Magazine article The American Conservative

Suburban Commandos

Magazine article The American Conservative

Suburban Commandos

Article excerpt

The miliarization of local police puts innocents at risk.

LOCAL POLICE in Fairfax, Virginia suspected that Salvatore Culosi Jr., a 37year-old optometrist, was running an illegal gambling operation. On Jan. 24, after a three-month undercover investigation, police sent a tactical squad to Culosi's home to execute a search warrant. For reasons yet to be explained, the unarmed Culosi was shot and killed by a TAC squad member-an outcome tantamount to summary execution for allegedly taking sports bets in a state that has a government-run lottery.

The officer who fired the lethal shot was identified by Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer as a seven-year veteran of the tactical unit In a Jan. 25 press conference, Chief Rohrer expressed "condolences and sincere sympathy to Mr. Culosi's family and friends" and promised "to conduct a comprehensive, balanced and fair investigation" of the shooting. But he also expressed "my support for the officer involved. He is a 17year veteran of our department and he is a valued member. My support goes out to him and his family."

Had the roles been reversed-with the officer being mistakenly shot and killed by Culosi-it's impossible to believe that Chief Rohrer would have displayed similar evenhandedness between the shooter and the victim. It's doubtful that criminal charges will be filed against the officer for needlessly killing Culosi, who was accused of a nonviolent offense. Nor is there any indication that the Fairfax County Police will re-evaluate the wisdom of its current policy requiring that all warrants be served by a heavily armed TAC squad.

In recent years, commented policy analyst Radley Balko in a Feb. 7 Washington Post op-ed, paramilitary tactics "once reserved for rare, volatile situations such as hostage takings, bank robberies, and terrorist incidents increasingly are being used for routine police work," such as gambling raids, including an April 2005 raid on a poker game in a Denver suburb. What we are seeing, according to Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, is the "normalization" of militarized police work. Where SWAT teams and similar outfits were once "peripherally part of a police organization," they have now been integrated seamlessly into standard police operations, "such as serving search warrants, doing patrol work, serving arrest warrants."

The militarization of local police has resulted, in large measure, from the war on drugs, in which no-knock raids and armed seizure of forfeited properties have become very common-as have incidents in which innocent people have been injured and killed as a result of those raids, which are often carried out on the word of anonymous informants.

Ismael Mena, a 45-year-old father of nine from Denver, was killed by a SWAT team in 1999 after a tip from an anonymous informant resulted in a no-knock raid on the wrong address. Wisconsin resident Scott Bryant was gunned down by a SWAT team under nearly identical circumstances. And 70-year-old Boston resident Accelyne Williams, a drug counselor, died from a heart attack after masked men broke into his home, thrust him to the floor, and shoved guns into his face while screaming at him. The masked assailants, predictably, were from a paramilitary counter-drug unit acting on a tip from an informant who was not only anonymous but also intoxicated.

When innocent civilians perish at the hands of police paramilitaries, criminal charges very rarely result. But the case of Cory Maye of Prentiss, Mississippi illustrates that civilians who use lethal force to defend themselves enjoy no such immunity.

Late in the evening of Dec. 26, 2001, Maye was startled awake by the sound of intruders in his duplex. Fearing for his 18-month-old daughter, Maye grabbed his handgun and went to confront the eight armed men who had broken into his home, lethally shooting one of them in the abdomen. The mortally wounded prowler was Ron Jones, a 29-year-old Jefferson County police officer who was part of a SWAT team conducting a no-knock armed raid on the basis of an anonymous tip. …

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