“Wrong door” raids

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

The Agitator is doing a fine job on the play-by-play following the Kathryn Johnston shooting. These are your drug war tax dollars at work. For a weak-willed waffler like myself it is nice to come across a policy area where the side of reason and justice is so obvious. Rapidly approaching single issue voter status.

By conservative estimates, there are about 110 of these types of raids per day in America. The vast majority are for drug crimes. Think this was the only one conducted after shoddy police work? Think this was the only one conducted based solely on the word of an informant? Think it’s pure coincidence that in the one raid that made national attention last week, we now learn that something went severely wrong in the investigation that led to it?

Of course not. This is standard operating procedure. This the way it’s done in a huge number of jurisdictions across the country. Not all. But far too many. I’ve had police officers tell me raids are never launched based solely on the word of an informant. But this one was. I’ve had police officers tell me there’s always extensive corroborating investigation to verify the address, house, and suspect. But not this time. I’ve had police officers tell me paramilitary raids are only conducted with the suspect is extremely dangerous, and has a history of violent behavior. Not this time. I’ve had police officers tell me they only target big suppliers with these raids, not small-time dealers or users. Again — that wasn’t the case, here.

I find it hard to believe that the only time time these shortcuts have been used are in those raids we read about in the newspaper — where an innocent person dies.

These assaults on people’s homes are high-stakes and have an extremely thin margin for error. Couple that with the inherent shortcomings of relying on shady informants — a critical tool in drug policing — and you get a recipe for hundreds of innocent people wrongly terrorized, and dozens more who end up dead. By my count, Kathryn Johnston is number 41. Throw in nonviolent offenders and she’s number 61 — at least (I’m sure I haven’t found all of those cases).

And all of this — for what?

To stop people from getting high.

34 Comments

  1. I people think should be able to get high they whenever want.

  2. People who want to destroy themselves always find a way.

  3. Sadly, it’s so obvious that I have a hard time arguing it. To me it just seems self-evidently, axiomatically wrong to jail people for doing things that don’t harm third parties, and my mind never ceases to boggle that anyone can feel otherwise. It’s a perfectly evil belief, yet a significant number of otherwise decent people believe it. I suspect this is related to the psychology of “cleanliness” and disgust — the rhetoric of characterizing substance abuse as an “epidemic” and such seems to fit with this. And it doesn’t help in the case of hallucinogens (broadly construed, i.e. including dissociatives and pot) that they’re pretty much inherently subversive.

  4. Matt, apparently that idea is not so self-evident to some. Perhaps if I wasn’t a callous non-bleeding-heart libertarian I’d be more persuaded by arguments for paternalism but as it is I don’t see it as possible for the government to really know anyone’s self-interest better than they know it themselves and even if they did I don’t view it as the government’s job to look after anyone else’s self-interest, but to prevent the (negative) rights of citizens from being violated.

  5. “Sadly, it’s so obvious that I have a hard time arguing it. To me it just seems self-evidently, axiomatically wrong to jail people for doing things that don’t harm third parties, and my mind never ceases to boggle that anyone can feel otherwise.” 
     
    The notion that living in a society where a significant portion of the population gets high on a regular and uncontrolled basis cannot ‘harm you as a third party’ is ridiculous on its face to most people. Which explains public support for this ‘evil’ policy.  
     
    As an aside, I have a gnarling suspicion that free will is oversold – at the very least as an analytical tool…

  6. Times were, in Britain we’d say “That’s your excitable Yanks for you”. But under the Blairite terror, our police recently raided a house and shot (not fatally) a resident, when afterwards no evidence was found. If the newspapers are to be believed, the raid would seem to have been based on info from a mentally retarded informant. 
     
    Still, the business in hand was terror, not drugs. And I suppose that it’s just conceivable that the raid was fomented in hopes that it would fail, and inhibit the police in future. But more likely….. Blair.

  7. 1. I already live in a society where a significant portion of the population gets drunk on a regular and uncontrolled basis. 
     
    2. Perhaps worse than being high, another significant portion of our population is imprisoned

  8. Just think of it as evolution in action. 
     
    Just one more way that high IQ and an ability to delay gratification helps you navigate through life.

