Tag Archives: justice department

Update: LVMPD Officer Caught on Body Cam Beating Woman For Littering Sentenced to Year in Prison

Excessive Force Prison Sentence Las Vegas Police Officer Richard Scavone

Las Vegas Metro Police Officer Richard Scavone has been sentenced to one year in prison for assaulting a handcuffed woman as part of a plea deal.

A Las Vegas police officer has been sentenced to one year in prison as part of a plea deal for beating a handcuffed woman. As I posted about previously on NVCopBlock, LVMPD Officer Richard Scavone was caught on his own body camera assaulting the woman in January of 2015. He had decided that Amanda Vizcarrondo-Ortiz was a prostitute, even though he readily admitted later to having no actual proof of that.

He then decided to arrest her for loitering and also for littering, after she threw her coffee on the ground. In the process of profiling her for legally standing on a public street, Scavone became angry because she cursed at him. In retaliation for her not respecting his authoritah (AKA committing “contempt of cop“), he assaulted her multiple times.

In addition to throwing her on the ground, he also slammed her head against the hood of his car twice (after she complained about him touching her breasts), grabbed her by the throat and hair, and slammed her into the door jam of the car as he was shoving her into the back seat. During that entire time, Vizcarrondo-Ortiz was handcuffed and not in any way whatsoever physically resisting.

Note: If you have videos, stories, upcoming events/protests, or personal interactions with the police (and/or “justice” system) that you would like to share, send them to us and we will do everything we can to bring it to the attention of the world. In addition, you can visit the Nevada Cop Block resources section for information and links to the rights of citizens when dealing with police, during which you should always be filming.

As I also posted about, Vizcarrondo-Ortiz  later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Officer Scavone. Also named in the excessive force lawsuit were the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Travis Buechler, a former Corrections Officer. Buechler, who has since been fired for some undisclosed reason, stood by and watched Scavone beat a woman like a Good Cop without reporting it or interceding in any way to stop it. She reportedly suffered permanent injuries to her head, back, and neck during the attack. That lawsuit was settled for $200,000 of taxpayers’ money in July of 2016.

Eventually, due to the body cam footage (embedded below) and the pending lawsuit Scavone was charged with several federal crimes including assault and falsifying an official police report to justify that assault. In September of 2017, he accepted a deal to plead guilty to just one count of “deprivation of rights under color of law.”

In spite of having all but one charge dropped and a letter from retired LVMPD Sgt. Raymond Reyes that spoke glowingly of his award winning career, impeccable reputation, and referred to him as “cop of cops,” Scavone actually received a harsher than expected sentence. Earlier this month, on January 11th, he was sentenced to a year in prison and an additional year of probation. He was also fined $20,000 given 300 hours of community service by U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware II.

Body Camera Footage of Officer Scavone’s Assault:

Posts Related to LVMPD Police Brutality

Breaking News: Judge Rules Man Who Made 911 Call That Led To John Crawford’s Murder Should Face Charges

Earlier this afternoon, Fairborn Municipal Court Judge Beth Root ruled on an affidavit submitted by nine citizens finding that there was probably cause to charge Ronald T. Ritchie with the first degree misdemeanor crime of “making false alarms.” Ritchie was the person that made the 911 call claiming that John Crawford was pointing a gun at people in a Beavercreek, OH Walmart.

The officers who responded to that call, which Ritchie has since characterized as a “prank,” subsequently shot and killed Crawford. In reality, Crawford was merely holding an unloaded BB gun that was for sale at that Walmart.

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Beavercreek police have been heavily criticized for being too quick to shoot Crawford without discerning if the gun was real or giving him an opportunity to surrender first. Even among those who believe the cops were justified in shooting Crawford, many believe that Ritchie was ultimately at fault for making the false claims that Crawford had threatened people with a gun.

It was also reported that several other charges were submitted within the affidavit that was accepted, but those additional charges were dismissed as not having sufficient probable cause to support those charges.

Via WDTN.com:

Nine citizens filled out affidavits — that were delivered to the court on March 25. Judge Root found in those affidavits that probable cause does exist to prosecute Ritchie for the accusation of making false alarms — a first-degree misdemeanor.

The names of the nine people who filed the affidavits are a matter of public record and can be accessed by the public at any time on the court’s website.

