July 2006

You are browsing the site archives for July 2006.

Got this bit about Mel Gibson’s recent DUI bust from TMZ.com:

Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, “You mother f****r. I’m going to f*** you.” The report also says “Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he ‘owns Malibu’ and will spend all of his money to ‘get even’ with me.”

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: “F*****g Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Gibson then asked the deputy, “Are you a Jew?”

The deputy became alarmed as Gibson’s tirade escalated, and called ahead for a sergeant to meet them when they arrived at the station. When they arrived, a sergeant began videotaping Gibson, who noticed the camera and then said, “What the f*** do you think you’re doing?”

A law enforcement source says Gibson then noticed another female sergeant and yelled, “What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits?”

We’re told Gibson took two blood alcohol tests, which were videotaped, and continued saying how “f****d” he was and how he was going to “f***” Deputy Mee.

[Censored words in the original.]

I don’t want to make too much of the stupid things people say when they’re drunk, but…wow. Well, he had a nice career.

Top two AP wire stories on Yahoo:

Hezbollah politicians back peace package

Hezbollah fires new rockets into Israel

And so it goes.

In response to an article I wrote last month about Police Shootings that Make You Go Hmmmm…, a Chicago SWAT team member named Erick left an interesting comment. I responded to part of it yesterday in Too Much SWAT, Part 1.

Here’s the rest of Erick’s comment:

In response to raids including non-violent crimes let me shed light onto the fact that it’s not unusual for a pot smokers and gamblers to have weapons in their homes. Never underestimate anyone’s potential. Timothy McVeigh was in the Army with a relatively minor criminal background.

That’s a good point about never underestimating anyone’s potential. It probably keeps a lot of cops safe. But I have a question: Don’t they still teach Chicago cops how to arrest a suspect safely? They never used to need a SWAT team to arrest a bad guy.

I’m pretty sure that in most cases they still don’t. There’s an underlying assumption here that is at the core of the problem as I see it, and this is where I suspect Erick and I have a serious difference of values. I don’t really have a problem with SWAT tactics. My objection in these kinds of situations is to SWAT’s mission.

But first, a story. A few years ago, some bozo told the cops that a friend of mine had pointed a gun at him while both of them were driving down the street. The next day, the Chicago police arrested my friend outside his home as he was going to his car. He’s a little shaky on the details, but I think a pair of plain-clothes officers did the arrest, with a couple of patrol cars backing them up in case he fled. Call it six officers in total. It wasn’t SWAT.

(Before I go on, I should say that my friend never owned a gun and the police didn’t find one. The case against him fell apart when the complaining witness’s girlfriend, who was also supposedly a witness, refused to back his story. All the charges were dropped.)

So here’s the mystery: How come it takes a SWAT team to arrest pot smokers and gamblers, but when the police arrested my friend who a witness claimed was armed with a handgun and likely to use it the local precinct cops just took him down themselves?

The answer, I think, is that you can’t flush a handgun down the toilet.

Most of these troublesome SWAT-style raids are not part of the traditional SWAT lifesaving mission. Instead, they’re one of the routine evidence-gathering techniques in the war on drugs and, to a lesser extent, the war on illegal gambling. That’s because, unlike my friend’s alleged crimes, both of these criminal activities involve evidence that is easy to destroy.

When the police come knocking, an alert drug crew can flush the drugs before the police can find them. For a gambling operation, the police need to find book-making records. In the past, bookies used to keep records on chalkboards or on quick-burning flash paper. Nowadays, I imagine a sophisticated operation just needs to erase a few computer files.

This means that police serving a search warrant need to make a dynamic entry, moving very quickly to secure the site and restrain the occupants. That takes a SWAT team, or something that looks very much like one.

According to NYPD officer Edward Conlon, detectives making narcotics arrests don’t actually like to use ESU (New York’s version of SWAT) because they are so careful and methodical that the bad guys have plenty of time to destroy all the evidence. Thus, NYPD has special SWAT-like teams that do the kind of dynamic entry it takes to get the evidence.

Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of entry that frightens the crap out of the people inside the building. If they’re innocent, that’s bad enough. But sometimes in the panic and confusion innocent people do something that gets them shot. Even when the people being raided are guilty of a crime, they usually aren’t doing anything they deserve to die for.

When the raid starts, however, people may do something crazy like trying to shoot a cop. On an individual basis, they earn a bullet for that. It’s a totally justified shooting. But as a matter of policy, I don’t think it’s a good idea to create an endless series of armed confrontations with people who don’t like cops and have poor impulse control.

I don’t object to SWAT teams or SWAT tactics…unless they’re unnecessary. Supporters of these raids say that if police can’t storm the building in a close-quarters infantry assault, they’ll be in danger. I say that if police can’t storm the building in a close-quarters infantry assault, they’ll just have to find a safer, less violent way to arrest suspects and conduct searches. If that means that a few drug dealers get away with flushing the evidence, I can live with that.

Glenn Reynolds blogged the arrested-for-photographing-the-cops story too. Of course, he did it earlier.

In his commentary, he offers this terrific idea:

I think we need civil rights legislation making this kind of arrest illegal. Treble damages, plus the right to civil forfeiture of any police property or equipment used in the arrest. Oh, and respondeat superior liability against supervisors.

I don’t even know what that last thing is, but civil forfeiture of police property is a great idea.

Think about it. Police departments all over the country have been earning a sizable income by seizing the assets of criminals. There’s clear evidence that police make choices about which criminals to go after based on how much stuff they can take. This is why you get a lot of silly small-time pot busts: Ordinary citizens own valuable stuff, whereas drug dealers are careful to hide their assets with friends or family members.

Isn’t it only fair that these same police departments should themselves be subject to asset seizure when they break the law? Maybe it would give some of them cause for thought when they’re planning a raid if violating peoples’ rights meant the police could lose the battering ram they used to break down the door, the communications gear used to coordinate the raid, and the police cars they drove to get to the raid site.

The story is a little vague, and there may be more to the incident, but it seems a Philadelphia police officer has proven his ignorance of the rights of the free press:

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia family said they are outraged over the arrest of one of their family members.

The family of Neftaly Cruz said police had no right to come onto their property and arrest their 21-year-old son simply because he was using his cell phone’s camera. They told their story to Harry Hairston and the NBC 10 Investigators.

Cruz said police told him that he broke a new law that prohibits people from taking pictures of police with cell phones.

“They threatened to charge me with conspiracy, impeding an investigation, obstruction of a investigation. …They said, ‘You were impeding this investigation.’ (I asked,) ‘By doing what?’ (The officer said,) ‘By taking a picture of the police officers with a camera phone,'” Cruz said.

The police eventually let Cruz go, telling him some story about how there was no supervisor on duty so they couldn’t charge him. That’s nonsense and they know it.

It’s established law, based on the constitutional freedom of the press, that you can take pictures of anything you can see from anywhere you are allowed to be, unless the owner of the property you’re on tells you not to.

Cruz says he was in his own yard. The police say he was on public property. Again, it’s established law that when the owner of the property is the government, constitutional rights kick in, and the government can’t prevent you from taking pictures on public property as long as you have a right to be there. (There are some exceptions to allow military bases to restrict photography in certain areas.) The police might be able to order you to leave the area under certain conditions, but they have no right to tell you to stop taking pictures.

Come to think of it, if this cop thinks you can interfere with something by taking pictures of it, he’s also ignorant of the laws of physics.

(Hat tip, The Agitator)

In response to an article I wrote last month about Police Shootings that Make You Go Hmmmm…, a commenter named Erick writes:

I’ve been on the Chicago Police SWAT team now without incident for over a year. SWAT teams don’t just take random phone calls from anonymous callers, gear up and go smashing in peoples doors. If this were the only criteria people would call in false claims on their neighbor for not picking up their dog crap. Furthermore, SWAT officers are hand selected from a pool of numerous candidates each of whom are vigorously tested and backgrounds checked.

