The “shoot first, ask for immunity later” mentality of today’s law enforcement officers is perfectly highlighted in this story about a US military veteran finding himself on the receiving end of a military-style raid… all because a “helpful” neighbor reported him for being in the “wrong” apartment. (via Amy Alkon)
Alex Horton, an Iraq war veteran, was having some work done on his apartment. During the repairs, his landlord put him up in a “model unit.” He fell asleep in an apartment otherwise known to be unoccupied. A passing neighbor apparently saw him in the apartment through the cracked door and reported this to the police. What happened next was standard operating procedure — both for the US military and US law enforcement.
I got home from the bar and fell into bed soon after Saturday night bled into Sunday morning. I didn’t wake up until three police officers barged into my apartment, barking their presence at my door. They sped down the hallway to my bedroom, their service pistols drawn and leveled at me.
It was just past 9 a.m., and I was still under the covers. The only visible target was my head.
In the shouting and commotion, I felt an instant familiarity. I’d been here before. This was a raid.
I had done this a few dozen times myself, 6,000 miles away from my Alexandria, Va., apartment. As an Army infantryman in Iraq, I’d always been on the trigger side of the weapon. Now that I was on the barrel side, I recalled basic training’s most important firearm rule: Aim only at something you intend to kill.
The militarization of police goes far beyond simply arming them with the military’s leftover vehicles and weapons. It also informs their tactics. But law enforcement only cherry-picks what it likes about the military. Horton’s article for the Washington Post points out that law enforcement officers don’t handle their weapons like military members do. Soldiers are taught that guns are deadly and should only be pointed at targets the soldier intends to kill. Police officers are taught to use their guns for intimidation, without nearly as much attention paid to drilling home the point that guns are deadly and should be respected — especially by the ones wielding them.
[Erik] Rhoads, the Fairfax County police lieutenant, was upfront about this mind-set. He explained that it was standard procedure to point guns at suspects in many cases to protect the lives of police officers. Their firearm rules were different from mine; they aimed not to kill but to intimidate. According to reporting by The Washington Post, those rules are established in police training, which often emphasizes a violent response over deescalation. Recruits spend an average of eight hours learning how to neutralize tense situations; they spend more than seven times as many hours at the weapons range.
This is what turns a report of a squatter in an apartment into a fully-armed raid. It didn’t have to be this way. This “situation” could have been defused at any point before the officers rushed into the apartment with weapons drawn. The security guard at the complex could have been asked about the person in the model apartment. The apartment’s owner and management could have provided helpful information as well. But no one — not even Shift Commander Erik Rhoads — even considered arming police officers with additional information. They had guns and the authority to use them. That was enough.
When I later visited the Fairfax County police station to gather details about what went wrong, I met the shift commander, Lt. Erik Rhoads. I asked why his officers hadn’t contacted management before they raided the apartment. Why did they classify the incident as a forced entry, when the information they had suggested something innocuous? Why not evaluate the situation before escalating it?
Rhoads defended the procedure, calling the officers’ actions “on point.” It’s not standard to conduct investigations beforehand because that delays the apprehension of suspects, he told me.
It also delays the apprehension — the violent apprehension, I might add — of non-suspects, as was the case with Horton. It instead expedites the sort of stupidity that would be comical if it weren’t so dangerous for everyone involved. The willful ignorance of situations, explained away by the “need” to swiftly apprehend criminals, leads to more death and violence. And not just for “suspects.” It makes the situation more dangerous for cops as well. It’s as if modern law enforcement agencies view the “fog of war” as a tactical advantage, even though nothing about the history of that terms suggests it has ever been viewed that way by actual combatants.
This is an astounding admission. Rhoads, a commanding officer, is willing to purposefully endanger his own officers in the pursuit of a few more busts. His officers, apparently, are more than willing to be abused in this fashion, as long as it means they can dress up in tactical gear and yell a lot while pointing guns at people. Beyond that, though, he’s willing to willfully endanger the public by purposefully avoiding any information-gathering that might make these interactions safer for both his officers and those they seek.
Rhoads’ statement explains why flashbang grenades get tossed into toddlers’ cribs. In the haste to bust someone responsible for $50 worth of drug sales, facts were withheld and investigative reconnaissance of the residence kept to a minimum. It allowed the raiding officers to operate with a minimum of concern for the occupants. All they had to know was “no-knock” and “drug dealer.” Everything else was irrelevant.
Deployed troops are put into extremely dangerous situations every day and yet they are expected to maintain relationships with the people in the areas they patrol and not assume every tense situation can only be defused by gunfire. Back in the US where the streets are infinitely safer, the opposite is true. Force and aggression are the favored tactics and an officer’s life is valued above all others. This isn’t how policing is supposed to work and it betrays the public these officers are supposed to serve.
I understood the risks of war when I enlisted as an infantryman. Police officers should understand the risks in their jobs when they enroll in the academy, as well. That means knowing that personal safety can’t always come first. That is why it’s service. That’s why it’s sacrifice.
Here in the US, it’s the public that’s expected to make these sacrifices. A “civilian” is expected to die before an officer does and collateral damage is not only to be expected, it’s wholly encouraged by those with the same mentality as Lt. Erik Rhoads.