The nine are: Roy Qualls; Matthew Raska; Alice Diebel, Kevin Jackson, Lynn Buffington; Jessica Thomas; Mary Gentile; Enoch Fannin and Michael Casselli Jr. All but one of those who filed the affidavits live in Yellow Springs. The other lives in Fairborn.

The affidavits that were submitted questioned whether or not there was enough to prosecute him on charges related to inducing violence, inducing panic, involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide — all of which were dismissed as not having enough probable cause.

Whether Ritchie will actually be charged with a crime is not certain at this point. A judge also ruled that there was probable cause to prosecute the police officers that murdered Tamir Rice. However, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty refused to file those charges and instead used a rigged grand jury presentation to clear Officer Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback.

Of course, Ritchie doesn’t have one of those magical uniforms that renders people impervious to criminal penalties beyond a theatrically delivered slap on the wrist. Ritchie also would make for a pretty good scapegoat to pin all of the blame on and deflect it from the cops that actually killed Crawford.

So he may actually be in for a much rougher ride than those Heroes that murdered a twelve year old in Cleveland.

Walmart Surveillance Video Of John Crawford Murder

Ronald T. Ritchie’s “Prank” 911 Call That Led to John Crawford Shooting

Ronald T. Ritchie’s Police Interview After John Crawford Shooting

Update: Woman Beaten by LVMPD Officer For Littering Has Filed Civil Rights Lawsuit

LVMPD Police Brutality Excessive Force Officer Richard Scavone

In January, I posted about former LVMPD Officer Richard Scavone, who was caught on camera assaulting a woman. The immediate reason for his violent actions that day was that she had thrown a cup of coffee on the ground while he was in the process of profiling and harassing her. In reality, it was a case of “contempt of cop” in which the woman didn’t properly bow and scrape to his authoritah and possibly a bit of showing off to the corrections officer he was giving a ride along to at the time.

Now the woman he attacked and then arrested on trumped up charges to justify that arrest has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against him. In that lawsuit, Amanda Vizcarrondo-Ortiz names the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Officer Scavone, and former Corrections Officer Travis Buechler who was with Scavone at the time of the incident. Cal Potter, a Las Vegas civil rights lawyer, is representing Vizcarrondo-Ortiz in the lawsuit.

Via the Associated Press:

A California woman who authorities say was illegally beaten by a police officer wearing a body camera has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking damages from Las Vegas police, the former patrol officer and his partner at the time.

Officials have called the case one of the first to use body-camera video against an officer wearing the device.

Amanda Vizcarrondo-Ortiz of Los Angeles said in her lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas that she suffered permanent face, neck and back injuries during her January 2015 arrest on littering and loitering for prostitution charges. The charges were later dropped.

Ortiz’s lawyer, Cal Potter, called her beating and arrest unjustified “street justice” for offending the arresting officer, Richard Thomas Scavone, by throwing a cup of coffee on the ground and refusing to put her hands behind her back to be handcuffed.

“He videotaped his own misconduct,” Potter said of Scavone. “It’s our belief that there was no basis for the stop or the arrest…”

The video hasn’t been made public. Officials have said it shows the woman’s face bleeding after she was thrown to the ground, grabbed by the neck and slammed by her head on the hood of a patrol car.

Scavone reported that Ortiz was combative and that he felt his safety was threatened.

A hearing date hasn’t been set in the civil lawsuit that also names the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and a former corrections officer, Travis Buechler, who was with Scavone at the time. It seeks damages greater than $225,000 and a declaration that the department’s use of a law banning loitering for prostitution is unconstitutional.

Officer Laura Meltzer, a police spokeswoman, cited department policy and declined to comment on the civil lawsuit. She said Buechler was suspended last July and fired in September after three years as a corrections officer. The court record didn’t indicate if Buechler had a lawyer.

Former Officer Scavone is still awaiting trial on the federal charges stemming from that incident. As stated in the AP quote, Former Corrections Officer Buechler has been fired, although there has been no indication when that happened or whether that was related to the beating.

Update: The bodycam video has now been released. Also, Vizcarrondo-Ortiz received a $250,000 settlement in June of 2016.

