Saturday, November 25, 2006

Randy Balko on no-knock raids Randy Balko on no-knock raids

Randy Balko has been blogging on a recent no-knock death of a 92 year old woman. His latest is: More Thoughts on Johnston, Raids: Comments. This is scary:
The apologists say that if the warrant is legal, and the police have the right to be there, you're pretty much screwed. If the police storm in and you -- not being a drug dealer and consequently having no reason to think the police might break into your home -- mistake them for criminal intruders and meet them with a gun, you are at fault. I guess your crime is living in an area where drug dealers could use your porch while you aren't home, or being a too trusting, frail, old woman. Sorry about your luck.

On the other hand, if the police break into your home and they mistake the blue cup, TV remote, the t-shirt you're holding to cover your genitals because they broke in while you were sleeping naked, or the glint off your wristwatch for a gun -- and subsequently shoot you (all of these scenarios have actually happened), well, then no one is to blame. Because, you see, SWAT raids are inherently dangerous and volatile, and it's perfectly understandable how police might mistake an innocent person holding a t-shirt for a violent drug dealer with gun.
His solution is:
The solution is actually pretty simple: Stop invading people's homes for nonviolent offenses.
While I agree with that, I would suggest however that the best solution would be to reimpose legal liability for no-knock raids. Right now, I am not sure if it would be better to limit it to the police who screw up, or to include the jurisdictions that hire them.

It appears from that Cato article last year on the subject, that the bulk of no-knock military style entries are for basicially non-violent drug offenders. This is ludicrous. In many cases here, we are talking people who just harm themselves, if anyone. If they have time to flush an ounce of pot, BFD, esp. in view of what could, and sometimes does, go wrong as a result of this sort of raid.

The advantage though for elimination of soverign immunity here is that it would do a better job than probably any other of seperating the good entries from the bad. Today, even pretty small towns often have SWAT teams, and when they have them, there is a tendency to use them. And pretty soon, you find yourself with them overusing them. But if they faced being bankrupted for the type of mistake made with the 92 year old woman being killed, they would rein in their police.

Addendum: Reynolds at Instapundit makes a similar point when commenting on Balko's post:
Yes. Also, the police should be held strictly liable for mistakes, without benefit of official immunity. And they should be required to record video of the entire proceedings, in a tamper-resistant format.
I had not thought of the video taping. An excellent idea, and not surprising that it comes from Glenn. Also, there is a thread right now on this by Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy.

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Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

One idea is to use something like a "worker's compensation" approach, in which sovereign immunity is eliminated, but damages are capped to a certain ceiling.

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