  9. So, if you’re really smart and can delay gratification, you save your money and buy a house someplace where the people are so wealthy and well-connected that the police don’t dare stage midnight raids on the wrong house, or even on the right house?

  10. I am not entirely opposed to government paternalism, and some drugs do seem intrinsically destructive, but cocaine / heroin / amphetamine prohibition hasn’t been very successful. 
     
    However, marijuana is still a felony drug in many places (and in some circumstances everywhere), and it just shouldn’t be. At my age I know at least five people who have been smoking daily for 20-40 years with few or no problems. Homeowners, family men, steady employment (one in a tech field, one a PhD), no legal or emotional problems. One has a rather mild lung problem at age 65, but not as bad as lung cancer or other tobacco effects.  
     
    By contrast I know several people with disastrous alcohol problems, to say nothing of amphetamine or other hard drugs. 
     
    Anecdotal, yes, but the marijuana horror stories aren’t backed up by data either. Marijuana does seem to make people less ambitious and less successful, and people who already have problems probably shouldn’t use marijuana. 
     
    Someone might come along now with a correlation between marijuana and some bad thing, but at this point I don’t believe that these bad things justify making marijuana a felony crime.

  11. “I people think should be able to get high they whenever want.” 
     
    We’ve been there before. People can get high whenever they want. Then the same people wanted more, so they take meth, then meth made them crazy, while they are crazy, they started raping the neighbors’ daughters and killing sons. We cant afford to lock them all up because the sons and daughter who are supposed to pay taxes to feed them while they are in the jailhouse are already dead.  
     
    If it was my son or daughter you murdered, do you really think I should continue working so I can feed you while you are watching TV in the jailhouse? I’d rather kill you too. 
     
    So whats a little inconvenience – cops breaking down your door? 
     
    As to the wealth, its not about wealth. You have drug dealers who lives in wealthy suburbs. My neighbor, a Mexican (dont speak English, Mexican clothes, dont vote, claimed that he doesnt pay taxes ) bought a house, have a ranch. Now how can he do that? Drug mule, or in white slavery business probably.

  12. Marijuana does seem to make people less ambitious and less successful, and people who already have problems probably shouldn’t use marijuana. 
     
    Well, there’s the rub. 
     
    There is a conflict between individual self-interest and national self-interest here — ambition and success have very important positive externalities that often aren’t captured in the individual’s utility function. There has been selection throughout history for policies that maximize national power, with stuff like pensions being selected for (ugh), and killing/driving out your country’s most productive minority being (thankfully) selected against. Selection for policies maximizing individual freedom has only occurred to the extent that it has, on net, also benefited national power. 
     
    With statistically productivity-reducing drugs, the challenge is to identify a policy that offers more freedom than the present one without, on net, increasing drug use any more than the additional costs (calculated from a national self-interest standpoint) of trying to enforce the present policy. Sadly, killing hundreds of random citizens is actually a negligible cost in this calculation; I understand why you guys like to emphasize this, but it’s not going to be convincing, and that’s not because “people are dumb and irrational” either. After all, the more productive my fellow citizens are, the more I benefit from innovations, lower prices, etc.; and it’s not unreasonable to accept an additional 0.0002% chance of random death for such benefits, given that I’m gonna die eventually anyway. 
     
    What is needed is a policy that simultaneously offers more freedom to drug users while not statistically decreasing net productivity (and ideally increasing it, so that non-drug users have reason to actively favor the policy rather than just being indifferent to it), and a convincing explanation/demonstration that it does this. I’m not sure we have discovered such a policy yet. But I think they exist.

  13. 1. I already live in a society where a significant portion of the population gets drunk on a regular and uncontrolled basis. 
     
    Ditto. So what? (There are some relatively stringent anti-alcohol measures on the books here too though, which is fine by me.) 
     
    2. Perhaps worse than being high, another significant portion of our population is imprisoned 
     
    Not so here – but would US society at large be better off with lower incarceration rates? That’s quite an open question.

  14. With statistically productivity-reducing drugs 
     
    Stereotypes aside, does marijuana really belong in this category? I tried googling an answer but I’m not sure that the flood of NORML links is completely trustworthy. I suppose Carl Sagan and his ilk could be outliers, but I wonder what the straight dope (pun intended) on the issue is.  
     