Questionable FBI Surveillance Aircraft Fleet Outed by Coalition of Journalists, Activists, And Techies

The following post was submitted to the CopBlock Network by Isiah Holmes, who has been featured several times previously on Cop Block, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. In this post, Isiah discusses the use of aircraft FBI to conduct surveillance and the role that private citizens (along with the media) played in uncovering and exposing the program’s existence and just how widespread its use is.

(Note: The FBI’s use of surveillance aircraft to spy on activists and protesters was also discussed by Asa J in an earlier post published in August of last year.)

Mice Chasing The Hawk

There exists a variety of stories notorious — amongst those whom it concerns — for their uncanny quality of illuminating hidden plights and unsung heroes. Such tales, unfortunately, rarely experience veneration in modern western society. For the sake of this piece, think not of the many examples of centuries old legends and fables. Instead, accept the challenge of recognizing just one of this variety’s countless modern manifestations. For instance, when a loose coalition of professional and citizen journalists, activists, and techies blew the lid off the FBI’s questionable, nationwide aerial surveillance program. Blew the lid–only to have the story locked into a press loop where it ultimately succumbed to starvation. This piece might be considered a functional revival of the tale.

It began in Baltimore in 2015, after Freddie Gray’s death in police custody and during the subsequent protests and riots. Cameras were everywhere, whether belonging to Baltimore PD, press, bystanders or active civic dissidents. No one, however, anticipated cameras and cell phone collection tech, for that matter, having circled above them for days. International Business Times reports, Benjamin Shayne, leader of the police radio site www.scanbaltimore.com, was among the first to notice unusual air traffic. Shayne took to Twitter: “Anyone know who has been flying the light plane in circles above the city for the past few nights?” The planes, according to IBT, which flew from April 30th-May 2nd 2015, appeared shortly after Baltimore initiated a city-wide curfew.

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Following Benjamin’s tip, a coalition of Twitter and Reddit users, including one former ACLU employee, united to monitor the planes. According to IBT, a trove of data on the aircraft was compiled through their combined talents. Exact flight paths, docking airports, and owners were tracked. The planes were now being watched back.

According to a Washington Post piece, although one plane appeared to lack a tail number, a second was tracked back to “NG Research.” The company’s website boasts of expertise in air quality, aerosol chemistry, and health effects, but speaks not on why its plane was over Baltimore that day.

Once questions started flooding web feeds, the FBI, surprisingly, released a statement glistening with trepidation. “The aircraft,” officials said; according to the Washington Post, “were specifically used to provide high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officials on the ground.” An Improv Online investigation into suspicious planes had–undoubtedly–forced “The Man” to come forward publicly on this “program.” Perhaps it’s safe to say that information, or rather free information, is power.

Due to the government’s reluctance, as well as technology concerns, the ACLU filed several FOIA requests. In tandem with the ACLU’s push, the Associated Press launched their own in depth investigation on the aircraft’s purpose and origin. As it turns out, an entire FBI controlled surveillance-purposed fleet waited for them at the end of the rabbit hole.

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The manned planes, carrying both powerful cameras, including infrared cameras, and cell phone data collection technology reputedly operate above cities quite often. All the craft, the Huffpost reports, are superficially attached not to a government program, but to fictitious companies used as fronts. Many sources reported on the infrared camera’s capabilities of literally seeing people inside of homes. The very nature of the technology is rather wide reaching and indiscriminate, meaning non-targets frequently are recorded. A 2001 Supreme Court decision, Kyllo v. United States, Washington Post reports, held using thermal imagers to “see details” inside enclosed buildings without a warrant amounts to an unlawful search.

AP journalists also discovered that despite the program’s capabilities, deployments are rarely approved by a judge. In light of this fact, according to the Huffington Post, FBI asserts the planes are deployed only for specific, ongoing investigations. Exactly what sort of investigations is entirely unclear.

In fact, nearly a year later, even basic information on the program is vigorously withheld. In terms of explicit references, the HuffPost reports, little more than already heavily censored Justice Department Inspector General reports is public. “The FBI’s aviation program is not secret”, says spokesman Christopher Allen. “Specific aircraft”, he continues, “and their capabilities are protected for operational purposes.” Allen, according to the HuffPost, asserts the planes are not “equipped, designed, or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.” The FBI also, apparently, allocates the fleet as air support for local departments, on-request.

fbi-spy-plane-2-bSuch statements downplaying the possibility of bulk data collection do nothing, however, to explain the plane’s flight patterns. The AP, the HuffPost reports, uncovered flights orbiting large, enclosed buildings for extended periods of time. These areas, such as Virginia’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Minnesota’s Mall Of America, made photo surveillance unlikely. Rather, electronic signals collection, the AP found, proves far more effective under such circumstances. The FBI planes, according to the AP’s flight data analysis, by 2015 had flown over at least 40,000 residents.