First of all, thank you Erick for taking the time to respond to a blow-hard like me. I don’t know a lot about police procedures, organization, and tactics, but here in the blogosphere we don’t let things like that that stop us from offering our opinion.

Second, I’m not surprised you haven’t seen any ugly incidents. You’re on the Chicago SWAT team. I can’t find much about the Chicago SWAT team online (which is probably a good thing) but I assume that a city the size of Chicago—and which is a known terrorist target—has a very professional SWAT team. [Update: Not quite. See Erick’s comment on this post.] Of the nearly 300 botched raids listed on the CATO raid map, only two of them—both wrong-house raids in which no one was seriously hurt—were in Chicago, and according to the source newspaper articles, neither of these involved the SWAT team.

Not all SWAT teams are as good as you are seeing here in Chicago. The town of Anderson, South Carolina has a SWAT team despite a population of only 25,000. [Update: Kelly in the comments says the SWAT team is associated with the much larger Anderson County.] They probably got federal anti-terror or anti-drug money for that. I’m sure the Anderson police are a fine bunch of people, but they’re just not going to be as highly trained as Chicago’s SWAT team.

I don’t blame the officers for this. The weapons and training are provided free by the federal government to police departments meeting certain broad criteria. If I were a cop, I’d sure take advantage of a government-funded opportunity to get that kind of equipment. Some of that equipment could be very useful. It would also be very, very cool.

Lots of cops apparently think the same way, because in some small towns, every single officer is on the SWAT team and has an M-16 fully-automatic assault rifle available to him.

Third, you say that “SWAT teams don’t just take random phone calls from anonymous callers, gear up and go smashing in peoples doors.” No, but in some places SWAT teams gear up and go smashing in peoples doors based on a request from another police unit (narcotics, vice) that does take tips from anonymous informants, confidential informants, or arrested criminals trying to make a deal. All of those people can sometimes make stuff up.

Erick had more to say, and so do I, but that’s all I have time for right now.

Update: Part 2 is now up.

Radley Balko says this:

In Tacoma, Washington, the “Sound Transit,” a government agency, offered a landowner $439,000 for a piece of property in 2004. Finding the offer low, the landowner sued, and eventually lost in the State Supreme Court. Now, the Sound Transit is offering just $240,000, citing a “reassessment” of the property’s value. That’s about half what the same agency paid for an adjacent piece of land (perhaps the value of the land declined because it’s now known that it’s targeted for eminent domain!).

Of course, for property tax purposes, the government has assessed the land at $303,400.

Funny how the value of the land changes, depending on what the government wants to do with it.

Of course, the value of land does change depending on what you want to do with it. That’s the problem with determining the price of land for purposes of eminent domain: Everybody has a different idea of what the land is worth.

If you and I are both looking at a piece of land, we probably have different plans for it. Maybe you want to farm it, and I want to build an amusement park. So how do we decide which of us gets it? How do we reconcile your subjective estimate of the value of the land for farming with my subjective estimate of it’s value for entertainment?

In most cases, it’s actually very simple. The free market tells us. If I think the land will be worth more to me than you think it will be worth to you, I’ll be willing to offer more money for it than you.

Note that the free market works even if one of us owns the land instead of a third party: If you own the land, you can decide if my offer is more than the value of the land to you. If it is, you sell. If not, not. Conversely, I get to decide if your asking price is higher than the value I place on the land. If it is, I pass on by. If not, I buy the land.

Sure, we may negotiate over the final price, but on the whole this is a very fair and efficient system that has some attractive features: Every party to the transaction is a willing participant, and every party has to put their money where their mouth is. In particular, if the buyer makes an offer that’s less than the value of the property to the seller, the buyer doesn’t get the property. The risk of offering too little money is that the buyer will not get what he wants.

None of this is true about an eminent domain seizure. The property owner is involved unwillingly, and the government isn’t taking a risk that the offer might be turned down. And if there’s no risk to a low offering price, there’s no reason not to offer less than the property is worth. Also, since the government doesn’t have to show a profit, the governments’s willingness to make an offer has nothing to do with the value of the property to the government and everything to do with the influence of powerful special interests.