    I also found it interesting that in the aforementioned arguments for asymmetric paternalism article the suggestion was to give a cooling off period between the craving of drugs and the dispensing of drugs so that decision makers can make decisions more rationally. While they are not making a case for completely unhindered drug markets, i found this policy to strangely beneficial to both those looking for dugs and those who want to discourage wanton ( and productivity decreasing ) drug use.

  15. Basically, if you want individual freedom you can’t fine-tune the laws to maximize personal ambition and work ethic. Video games, comic books, and fantasy novels also reduce ambition. There has to be some threshold above which individuals live their own lives free of social engineering.  
     
    I probably shouldn’t have said anything at all; all the people I mentioned have been self-supporting full-time employed all their lives, half of them in high-skill areas, and all of them have interests outside work. They’re just not careerists.  
     
    No non-Muslim country has “stringent” anti-alcohol measures. Stringent means years in jail for an ounce or so of hashish, and that happens in the US. If America’s marijuana laws were on a par with its alcohol laws, there’d be no NORML. 
     
    There’s no way I can see that America’s high incarceration rate is not a very bad thing, especially because it’s not accompanied by a very low crime rate. Even if you control for race, America’s incarceration rate is very high. Incarceration is more likely to degrade someone than to reform them.

  16. Basically, if you want individual freedom you can’t fine-tune the laws to maximize personal ambition and work ethic. Video games, comic books, and fantasy novels also reduce ambition. There has to be some threshold above which individuals live their own lives free of social engineering. 
     
    I agree with this sentiment. But the average voter is willing to give up a bit of freedom for a higher standard of living, and they’re even more willing to give up someone else’s freedom for it. It doesn’t help when they’ve been indoctrinated to believe that drug users are sinners that are going to burn in hell, etc. 
     
    The only practical way I see to increase freedom in the face of this sort of resistance is to ensure non-users get a tangible benefit from the proposed change in policy. I don’t think pro-drug legalization folks have paid enough attention to this yet; I believe they will have to if they want to stop residing in the political fringe and actually win elections. 
     
    (In the meantime, I am curious what is the actual magnitude of the effect of drugs like marijuana, and in particular whether the effect is smaller than that of other diversions that are actively socially approved. I honestly have no idea… and I have to wonder whether policymakers have any idea, either.)

  17. The marijuana users I’m thinking of are fully competent, but they don’t work 80 hour weeks to climb the ladder. Marijuana use may be either the cause or the result of lack of ambition. I’ve also known users who cleaned up their act, quit, and got back on the fast track. I think that there are few regular users at the top levels of any profession, but how would I know?  
     
    If I were a marijuana user, I wouldn’t be saying these things. It’s still a touchy subject and you don’t want to call attention to yourself if you’re a user.

  18. I am equally appalled by our draconian drug laws, but the recent election makes it clear to me that there is no real general appetite in the nation for moderating these laws (as even medical marijuana laws went down to defeat in referendums). This could be one of those cases where the average person may just know something that the elites (for example, the cognitive elites who comment on this site) do not – that tough drug laws do indeed deter drug use and that’s a good thing.

  19. shoot.. too bad today was so busy or i would’ve stood up for drugs more..  
     
    one of the standard pro-legalization tactics is to suggest that eliminating the spending on drug war enforcement (including sending helicopters to Colombia) + sin taxes would have significant fiscal benefit for a nation. would productivity decrease? i don’t know. i don’t think the process that led to the original criminalization of pot was based in economic argument.  
     
    There has been selection throughout history for policies that maximize national power. 
     
    Not all mutations are at fixation just yet. And niches change. 
     
    btw, is-ought is rampant in this discussion, but i suppose it is more productive to think of the reasons for the problem than to sit around and be irate on the internet.

  20. btw, is-ought is rampant in this discussion 
     
    I agree with this, if I’m understanding you correctly. It seems that you are saying that national/societal productivity has mattered more in history than individual freedom, and that therefore it always should. I happen to disagree with this.

