NorthJersey.com has an impressive piece on the overuse of SWAT teams to conduct routine drug raids in New Jersey. It’s a thorough and informative discussion that includes law-enforcement perspectives as well as those of innocent citizens who’ve been targeted. There’s a lot of revealing stuff here:
“The reporting back is on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Dante Mongiardo. “Nobody is compiling any six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in 98 percent of them.”
Capt. Robert Prause, commander of the Prosecutor’s Office narcotics task force, stresses that officers are “not just randomly picking the house.”
“A very large percentage of the time, we do find the contraband we’re looking for,” he said.
So they don’t keep track, but if they did, the numbers would be impressive according to them. I think it’s time for somebody to actually start compiling “six-month or yearly reports saying of the 100 (warrants) that we approved, drugs were found in [X] percent of them.” Then we’d have a better sense of how often things like this happen:
In December 2005, officers with the Paterson police narcotics bureau had a warrant to look for drugs in the brown house. But before dawn, they burst into the DeCree/Clancy house instead. DeCree, 37, said he heard officers outside his closed bedroom door tell him they’d shoot him and his barking dog.
“They was nasty, making comments like they’re police, they can do whatever they want, go call your mayor, your councilman,” said DeCree. “I felt violated because I wanted to protect my family. All I wanted to do was physically put them out of my house.”
Contrast DeCree’s claim with this statement from Sheriff’s Department spokesman Bill Maer in regards to an excessive force allegation from a different raid:
“Those allegations are ridiculous,” Maer said. “I think the report speaks for itself. There has been no official complaint regarding any incident that occurred to the Sheriff’s Department, or to the best of my knowledge, any other agency. So we don’t consider any complaints or even accounts of that story as credible.”
So if you don’t file a formal complaint, they don’t consider you credible. But according to victims of these raids, they tell you it’s pointless to complain!
I think this pretty much says it all:
Unlike in many states, in New Jersey, nearly every document generated by a raid — from the testimony that officers present to a judge to obtain a search warrant, to search warrants themselves, to the police reports detailing whether police found illegal drugs or weapons – is not public, even after the raid is executed. Most of the two dozen people interviewed spoke only on the condition that they would not be named, saying they feared officers would retaliate against family members or simply return to harass them.
The increase in paramilitary policing excesses, coupled with excellent reporting from Radley Balko and a few local papers, is finally beginning to bring some light to this growing threat to public safety. Still, as long as citizens are too intimidated to come forward, it will remain difficult to articulate the magnitude of the problem.
My favorite among Balko’s recommendations for reducing the harms associated with paramilitary police raids is that officers videotape all home invasions as a matter of routine. There’s an obvious mutual benefit to this in that citizens would enjoy an added safeguard, while police would be shielded from erroneous complaints.
Unfortunately, since police are rarely sanctioned for mistakes and misconduct during SWAT raids, they have little incentive to keep records whose most likely effect is to incriminate the officers themselves.
Of Course, if they’re not hiding anything, why should they worry?