Conversely, officials did attribute gear capable of identifying people by their cellphones, even when not making calls, to the craft. Officials, the HuffPost echoed, say such devices, which mimic cellphone towers into providing basic subscriber information, are rarely deployed. The FBI’s cryptic program, sources claim, conjures memories of reports of suspicious planes circling US neighborhoods in 2003.

Through its investigation, the Associated Press was able to track 50 planes down to at least 13 fake companies. No, this is not hyperbole. They’re literally fraudulent, not real, lies, or whatever synonym you care to choose. FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR aviation, and PXW Services, according to the Huffington Post, were included among the AP’s findings. It’s interesting to note that, at least with these four companies, all have three letter acronym names. Not, of course, unlike the Federal Bureau of Investigations. A 2010 federal budget document, according to the HuffPost, verified the FBI’s fleet size at around 115 craft.

So really, to what extent is the federal law enforcement organization being brazenly, shamelessly deceptive? The FBI, according to the HuffPost, did ask the AP to not include any company names in its reporting. The bureau reputedly used the taxpayer dollars which would go towards replacing the disclosed companies as a kind of blackmail. Classy. The AP, of course, declined the FBI’s request as only publicly accessible information was used.

Most of the aircraft, despite belonging to different “companies”, were registered under a specific name–Robert Lindley. Registration documents signed by Lindley’s hand, HuffPost reports, display at least three distinct signatures. Hoping to verify the man’s existence, the AP has tried and failed to reach Robert through multiple Washington-area phone numbers under that name. FBI officials, to this day, refuse to comment on whether or not Lindley is a government employee.

By analyzing the plane’s flight data, journalists discovered the FBI fleet flew over more than 30 cities over a 30 day period. Since April 2015, two months before the Huffington Post piece, at least 100 flights circled both major cities and rural areas. Associated Press photographers even captured an image of a plane circling like a ghostly hawk in northern Virginia’s skies. The aircraft, the HuffPost reports, sported both a variety of suspicious antenna under its fuselage and a mounted camera.

Cities on the FBI’s flight list include: Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and southern California. Some of these cities, a quick google search reveals, were subject to recent protests and/or civil unrest, such as California, Chicago and, of course, Baltimore. Despite any such public data professional and citizen journalists, analysts, or researchers may gleam, fundamental questions abound. What precisely is the purpose or function of this specific program? How long has it been operational, and under what laws is it bound or regulated? Where does excess data and footage go? How far is too far?

FBI Surveillance BaltimoreDespite the FBI’s recent downplaying of its surveillance program, its statement before congress in 2009 really says it all. “Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams.” According to the Huffington Post, this was part of the FBI’s bid to Congress for $5.1 million in funding for the so-called “spy plane” program.

Ask yourself, what does this statement and the amount of money the FBI requested, taken either alone or together, say about the program? Does it seem like its aircraft and the technology they’re equipped with would be so rarely utilized as officials claim? “A lot of questions are unclear”, says ACLU staff attorney Nathan Wessler, the Washington Post reports.

Is it safe to suppose at least part of the programs mandate involves surveillance of generously populated protests, rowdy or otherwise? Almost sensing the question lurking about its flank the Justice Department, the HuffPost reports, maintained its “drones” don’t deploy “solely” to monitor First Amendment protected activity. In Baltimore’s case, according to FBI and Federal Aviation Administration documents, both night vision and inferred tech scanned crowds below. The documents, Washington Post reports, were obtained by the ACLU through Freedom Of Information Act requests.

An FBI official, under anonymity due to the programs sensitive nature, claimed the planes were ensuring public safety. The official, according to Washington Post, used a “potential for large scale violence and riots” as justification. “Potential”, suggesting the planes were in the air before the ground atmosphere went agro. In case you’re wondering, documents also showed no evidence of a warrant being obtained prior or after the Baltimore operation.