You don’t really need to know the rest of this story about a “zombie dance party” to appreciate this paragraph:

Police say the group was uncooperative and intimidated passersby with their “ghoulish” makeup at a time when officers were on high alert in reaction to a bulletin about men in other states who wear clown makeup while attacking and robbing people.

Now that’s great newswriting.

(Whole story here.)

I’ve never really understood how trackbacks work. In fact, for over a year now, trackbacks haven’t been working. I get lots of notices of spam trackbacks, but not a single legitimate trackback ever. I assume something in my Movable Type blogging software is swallowing them up, but I don’t know where it happens.

I’m giving up. I’ve removed the trackback-receiving page from the site. I know some people live and die by trackbacks, but I just can’t take the spam anymore.

[Feedback has been disabled for this page because it appears to attract a lot of spam. Sorry for the inconvenience.]

Earlier I pointed out the exciting changes to Windypundit when it became Windypundit 2.0 (summary: rounded corners).

Now I bring you the next step: AJAX. That’s right, the hottest new trend in web site technology. The Windypundit page now makes background queries back to the Windypundit server to update its content.

In keeping with the dedication to usability and customer service that brought you rounded corners, I now bring you live AIM status. The box on the upper right (yes, the white one with the nice rounded corners) displays my AIM user ID and status if I’m available. You can then click it to reach me in AIM. If I’m not available, it shows nothing. But best of all, if I change status, the display changes without having to refresh the page. All through the magic of asynchronous HTTP queries.

Don’t believe me? Just watch that box for a while until it changes. It shouldn’t be too long, because I change my AIM status 2 or 3 times every day. Be careful not to miss it.

Overkill Item 1: One of the things bouncing around the libertarian blogosphere is Radley Balko’s recent whitepaper for the Cato Institute called Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. It’s about the absurd creation of SWAT-style teams for seemingly even the smallest towns. These teams often create violent confrontations where they appear not to have been necessary, often raid the wrong house, and occasionally kill innocent people.

Item 2: The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia has created a series of CounterAttack TV anti-drunk-driving ads, each of which ends with the death of the spokesperson in a violent collision, presumably caused by a drunk driver.

Does anybody else besides me think that the Cato Institute (or some other libertarian think tank) should be producing anti-paramilitary-police ads in which the spokesperson is killed in a botched SWAT-style raid?

Update: I’ve changed “SWAT” to “SWAT-style” because a lot of these teams aren’t really in the mold of the original SWAT concept of a highly-trained specialized team.

The rain always wins.

Ripley is a curious and active cat, except when it rains. Then he retreats to the only room in the house that doesn’t have windows, the main bathroom, and hides behind the door. Because, you know, there’s water falling from the sky!

Here he is during yesterday’s downpour. We put down a pad for him behind the door because we figure the tile is cold.

Ripley Hiding From the Rain
Larger ImageRipley Hiding From the Rain

Windypundit is now Windypundit 2.0.

“Web 2.0” is the big buzzword going around the web these days. There are lots of discussions of what constitutes a Web 2.0 site—interactivity, interoperation, customization, Ajax, user-designed content, blogging, social networking, syndication, wikis…the list goes on and on—and the web business bigshots are all picking sides and trying to win the battle to define what is really Web 2.0.

In upgrading Windypundit to Windypundit 2.0, I’ve done extensive research on sites that are widely acclaimed to be Web 2.0 sites, and I’ve discovered the following list of critical Web 2.0 features:

  • Rounded Corners

As you can see I’ve added panels with rounded corners to the right-hand sidebar. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

As an extra bonus Web 2.0 feature, I’ve also added drop-shadows to all the photographs I took myself.

(Some sites have drop shadows on rounded corners, but that exceeds my research budget. If enough people hit the tip jar, I just might try to implement it. Go ahead. You know you want it.)

Rounded corners and drop shadows. Just one more way I’m keeping Windypundit at the leading edge of Web trendiness.