Door-busting drug raids: Are they worth it?

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The New York Times began publishing today the results of a near year-long project by Kevin Sack on door-basting drug raids by police SWAT officers with no-knock warrants.

The series opens with  description of an episode in which military-equipped officers broke open a door and tossed a flash-bang grenade on the strength of a warrant issued  following a $50 undercover drug buy The grenade landed in a playpen.

The nut of the Times project:

As policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door.

Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found.


For the most part, governments at all levels have chosen not to quantify the toll by requiring reporting on SWAT operations. But The Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.

The casualties have occurred in the execution of no-knock warrants, which give the police prior judicial authority to force entry without notice, as well as warrants that require the police to knock and announce themselves before breaking down doors. Often, there is little difference.

Innocents are harmed, including police officers. And the difference with other police shootings is that these actions are initiated by police. Might there be a better way?  Conventional warrant service, for example?  It's not much wonder in heavily armed America that a person inside a house would pull a gun if somebody busts through a door unannounced.

Which brings us to Little Rock. Sack, who cautioned that his survey was as extensive as he could make it, but likely only a minimum of deaths in no-knock raids, recorded at least two deaths in no-knock raids in Little Rock. They were Irma Rogers in 2010 and Angelo Clark in 2012.

I remember the Clark case well. Police said he pointed a semi-automatic rifle at them as a SWAT unit burst through his door on South Tyler Street without knocking  about 6:30 a.m. to serve a warrant issued because of information that crack cocaine was being sold at the house.  Police said they identified themselves as they came through the door. Clark did not fire his weapon. No cocaine was found in the house, though marijuana was. The shooting was found justified.

The Clark case was mentioned in an ACLU report several years later on increasing militarization of police.  Sack gathered some of his data from that report.

Rogers was killed, another man was wounded and two SWAT officers were shot  in the 2010 raid in a house on Marshall Street. The link is to a court case detailing events in the appeal of a man arrested in the case. Crack cocaine was found in the house.

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