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If there’s at all a silver lining in any of this, it’s how much independent people really contributed to the story. Most of the information used to track, verify, and ultimately link the planes to FBI’s program hid within a slush of online data. Even the Associated Press wouldn’t have conducted an investigation had Benjamin Shayne not first tweeted about the suspicious planes. A decentralized online contingent of bloggers and Reddit users, not the organized press, was the first to conduct any serious inquiry. It’s an utter travesty that the same headline, “FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over cities”, along with nearly the same AP articles, were published across the board. If that’s not a press loop then a challenge goes out to anyone who can give a more textbook example.

For anyone interested conducting a more concurrent investigation, technologist John Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, has some tips to offer. Wiseman himself used public records to get flight routes, some of which can be found online. One would be surprised what kind of legitimate information floats about the slush untouched simply because no one, except those who care, bothers to look. John also reputedly used a modified radio receiver to pick up aircraft transmissions, and tracked tail numbers, provided by the Washington Post, to a fake company. Wiseman, Fusion.net reports, recommends sites like flightradar20 and flightaware for tracking aircraft registration numbers.

Here’s where this blog gets functional! Anyone willing, able, and/or both are by all means invited to rehash the investigation. Larger news organizations might feel subliminal pressure from the feds to keep quiet, edit stories, or what have you, but the people will not. How hard would it be to, say, check up on new data on the already “found out” planes? Where are they now? Have they traded hands or do the front-companies still stand? Speaking of the “companies”, they’re fair game too! NG Research, for example, has a website which can be easily found by googling the company name. No, there isn’t any product listings on the page. No, the page hasn’t changed for over a year despite it apparently being an actual company. A functional revival of the FBI’s surveillance program, even if not published, may prove uniquely valuable in the days to come.

– Isiah Holmes

Las Vegas Cop Faces Federal Civil Rights Charges Over Beating of Woman For Littering

LVMPD Police Brutality Excessive Force Officer Richard Scavone

Former Officer Richard Scavone of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was indicted by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges. Those charges related to excessive force during an arrest of a woman that he had originally begun harassing based on his belief that she was a prostitute.

He also faces charges based on his falsification of the arrest report to justify assaulting her by claiming she was combative and that he was defending himself when he beat her. Although the footage hasn’t been released yet, Scavone was wearing a body cam at the time. The video from that camera did not match his report, which led to an investigation. that investigation initially led to local misdemeanor battery charges, as well as his firing from the LVMPD. The federal charges are both felonies.

Via the Las Vegas Review Journal:

According to the indictment, Scavone, while acting under color of law, handcuffed the woman on Jan. 6, 2015, and assaulted her several times.

He grabbed the woman around her neck and threw her to the ground, struck her in the forehead with an open palm, slammed her face into the hood of his patrol car two times and slammed her into the door of his car, the indictment alleges.

The actions resulted in “bodily injury” to the woman, the indictment alleges.

Scavone also falsified a use-of-force report about his confrontation with the woman, according to the indictment.

Authorities last year said Scavone was wearing a body camera during the scuffle, but police have not made the recording public.

Scavone had stopped a woman about 5 a.m. near Tropicana Avenue and Interstate 15, where he said she was loitering and trying to solicit work as a prostitute, according to authorities.

His supervisors concluded his use of force was “excessive” and “unreasonable,” Undersheriff Kevin McMahill told reporters after the district attorney’s office filed criminal charges in March.

The woman was charged with littering and loitering, but those charges were dismissed, McMahill said.

Scavone was put on paid administrative leave when the allegations against him first surfaced, but was terminated from the department on Sept. 10, police said.

The federal case was investigated by the Las Vegas FBI and is being prosecuted jointly by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., and the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office.

Apparently, Officer Scavone was angry that she didn’t immediately comply with his order to leave a public street that she had every right to be on and also had thrown a cup of coffee over her shoulder. This also isn’t the first time his actions have been questioned. Several years earlier, another person came forward (video embedded below) claiming to have been beaten by Scavone. At that time, there was no video of the incident so Scavone’s police report was automatically accepted as the official version of events and the assault was ruled justified.