  21. It seems that you are saying that national/societal productivity has mattered more in history than individual freedom, and that therefore it always should. I happen to disagree with this. 
     
    No, I don’t think it always should be that way. I am just calling attention to the fact that there are what amount to evolutionary constraints here. If, for example, the US traded off its power projection abilities for substantial immediate gains in individual freedom, the long-term effect on individual freedom may not actually be positive, depending on what countries like China and Russia do in response to the power vacuum. Orsee why we’ they may turn out okay. But voters aren’t going to support a gigantic roll of the dice. 
     
    There is a balance that must be struck between immediate freedom and ability to defend that freedom over the long haul. I am completely in favor of reducing the size of the state, and, if there is an “evolutionarily stable” way to do it, replacing the state entirely with independent smaller-scale organizations. But let’s not make Marx’s mistake of not subjecting the utopian vision (or the path to it, for that matter) to the same level of critique as the status quo.

  22. “Orsee why we’ they may turn out okay.” should read “Or they may turn out okay.” (Something strange happened when I highlighted a block of text; sorry about not catching that in the preview.)

  23. DofJ: Well, you’re postponing individual freedom infinitely into the future, because the constraints will always be actually or potentially there, and restrictions on freedom tend to become institutionalized and outlive the reasons for which they were put into effect. 
     
    I am not calling for the withering away of the state, anyway. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t have a state policy forbidding drugs just because tend to cause people to work 40 hour weeks and take vacations, rather than 80 hour weeks without vacations. On amphetamines, heroin, and cocaine I think that government action would be justified, though prohibition doesn’t seem effective. 
     
    I think that there’s a difference between marijuana and alcohol in this respect. Alcoholism seems to be compatible with workaholism, whereas marijuana doesn’t seem to be. (Anecdotal, but lots of anecdotes). Most alcoholics aren’t street winos, and the worst effects of alcoholism usually come late in life when people’s skills are becoming obsolete anyway. In any case, the alcoholic nations are often hard-working, roductive nations.

  24. Is there any real reason to think that government policy can fine-tune productivity of workers in the way you’re describing? Maybe God could do that, having unlimited knowledge and power. But could, say, the US congress writing ill-defined laws, the cops enforcing them, the judges deciding the cases, the prison guards with room-temperature IQs “rehabilitating” the prisoners, etc? What evidence is there for this in the past?

  25. I’m just saying that the only justification for the marijuana laws is that one. It’s not physically addictive, there’s no fatal dose, the health effects of marijuana use are generally pretty slight, and the behavioral effects of marijuana use alone seem to be limited to what is called in the literature “amotivational syndrome”. Amphetamine and alcohol have very evident negative behavioral effects, and even in the best case heroin is a health risk (though oddly, heroin users with a reliable supply don’t seem to act out or overdose much.)  
     
    It’s hard to tease out the effects of a single drug, because a lot of users use every kind of drug available starting with tobacco and coffee.

  26. Here are a couple more issue with framing the Drug War in terms of individual freedom vs. national productivity: 
     
    We could all agree that reducing national drug use would be good for everybody. However, the current system is one of the most ineffectual government programs in history. Prohibiting drugs has had a minimal effect, if any, on drug use. 
     
    If drugs are faily well available (esp. pot, ANYONE can get pot) and “free will is oversold” (or even if the state’s ability to manipulate a person is oversold), then the number of people using drugs should be at an equilibrium already. My best guess is that a change in policy would lead to a slight bump followed by return to baseline with healthier drug use overall as quality became regulated and standardized. 
     
    That said, I realize that the ball is in my court as a legalization advocate to show people the money and bring the numbers to the table. Unfortunately, I am not a professional legalization advocate, so I have to decide how much time to spend on it, and I had to quit drugs cos I have shit to do. Need to develop a folder with that junk at my fingertips.. 
     
    I can recommend a book by Henry Ruth and Kevin Reitz called The Challenge of Crime. Nice analysis on several criminal justice issue.

  27. We could all agree that reducing national drug use would be good for everybody. 
     
    Except for the people who wish to use the drugs, unless you mean good in a sense other than the personal interest of those people.

