The War on Drugs, Overcriminalization, and the Rise of Militarized Police Raids

Deroy Murdock has an interesting National Review column describing the rise of abusive, military-style police raids:

Overarmed federal officials increasingly employ military tactics as a first resort in routine law enforcement. From food-safety cases to mundane financial matters, battle-ready public employees are turning America into the United States of SWAT.

FBI agents and U.S. marshals understandably are well fortified, given their frequent run-ins with ruthless bad guys. However … armed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Even Small Business Administration and Railroad Retirement Board staffers pack heat!

These “ninja bureaucrats,” as [Quin] Hillyer calls them, run rampant. They, and often their local-government counterparts, deploy weapons against harmless, frequently innocent, Americans who typically are accused of non-violent civil or administrative violations.

Murdock describes many disturbing examples of such raids, such as this one:

On July 13, 2010, a dozen St. Paul, Minn.–area policemen and a federal Drug Enforcement Agency officer assaulted Roberto Franco’s home. Clad in Army fatigues, they rousted all nine people there, including three children. “Each plaintiff was forced to the floor at gun and rifle point and handcuffed behind their backs,” states Franco’s $30 million federal lawsuit against these authorities. “Defendants shot and killed the family dog and forced the handcuffed children to sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour while defendants continued to search the plaintiffs’ home.”

According to the complaint, one young girl who “was handcuffed and prevented by officer from obtaining and taking her medication thus induced a diabetic episode as a result of low blood-sugar levels.”

As Murdock points out, such brutal military-style tactics are incentivized by the War on Drugs, and by federal subsidization of state and local law enforcement agencies’ acquisition of military training and military weapons. They are also exacerbated by the criminalization of an extraordinarily wide range activities that should either be completely legal or at least are better dealt with through civil penalties.

UPDATE: I have changed “militaristic” in the title of this post to “militarized.”

UPDATE #2: I should spell out the fact that the reason why overcriminalization contributes to this problem is that, if there were fewer crimes on the books, agencies such as the Education Department and the Agriculture Department would have no reason to maintain militarized law enforcement units. And there would also be fewer opportunities to engage in abusive raids for those military-style law enforcement units that would still exist.

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