Conservatives and Police

Radley Balko is having a back and forth with a guest blogger at Patterico over the drug war and violent crime.  Balko is always worth checking out, because while many of us bloggers may call ourselves the new media, we are mostly just a bunch of op-ed pages.  Balko is one of the few major bloggers out there doing real reporting.

One part of the discussion caught my attention:

Second, JRM leaves out the rest of my discussion of police militarization in the piece, which includes the very real, not-made-up statistic based on police department surveys done by Peter Kraska showing the number of SWAT deployments in the U.S. jumping from a few hundred per year in the 1970s to 50,000 or more per year today. Most of these SWAT deployments are to serve drug warrants. JRM can disagree, but my point is that even if these raids don't produce a single gun shot (though we know that's far from the case), that's a disturbing trend. The image of state agents dressed in black, kicking down doors, and wresting people out of bed at gunpoint in order to police nonviolent crimes just isn't one I associated with a free society (oddly enough, some prominent conservatives agree, at least when other countries do it).

Perhaps because I read this as my inbox is filled with Minuteman missives (I don't know how they got the impression I was somehow sympathetic to their cause) asking me to send a valentine to agents Compean and Ramos, but I sometimes really wonder about conservatives.

Conservatives distrust government and government bureaucrats.  Many understand public choice theory.  Many understand how faulty incentives within government can turn even good, smart people into stupid bad actors.

So I am left to wonder why conservatives feel ever so much better about the situation when the government employee is given a gun, and the unique authority to use it on the citizenry?

  • I don't know any conservatives who are happy with the spread of law enforcement authority through the federal bureaucracy.

    Many of us also recognize that the militarization of the police is very dangerous.

    Just because we are "law and order" types and often support the police does not mean we approve of all the behaviors. As far as SWAT style raids, I think few are excusable. The police are paid to risk their lives on our behalf, and if they don't understand that and ratchet back the "us vs. citizens", we need to reign them in. A lot of this resulted from the slippery slope of no-knock warrants to prevent drugs from being flushed. That appears to be a bad policy.

    The "drug war" presents substantial problems. I don't know of any ideology that has a good answer to it. On the one hand, way too many people are in prison for non-violent or even victimless crimes. However, the impact on others of people using certain drugs is substantial - both in public safety and economics terms.

    Totally legalizing private consumption of all substances does not solve it. The strong prohibition, however, creates an enormous set of financial incentives for the worst sort of people to engage in criminal activities including violence.

  • David W

    Honestly, I think it's mostly an overreaction to the liberal policies of the 60's. The 'pig' bashing was so over-the-top that conservatives couldn't help but notice it was mostly wrong, and then there are a large number of tales of violent sociopaths being released after heinous crimes due to touchy-feely judges. This started a habit of defending the police that persists in situations where it really shouldn't.

    It doesn't help that the majority of cases the media choose to report are things like 'police brutality at protest' and two paragraphs in we read that the protesters started by wrecking property, beating counter-protesters, and throwing rocks at the cops, rather than the situations Balko reports. If they'd stick to those situations where the police are clearly the only ones at fault rather than the mixed situations where everyone involved appears guilty of something, conservatives would likely change their minds. That's certainly what happened to me. The most public 'abuse' cases, like 'free Mumia', when you look into the details seem ambiguous at best, so it was easy to conclude this was yet another case of liberal exaggeration and lies. It wasn't until I started reading Balko and 'cops writing cops', and so on, that I realized it's not that clear-cut.

    It's probably like the typical libertarian/conservative reaction to business bashing. Because 95% of the complaints about business are 'how dare they make a profit' and 'it's all a secret conspiracy to make me pay more', those real cases of abuse like the excessive licensing requirements, or using lead paint on children's toys still get a knee-jerk reaction of 'it's just the market', before you stop and realize that it really isn't just the market in this instance.

  • damaged justice

    "Totally legalizing private consumption of all substances does not solve it."

    No, it certainly wouldn't, until you also get rid of all the laws that force you to pay other people's medical bills.

    It also wouldn't do much good unless you also got rid of all the laws that criminalize the possession of weapons and/or the use of them in self-defense.

  • I've noticed here in Chicago that some officers have uniforms with the badges faded (like military patches). I asked a couple about it once, pointing out that the very raison d'tre of a police uniform is to signify one's authority and that by obscuring the badges increases the chances of mistakes being made. How can you tell that a man with a gun is a cop if there is no visible badge. One of them acted insulted and brushed me off, but the other admitted out the side of his mouth that it was just to look "military".

  • Fay

    I think it's the same side of the coin as social conservatism. You know, "conservatives" who want the government to "stay out of people's private lives," except when it comes to their sexuality, whether they carry pregnancies to term, what they ingest or smoke, their religion, etc. Such a belief system readily accommodates an overzealous police force.

  • Stew

    I agree with Fay. Today's "conservative" and "liberals" are rally both statists, just on opposite sides of the pendulum. As for armed police forces....it is not scary that they carry a gun, it is scary that they have taken on such a military form. I believe an armed society is a polite society, that meaning everyone thinks twice, even cops, when everyone has a gun.

  • Che is dead

    "...the number of SWAT deployments in the U.S. jumping from a few hundred per year in the 1970s to 50,000 or more per year today. Most of these SWAT deployments are to serve drug warrants."

    First, we don't know how many SWAT teams were deployed in the 1970's. My guess is that there were far fewer than today. If so, you could expect the number of deployments to jump.

    Second, it makes sense to deploy SWAT teams on these missions because they have special training in handling potentially violent situations. This means that the targets of these deployments may ultimately be safer and less likely to suffer a violation of their rights, regardless of the style of the SWAT team's uniforms.

    Third, these types of warrants are rarely served on casual users. The suspects in most of these cases probably have a long list of prior convictions, including non-drug related charges.

  • “Totally legalizing private consumption of all substances does not solve it.”

    No, it certainly wouldn’t, until you also get rid of all the laws that force you to pay other people’s medical bills.

    It also wouldn’t do much good unless you also got rid of all the laws that criminalize the possession of weapons and/or the use of them in self-defense.

    Certainly an expected answer.

    But insufficient.

    Drug users create costs due to the crimes they cause, and citizen firearm possession doesn't stop that, although it may ameliorate it some.

    Society will never change to the point of not providing at least emergency care to all comers. To wish for it is to deny reality.

  • damaged justice

    Or you could man up and stop letting other people force you to pay their medical bills.

  • markm

    "Third, these types of warrants are rarely served on casual users. The suspects in most of these cases probably have a long list of prior convictions, including non-drug related charges."

    Wrong. In many areas, SWAT is used routinely for most warrant service, whether or not it's for drugs and whether or not the suspect has a record. In Maryland, a SWAT team broke down the doors of the mayor's house and shot his dogs - allegedly in the back. It turns out that drug dealers had been sending packages to that address with a confederate at the Fedex(?) office picking them off before delivery. In Virginia, they used a SWAT team to arrest an accountant for internet gambling - and while he was cooperating fully and there was no reason for anyone to be pointing a gun at him or put a finger on the trigger, one of the SWAT members stumbled and shot him dead. I don't know if walking around with your finger on the trigger is part of infantry training, but it certainly wasn't taught in the Air Force, and it most certainly doesn't belong in any police departments' tactics.