In addition, back in 2010 Scavone was involved in the shooting of a burglary suspect. That time he was given the typical paid vacation and, as was the trend at the time, given an award for bravery after “investigators” declared the shooting justified, as is the longstanding tradition for Las Vegas area police departments.

Body Camera Footage of the Assault

Local News Coverage

To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police Is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

Patti Silliman shared a link via CopBlock.org/Submit to a piece authored by  Matthew Harwood, which opened by outlining the needless killing of Jason Westcott. Harwood’s entire write-up seemed worth sharing with readers of CopBlock.org, thus he was contacted via Twitter and asked if it could be cross-posted. Harwood agreed.

To Terrify and Occupy: How the Excessive Militarization of the Police Is Turning Cops Into Counterinsurgents

by Matthew Harwood, originally posted to TomDispatch.com on August 14, 2014.On Twitter, follow Matthew Harwood @MHarwood31 and Tom Dispatch

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

The intruders, however, weren’t small-time crooks looking to make a small score. Rather they were members of the Tampa Police Department’s SWAT team, which was executing a search warrant on suspicion that Westcott and his partner were marijuana dealers. They had been tipped off by a confidential informant, whom they drove to Westcott’s home four times between February and May to purchase small amounts of marijuana, at $20-$60 a pop. The informer notified police that he saw two handguns in the home, which was why the Tampa police deployed a SWAT team to execute the search warrant.

In the end, the same police department that told Westcott to protect his home with defensive force killed him when he did. After searching his small rental, the cops indeed found weed, two dollars’ worth, and one legal handgun — the one he was clutching when the bullets ripped into him.

Welcome to a new era of American policing, where cops increasingly see themselves as soldiers occupying enemy territory, often with the help of Uncle Sam’s armory, and where even nonviolent crimes are met with overwhelming force and brutality.

The War on Your Doorstep

The cancer of militarized policing has long been metastasizing in the body politic.  It has been growing ever stronger since the first Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were born in the 1960s in response to that decade’s turbulent mix of riots, disturbances, and senseless violence like Charles Whitman’s infamous clock-tower rampage in Austin, Texas.

While SWAT isn’t the only indicator that the militarization of American policing is increasing, it is the most recognizable. The proliferation of SWAT teams across the country and their paramilitary tactics have spread a violent form of policing designed for the extraordinary but in these years made ordinary. When the concept of SWAT arose out of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Police Departments, it was quickly picked up by big city police officials nationwide.  Initially, however, it was an elite force reserved for uniquely dangerous incidents, such as active shooters, hostage situations, or large-scale disturbances.

Nearly a half-century later, that’s no longer true.

In 1984, according to Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, about 26% of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had SWAT teams. By 2005, that number had soared to 80% and it’s still rising, though SWAT statistics are notoriously hard to come by.

As the number of SWAT teams has grown nationwide, so have the raids. Every year now, there are approximately 50,000 SWAT raids in the United States, according to Professor Pete Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. In other words, roughly 137 times a day a SWAT team assaults a home and plunges its inhabitants and the surrounding community into terror.

Upping the Racial Profiling Ante

In a recently released report, “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (my employer) discovered that nearly 80% of all SWAT raids it reviewed between 2011 and 2012 were deployed to execute a search warrant.

Pause here a moment and consider that these violent home invasions are routinely used against people who are only suspected of a crime. Up-armored paramilitary teams now regularly bash down doors in search of evidence of a possible crime. In other words, police departments increasingly choose a tactic that often results in injury and property damage as its first option, not the one of last resort. In more than 60% of the raids the ACLU investigated, SWAT members rammed down doors in search of possible drugs, not to save a hostage, respond to a barricade situation, or neutralize an active shooter.

On the other side of that broken-down door, more often than not, are blacks and Latinos. When the ACLU could identify the race of the person or people whose home was being broken into, 68% of the SWAT raids against minorities were for the purpose of executing a warrant in search of drugs. When it came to whites, that figure dropped to 38%, despite the well-known fact that blacks, whites, and Latinos all use drugs at roughly the same rates. SWAT teams, it seems, have a disturbing record of disproportionately applying their specialized skill set within communities of color.

Think of this as racial profiling on steroids in which the humiliation of stop and frisk is raised to a terrifying new level.

