) goal of nationwide reform could be worked on. I'd like local police chiefs and those comprising their departmental apparatus to think twice before authorizing such harsh treatment of people suspected of trivial transgressions, and it's hard to see how that works if no one ever loses his job.

Another important point is that, in practice, the difference between "no-knock" and "knock-and-announce" raids is largely ceremonial. (The Columbia raid was not "no knock," but you could have fooled me.) I'm no expert, but I do know that a great deal of legal verbiage and effort and argument has been expended on specifying the standards that demarcate these different types of "entry." If it makes no difference in practice, what's the point? Maybe a police chief who truly believed his job depended on not screwing up, honoring citizens' rights, and ensuring their safety would instruct his officers to give the guy more than 3 seconds to answer the door at 2 AM before busting in and shooting up the place. Seems worth a try, anyway.

Finally, let me quote one of Megan McArdle's commenters:

Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you're supposed to assume they might be cops? There are countries like that, of course, and a lot of people have moved from them to America for that reason.
Their bad, I guess. We are one of those countries. We've got to do better than this. Posted by Dr. Frank at May 12, 2010 12:41 AM | TrackBack

Funny, I think the problem is the policification of the military.

I think its helpful to ask ourselves, "What would Cromer do if he received orders from the true Prince Allois (of the Stewart line, currently the hereditary prince of Lichtenstein) to conquer and occupy Oakland?" Further we may ask, "Would this benefit the citizens of Oakland." I think history shows us that the answer to the latter question is certainly yes.

As to how he would do it, this is a military question and I am not an expert. However, I think a few things are clear. First, he would immediately recognize that gangs fight, like all men, for plunder, power, and glory. The way to defeat them is to show that they cannot achieve these things. No doubt there would be an initial occupation with a strictly enforce curfew, followed by the creation of a permanent mixed government in which Cromer's officers and administrators are given direct authority over both civil service and local tribal groups (be they the descendants of gangs or police forces).

It is instructive, in a grimly hilarious way, to note the assiduousness of American "liberations" in avoiding the construction of mixed authorities. Americans are always providing "advice" and "aid" to their free, sovereign and independent little brown brothers. They are never actually managing same. That might actually work, which would be dangerous. Indeed the present state of quasi-success in parts of Iraq has been achieved by putting Iraqi quasi-soldiers on the American payroll, which does not allow management, precisely, but gives a certain leverage.

Terminating direct military occupation, in which British soldiers are used as policemen, is the first imperative. Soldiers make perfectly good police, but there are not enough of them. To balance the shortage of manpower, they must be free to respond with a level of aggression that is inappropriate in most civilian contexts. This is unavoidable in an early occupation, and in fact necessary to demonstrate dominance. But while it may not invite grievance reprisals as per the "hearts and minds" theory, it hardly projects a sense of overwhelming security.

What we see in the pacification of a hostile country is a gradual transition from a state of war to a state of law. In a true war, the goal is victory and the motto is inter arma silent leges. Civilians are advised to stay out of the way, much as they are advised to avoid stepping in front of a bus. If you step in front of a bus and it hits you, the bus driver is not guilty of a "war crime."

As the outcome becomes clear and the number of dissenters drops, more costly, more reliable, and less arbitrary methods can be deployed against resistance. It is easy to render a military force ineffective by demanding a full trial before any shot is fired. But once opposition is reduced to sporadic, disorganized and unpredictable criminality, trials, appeals, defense attorneys, and the rest of the circus are not only necessary but indeed desirable. And no one is shot without it, not because no one can be shot without it, but because no one needs to be. Raw power hardens into justice, whose majesty is even more inexorable, and true freedom - freedom within order, not the false freedom of anarchy - is born.

As Prince Metternich, who is worth the whole Enlightenment put together, explained:
To me the word freedom has not the value of a starting-point, but of an actual goal to he striven for. The word order designates the starting-point. It is only on order that freedom can be based. Without order as a foundation the cry for freedom is nothing more than the endeavour of some party or other for an end it has in view.

the most effective tools for suppressing domestic opposition, political or military, are in what might be called the Orwellian class. Identification, surveillance, intelligence. The Chinese, of course, are the world leaders today. But this only reflects a lack of competition. I am confident that American ingenuity can catch up.

