Police Raid Ethics

At 5:30 a.m. on Thursday of last week,  police officers, weapons drawn, burst into the home into the house and pointed guns at the McKay family of Spring Valley, New York. David McKay said officers were screaming for someone named Michael, and when he tried to explain that nobody by that name lived there, the police pulled him, in his underwear, outside into the freezing cold. Then officers ordered McKay’s 13-year-old daughter out of her bed at gunpoint, a trauma that caused her to vomit, faint, and later to have an asthma attack.

Oopsie. The police and the Drug Enforcement Administration were staging a raid to disrupt a drug distribution ring, seeking a suspect who lived at 46 Sharon Drive in Spring Valley. McKay, his wife, brother-in-law,  daughter, and two dogs reside at 36 Sharon Drive.

John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, issued an apology to the McKays the next day, saying, “We sincerely regret that while attempting to execute an arrest warrant for a member of this drug trafficking organization, the innocent McKay family was inadvertently affected by this enforcement operation.” He also said that such incidents were rare but difficult to eliminate, and that such mishaps would not deter the DEA from the paramilitary raids that have been successful in the war on drugs.”DEA will continue to pursue these criminal organizations to protect the public from the scourge of drug trafficking,” he said.

Really? At what point does the risk of serious injury or trauma to innocent citizens rule out crime-fighting measures, regardless of how successful they are overall?

As law enforcement agencies become more aggressive in their pursuit of drug suspects,  police raids at the wrong address are on the rise nationwide.  Reason writer/ researcher Radley Balko wrote a report, “Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America”, in 2006 when he was an analyst at the Cato Institute, and found that reports of so-called “wrong-door” raids in which police, often heavily armed, enter the wrong home have increased dramatically
over the past 20 years. A few of many examples:

  • Ivamae Green of Mount Vernon, New York sued the city after  police officers mistakenly raided her home and performed invasive body searches.
  • Yonkers settled a lawsuit with a man whose apartment was raided mistakenly 2007. Two police officers fired 15 shotgun rounds and killed three pit bulls in the small apartment where the 49-year-old man and his children were sleeping.
  • Another Yonkers family was awarded a $20,000 settlement from the city after police burst into the family’s apartment in 2007 with weapons drawn in search of drugs.
  • A Michigan couple won a $215,000 settlement last month after officers charged into the wrong house during a drug raid in 2008.
  • Atlanta paid $4.9 million settlement to the family of a 92-year-year-old who, thinking she was the victim of a home invasion, fired a pistol at the police who were mistakenly breaking into her home. Police returned fire, killing her
  • This spring, a 76-year-old woman died of a heart attack after Polk County, Georgia police mistakenly arrived at her home with guns drawn.

As a society, we accept a limited loss of human life for necessary activities like construction work and coal mining. We know that a certain number of commuters will die as the result of automobile transportation.. But when a law enforcement measure requires that a significant number of innocent Americans, their children and pets will be terrified, man-handled, traumatized or shot because of inevitable errors and mix-ups, it is time to declare that method too costly to be responsible and prudent.

High speed police vehicle chases were once deemed necessary to discourage felons from fleeing law enforcement, but communities became alarmed at the frequent deaths and injuries to innocent bystanders, and seriously curtailed them. The same fate should befall paramilitary police raids. If they cannot be employed without tragic errors that result in dead or frightened law-abiding citizens, and they apparently cannot, then it is wrong to use them at all. It makes no sense for the price of being freed from the scourge of drugs to include the real possibility of being shot in our own homes.

 

4 thoughts on “Police Raid Ethics

  1. Another excellent post, and a time I agree with a writer at the Cato institute.

    On a related note, police tactical units broke into my house a week and a half ago while I was out. The odd thing? Everything they did was both legal and ethical. I don’t even have a complaint about it. The ranking officer was a small scale ethics hero. I have plans to send his superior a letter praising him about it. That this incident followed immediately after an unrelated incident where an off duty police officer acted both illegally and unethically toward me (I had to call 911 to resolve the situation) might be coloring my perceptions, but not that much.

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