Everyday Militarization

Don’t think, however, that the military mentality and equipment associated with SWAT operations are confined to those elite units. Increasingly, they’re permeating all forms of policing.

As Karl Bickel, a senior policy analyst with the Justice Department’s Community Policing Services office, observes, police across America are being trained in a way that emphasizes force and aggression. He notes that recruit training favors a stress-based regimen that’s modeled on military boot camp rather than on the more relaxed academic setting a minority of police departments still employ. The result, he suggests, is young officers who believe policing is about kicking ass rather than working with the community to make neighborhoods safer. Or as comedian Bill Maher reminded officers recently: “The words on your car, ‘protect and serve,’ refer to us, not you.”

This authoritarian streak runs counter to the core philosophy that supposedly dominates twenty-first-century American thinking: community policing.  Its emphasis is on a mission of “keeping the peace” by creating and maintaining partnerships of trust with and in the communities served. Under the community model, which happens to be the official policing philosophy of the U.S. government, officers are protectors but also problem solvers who are supposed to care, first and foremost, about how their communities see them. They don’t command respect, the theory goes: they earn it. Fear isn’t supposed to be their currency. Trust is.

Nevertheless, police recruiting videos, as in those from California’s Newport Beach Police Department and New Mexico’s Hobbs Police Department, actively play up not the community angle but militarization as a way of attracting young men with the promise of Army-style adventure and high-tech toys. Policing, according to recruiting videos like these, isn’t about calmly solving problems; it’s about you and your boys breaking down doors in the middle of the night.

SWAT’s influence reaches well beyond that.  Take the increasing adoption of battle-dress uniforms (BDUs) for patrol officers. These militaristic, often black, jumpsuits, Bickel fears, make them less approachable and possibly also more aggressive in their interactions with the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

ferguson-missori-police-state-copblockA small project at Johns Hopkins University seemed to bear this out. People were shown pictures of police officers in their traditional uniforms and in BDUs. Respondents, the survey indicated, would much rather have a police officer show up in traditional dress blues. Summarizing its findings, Bickel writes, “The more militaristic look of the BDUs, much like what is seen in news stories of our military in war zones, gives rise to the notion of our police being an occupying force in some inner city neighborhoods, instead of trusted community protectors.”

Where Do They Get Those Wonderful Toys?

“I wonder if I can get in trouble for doing this,” the young man says to his buddy in the passenger seat as they film the Saginaw County Sheriff Office’s new toy: a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. As they film the MRAP from behind, their amateur video has a Red Dawn-esque feel, as if an occupying military were now patrolling this Michigan county’s streets. “This is getting ready for f**king crazy times, dude,” one young man comments. “Why,” his friend replies, “has our city gotten that f**king bad?”

In fact, nothing happening in Saginaw County warranted the deployment of an armored vehicle capable of withstanding bullets and the sort of improvised explosive devices that insurgent forces have regularly planted along roads in America’s recent war zones.  Sheriff William Federspiel, however, fears the worst. “As sheriff of the county, I have to put ourselves in the best position to protect our citizens and protect our property,” he told a reporter. “I have to prepare for something disastrous.”

RELATED Content Tagged “MRAP” at CopBlock.org: http://www.copblock.org/?s=mrap

Lucky for Federspiel, his exercise in paranoid disaster preparedness didn’t cost his office a penny. That $425,000 MRAP came as a gift, courtesy of Uncle Sam, from one of our far-flung counterinsurgency wars. The nasty little secret of policing’s militarization is that taxpayers are subsidizing it through programs overseen by the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Justice Department.

Take the 1033 program. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) may be an obscure agency within the Department of Defense, but through the 1033 program, which it oversees, it’s one of the core enablers of American policing’s excessive militarization. Beginning in 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to transfer its surplus property free of charge to federal, state, and local police departments to wage the war on drugs. In 1997, Congress expanded the purpose of the program to include counterterrorism in section 1033 of the defense authorization bill. In one single page of a 450-page law, Congress helped sow the seeds of today’s warrior cops.

The amount of military hardware transferred through the program has grown astronomically over the years. In 1990, the Pentagon gave $1 million worth of equipment to U.S. law enforcement. That number had jumped to nearly $450 million in 2013. Overall, the program has shipped off more than $4.3 billion worth of materiel to state and local cops, according to the DLA.