  28. I’m truly amazed at the irrelavency of most of the preceding comments to the issue at hand. No drugs were found in Johnston’s home. The informant, whose unsupported word seems to have been the sole justification for the warrant, later denied buying drugs in Johnston’s home. The issue is not the drug war, per se, or the freedom to get high, but the loss of basic Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. 
     
    Amazingly, SWAT teams allow TV crews to film them in action. Even when they don’t kill an innocent person, their wanton destruction of property is outrageous. There’s never any compensation. Searches are punitive in themselves. 
     
    Certainly the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a cause of this sorry situation, but merely legalizing drugs won’t rectify it. We need to make judges and magistrates responsible for the warrants they issue. If we don’t, they’ll just continue handing them out like confetti. We need to require police to knock and identify themselves. We need to make police responsible for unnecessary destruction of property and for excessive force against persons. Regrettably, I’m at a loss as to how to convince the American sheeple to demand these things.

  29. U.S. drug policy is an effective way to get marginal people off the streets and make it more difficult for them to reproduce. That’s the only sense I can make out of it.

  30. We need to make judges and magistrates responsible for the warrants they issue. If we don’t, they’ll just continue handing them out like confetti. We need to require police to knock and identify themselves. We need to make police responsible for unnecessary destruction of property and for excessive force against persons. Regrettably, I’m at a loss as to how to convince the American sheeple to demand these things. 
     
    I agree. Police should be responsible if they damage someone’s property when they did not obtain a proper warrant. The justification that “you could have been a criminal” doesn’t cut it. It seems though that the drug war is the main cause for the issuing of questionable warrants, since the offenses involve consensual acts and therefore requires more spying on people’s private lives to catch than other crimes.

  31. Certainly the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a cause of this sorry situation, but merely legalizing drugs won’t rectify it. We need to make judges and magistrates responsible for the warrants they issue. If we don’t, they’ll just continue handing them out like confetti. We need to require police to knock and identify themselves. We need to make police responsible for unnecessary destruction of property and for excessive force against persons. Regrettably, I’m at a loss as to how to convince the American sheeple to demand these things. 
     
    They aren’t demanding these things because they intuit that a little abuse of power in the “War on Drugs” statistically improves their lives. 
     
    Let me say this one more time: not enough of them will care about individual sob stories, or worst-case extrapolations to a totalitarian future. I normally don’t have that high of an opinion of voter rationality, but this seems to be a rare case where the median voter is being more rational than the cognitive elite is giving them credit for. While the “War on Drugs” is a very ugly hack, the median voter still has reason to believe that it serves their interests better than any alternative you’ve offered them. And they may not even be wrong. 
     
    If you want to actually change national policy, you’ll need to focus on providing a compelling case to non-users. Additional economic growth is a lot more compelling than preventing some totalitarian scenario that they don’t believe they’re at risk for anyway. Actually convince them that they don’t benefit from the abuse of power, then the abuse will disappear.

  32. While the “War on Drugs” is a very ugly hack, the median voter still has reason to believe that it serves their interests better than any alternative you’ve offered them. And they may not even be wrong. 
     
    The median voter, in my estimation, is indifferent to the drugs policy. Rightfully so, since a change in the drug policy would not significantly affect their lives. Unfortunately, the status quo is what it is and indifference gives way to inertia. I don’t think they are “intuiting” anything deep about the structure of society or their self-interest when they vote against drug law reform. You give people too much credit. They are simply neophobic. The inertia takes several forms but one of the most insidious is the self-perpetuation of the DEA and ONDCP. They use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate voters to fear drug law reform. 
     
    The economic argument will work pretty well. Milton Friedman was a great proponent of drug law reform. I’m not sure, but maybe if the 4th amendment abuse gets more press and becomes more real to them, the voters will care about that as well. The reform movement is getting smarter and more professional. As we discover more about the effects of individual drugs and conventional wisdom stops lumping them all together I think we’ll be better off too.

  33. Dog of Justice, there’s really no evidence for what you said — that the drug laws improve the average citizen’s life. I think that the main reasons for the invulnerability of the drug laws is single-issue bullet votes and panic votes.

  34. The “anonymous” post a little ways up was mine–I don’t know why it didn’t show my name.

a