Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Budget Review - Does Dunwoody need a Narcotics Task Force Officer and a SWAT Team?
Talking to residents regarding their needs and wants is a big part of being an elected official therefore I am posting an e-mail (with full permission) from my friend and neighbor Mike Kaplan in order to start a discussion on a matter with which I was unaware. I understand Mike's concerns but maybe my rose colored glasses just keep telling me that these budget items (well trained, well armed men with whom I have shared meals and have formed a bond of trust) are there to fight the bad guys and make the city safer and therefore would never allow the injustices documented below to happen in Dunwoody.
I am a straight arrow - I don't do drugs, I barely drink, I don't gamble or even cuss. So I have no sympathy for illegal drug use or other illegal activity but it burns me up to see police act unethically. I would rather have drug users go unpunished than have police use illegal and immoral tactics. Across the country, because of financial incentives and pressures, there has been a growing pattern of Narcotic Task Forces and SWAT teams performing unethically and putting innocent citizens at risk.
Related to the funding of a Narcotics Task Force officer, I am troubled by these sentences in Warren's Memo to the City Council of Sep1, 2009:
"In addition, we recommend one additional sworn position for a Narcotics Task Force officer. The City would benefit from any seized funds recovered by this officer. Typically, the full cost of the officer yields a return to the City to be used for the exclusive purpose of funding capital and equipment needs in the Police Department."
The problem I have with this is the financial pressure on Narcotic Task Force officers to justify their salaries through the confiscation of drug-related cash and assets. This pressure has led to abuses such as officers lying, planting evidence, unjustified civil asset forfeiture and even the death of innocent citizens. Examples in our area include the death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston http://www.reason.com/news/show/123632.html and the recent death of a pastor, Jonathan Ayers http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/01/crimesider/entry5279161.shtml killed by, in my opinion, improper police action in a narcotics task force sting-gone-bad. There are dozens of other cases across the country highlighted in the links below. The common characteristic is a police force more interested in "scoring points" and seizing funds than in actually making life safer for the community.
At the very least let's not make the officer's performance be related in any way to how much funds are seized or the financial "return to the City".
Here is an article about a Mayor of a small town near Washington DC whose house is raided and dogs killed by narcotic officers who did little in the way of investigative work before invading his home. The officers did not have a proper warrant and lied about the events. The lies came to light only because the Mayor was a respected and well known member of the community. It is alleged that these illegal police actions commonly occur by narcotic officers but usually the average citizen, not having the resources of a well-known mayor, is powerless against them. By the way, the mayor is now trying to get SWAT team and narcotic task force team activity brought under control in his community.
Hand-in-hand with abuses by Narcotic Task Forces are problems with SWAT teams. The wrong kind of police officer is attracted to the violence associated with SWAT teams ( a respected police chief said he would not hire any officer who wanted to do SWAT work). SWAT teams should be used for the rare hostage situation or other possibly violent situation, also rare. The problem is that too many police forces have SWAT teams and, once they are on the payroll, there is pressure to have them "do something" rather than just sit around waiting for the rare hostage crisis. This has resulted in SWAT teams being used in situations that don't justify a no-knock, flash-bang, all-out invasion. This has lead to mistakes, wrong-door raids and innocent citizens killed as described in this white-paper:
Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America
I don't think Dunwoody needs even a membership in a inter-city SWAT team. If we ever have a hostage situation (how often has that happened in Dunwoody?) we can call the FBI or the Georgia State Patrol. Funding part of a SWAT team and buying equipment for it will lead to pressure to use the team which will lead to trouble.
PS: If Dunwoody does decide to have a narcotics task force officer and a SWAT team then it is my opinion that they should have a strong civilian review board.