Orwellian population control is simply not needed for a peaceful, civilized society with a stable political system. It is a waste of money and an affront to decent, hard-working citizens. But in any attempt to establish peace where it does not exist, Orwellian control is essential. Most of us, at least most of us who are sane, would rather allow the police to know our exact position every hour, or even every half-hour, or even every minute, and never, ever, ever have to interact with a car bomb. Believe it or not, this form of rationality is if anything more universal in non-Western populations. Especially those who have interacted with car bombs.

Weakening government by preventing it from using Orwellian tools is simply not an effective way to ensure responsible government. If a government is responsible, it will not use Orwellian tools wantonly. It will not do anything else wantonly, either. If a government is not responsible, but rather sadistic and tyrannical, correcting this by restricting its military options - even supposing this could be done, since a sadistic state has little time for restrictions - is hardly a way to make it responsible.

Posted by: josh at May 12, 2010 02:48 PM

Wow, Josh, you could totally market that game!

I don't think it's at all insane to believe that individual autonomy and a degree of privacy in one's personal affairs is worth the risk of the occasional car bomb, if that is truly the trade-off. And I suppose if I had to choose, I'd opt to remain in a semi-lawless, deteriorating city like Oakland rather than volunteer for a world where the government could rub me out on a whim. I hope those aren't the only options, though!

Posted by: Dr. Frank at May 12, 2010 04:06 PM

The government can always rub you out on a whim. The structure of a government is what determines its whims. Today our police, along with our other security forces, bureaucracy, official press and other quasi-government agencies rarely rub people out, but that's about the best you can say about them. Clearly, when compared to the 19th century, our government is tyrannical. Worse, its pretty obvious we have not hit any sort of equilibrium; this country has been becoming more like Liberia as opposed to less like it for quite some time. I wonder if my daughter will look back on her life as an idyllic time in which the police didn't take bribes and hide bodies.

On the other hand, it is possible to create a world where the incentives of security forces are toward actual, honest to goodness, good government. Paper can't limit the government, the only thing that ever has is when the people at the top a) have the incentives closely aligned with the people and 2)have a chain of command structure which allows people to remove from power those that are using their positions to benefit themselves. the best governments in the history of the world, IMO, have been those that are directly controlled by the financial beneficiaries of the state.

The issue you raise is a false dichotomy. The citizens of Lichtenstein and Monaco (even when they were an absolute monarchy) enjoy a great deal of personal freedom from both police and muggers. Orwellian tactics are not needed in Lichtenstein and probably never will be again. It is an incredible shame what our government has wrought in Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland, etc. However, you can't use ordinary police tactics to conquer and that is the point we are at with the roving militant political armies of our cities. There is simply no excuse for the any American not to be able to walk down any street in the US at any time of day. Our cities are lost, they need to be retaken. Cromer could restore order in less than a year and with a minimum of bloodshed. People would quickly learn that its best not to join again (the hearts of course, follow the minds. Its incredible that only imbecilic thugs like Bin Laden remember that the people "like a strong horse). You could travel if you like.

Its a testament to the slow pace of our social upheaval that this:

is not a national state of emergency. This is a higher death rate than Massachusetts before the revolution which was considered lawless according to both patriot and loyalist accounts.

My solution is, of course, not a solution considering that we don't actually have a responsible government nor any plan for creating one. It's more of a thought experiment. I wouldn't dream of supporting the actual police much more power than they already had. I'd settle for restoring all interpretation of the consitution and police practices circa 1961, but with more cool non-lethal weapons. Alas, it is too late for this to do much good. Not to mention the fact that it can't possibly happen. This is America's Brezhnev phase.

Posted by: josh at May 12, 2010 05:04 PM

I guess I raised the issue that's a false dichotomy. I should reread my posts.

Also, sorry for scaring away your other commenters.

Posted by: josh at May 12, 2010 05:10 PM
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