Following are detailed recommendations from StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) on policy reforms we believe are needed to stem the epidemic of reckless police raids in America. For those who want to learn more about this issue, we recommend the 2006 report Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, by former Cato Institute analyst and current Reason Foundation writer Radley Balko. Also, click here for an archive of relevant coverage of this issue by StoptheDrugWar.org; and view complete results from the 2007 Zogby poll question that we commissioned here -- preview: 66% of likely American voters want it stopped.
Aggressive tactics include, but are not limited to:
- unannounced "no-knock" entries;
- entries that are announced in name only (e.g. do not allow a reasonable amount of time for a resident to answer the door);
- use of battering rams;
- use of flash-bang grenades;
- unnecessary brandishing of weapons;
- carrying unnecessarily heavy weaponry (e.g. assault rifles);
- unnecessary shouting;
- wearing of ninja-like, all-black uniforms, masks, or hoods;
- unnecessarily scheduling raids very early in the morning or very late at night when residents are most likely to be startled or terrified;
- unnecessary restraining or use of force against people or animals.
All of these should be prohibited for use in most non-emergency situations. Steps to restore the necessary arms-length relationship between police and the military should at a minimum include:
- termination of direct military/police cooperation in drug enforcement;
- termination of the provision of retired military surplus equipment to police forces, with at most rare and carefully-considered exceptions; and
- recommitment to the separation of our military from our police forces that held for more than a century of our nation's history, and to that end the repeal or rescinding of Acts of Congress and Executive Orders that have diluted it.
The following criminal justice reforms, at a minimum, are needed to address the dilution of ethical standards that plagues today's criminal justice system:
- requiring that officers conducting knock-and-announce warrants wait a reasonably sufficient time for a person inside to answer the door before executing a forced entry;
- termination of per-arrest funding schemes for drug enforcement or per prisoner incarcerated, instead allocating enforcement resources based on academically-sound measures of overall public safety need;
- abolition of federally-funded and multi-agency drug task forces, which have an extensive record of corruption and racial bias, and which undermine standards of accountability;
- improving evidentiary standards to require corroborating evidence beyond the unsupported word of police officers or informants before any charges are brought or convictions obtained, or before a no-knock warrant may be issued except in very rare circumstances (but also recognizing that no-knock warrants should only be carried out in very rare circumstances);
- requiring statutorily that evidence obtained through illegal searches be inadmissible in court;
- requiring that presenting officers sign a sworn statement attesting that the warrant has not been brought before a judge before and declined, or if it has then providing documentation from the previous judge or judges as to why;
- reforming asset forfeiture law to protect individuals who have not been convicted of the crime in question, and accruing all forfeiture proceeds to the general treasury of the state or federal government rather than the law enforcement agency or local government;
- require that federal law enforcement agencies adhere to the ethical and procedural requirements that states and localities have put in place for their own agencies, in addition to federal requirements;
- forbidding state or local police agencies from using federal or other multi-agency partnerships to circumvent the will of the legislatures that govern them;
- limiting the immunity from civil damages that police agencies may enjoy in police raid cases;
- for the sake of basic justice, establishing that persons who reasonably believe they or their families may be under deadly attack by criminals, and who take actions to defend themselves, are not considered to be guilty of crimes; and reviewing cases such as those of Edwin Delamora, Cory Maye and Eugene Barrett, who are currently incarcerated because of such circumstances; and
- for victims of wrongful, mistaken or inappropriately conducted police raids to be entitled to financial compensation commensurate with their loss and suffering.
So that official bodies charged with overseeing our police agencies can effectively do their job, and for the sake of openness in the policy debate on these important issues, we call for:
- reporting of all SWAT team activity, with outcomes, to legislative bodies (see Maryland's 2009 bill, HB 1267, for an example);
- the establishment of publicly-accessible databases of detailed information relating to search warrants and their manner of execution, omitting only the names of confidential informants;
- for all law enforcement agencies to annually report key statistics related to search warrants (especially when they result in police killings) to state and federal justice agencies, which shall annually publish them;
- for the jurisdiction of citizen police review boards to include the total circumstances of incidents, not only police officer misconduct;
- for full information on incidents to be provided to review boards; and
- for persons targeted by raids that resulted in injury, or of which the propriety has been questioned, and public advocates to have the right to unseal relevant warrants.