In its recent report, the ACLU found a disturbing range of military gear being transferred to civilian police departments nationwide. Police in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance, received 34 automatic and semi-automatic rifles, two robots that can be armed, military helmets, and a Mamba tactical vehicle. Police in Gwinnet County, Georgia, received 57 semi-automatic rifles, mostly M-16s and M-14s. The Utah Highway Patrol, according to a Salt Lake City Tribune investigation, got an MRAP from the 1033 program, and Utah police received 1,230 rifles and four grenade launchers. After South Carolina’s Columbia Police Department received its very own MRAP worth $658,000, its SWAT Commander Captain E.M. Marsh noted that 500 similar vehicles had been distributed to law enforcement organizations across the country.

aurora-police-department-1033-program-copblockAstoundingly, one-third of all war materiel parceled out to state, local, and tribal police agencies is brand new. This raises further disconcerting questions: Is the Pentagon simply wasteful when it purchases military weapons and equipment with taxpayer dollars? Or could this be another downstream, subsidized market for defense contractors? Whatever the answer, the Pentagon is actively distributing weaponry and equipment made for U.S. counterinsurgency campaigns abroad to police who patrol American streets and this is considered sound policy in Washington. The message seems striking enough: what might be necessary for Kabul might also be necessary for DeKalb County.

In other words, the twenty-first-century war on terror has melded thoroughly with the twentieth-century war on drugs, and the result couldn’t be anymore disturbing: police forces that increasingly look and act like occupying armies.

How the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice Are Up-Armoring the Police

When police departments look to muscle up their arms and tactics, the Pentagon isn’t the only game in town. Civilian agencies are in on it, too.

During a 2011 investigation, reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz discovered that, since 9/11, police departments watching over some of the safest places in America have used $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to militarize in the name of counterterrorism.

In Fargo, North Dakota, for example, the city and its surrounding county went on an $8 million spending spree with federal money, according to Becker and Schulz. Although the area averaged less than two murders a year since 2005, every squad car is now armed with an assault rifle. Police also have access to Kevlar helmets that can stop heavy firepower as well as an armored truck worth approximately $250,000. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1,500 beat cops have been trained to use AR-15 assault rifles with homeland security grant funding.

As with the 1033 program, neither DHS nor state and local governments account for how the equipment, including body armor and drones, is used. While the rationale behind stocking up on these military-grade supplies is invariably the possibility of a terrorist attack, school shooting, or some other horrific event, the gear is normally used to conduct paramilitary drug raids, as Balko notes.

the-rise-of-the-warrior-copb-radley-balko-copblock

The Rise of the Warrior Cop, by Radley Balko

Still, the most startling source of police militarization is the Department of Justice, the very agency officially dedicated to spreading the community policing model through its Community Oriented Policing Services office.

In 1988, Congress authorized the Byrne grant programs in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which gave state and local police federal funds to enlist in the government’s drug war. That grant program, according to Balko, led to the creation of regional and multi-jurisdictional narcotics task forces, which gorged themselves on federal money and, with little federal, state, or local oversight, spent it beefing up their weapons and tactics. In 2011, 585 of these task forces operated off of Byrne grant funding.

The grants, Balko reports, also incentivized the type of policing that has made the war on drugs such a destructive force in American society. The Justice Department doled out Byrne grants based on how many arrests officers made, how much property they seized, and how many warrants they served. The very things these narcotics task forces did very well. “As a result,” Balko writes, “we have roving squads of drug cops, loaded with SWAT gear, who get money if they conduct more raids, make more arrests, and seize more property, and they are virtually immune to accountability if they get out of line.”

Regardless of whether this militarization has occurred due to federal incentives or executive decision-making in police departments or both, police across the nation are up-armoring with little or no public debate. In fact, when the ACLU requested SWAT records from 255 law enforcement agencies as part of its investigation, 114 denied them. The justifications for such denials varied, but included arguments that the documents contained “trade secrets” or that the cost of complying with the request would be prohibitive. Communities have a right to know how the police do their jobs, but more often than not, police departments think otherwise.

Being the Police Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Report by report, evidence is mounting that America’s militarized police are a threat to public safety. But in a country where the cops increasingly look upon themselves as soldiers doing battle day in, day out, there’s no need for public accountability or even an apology when things go grievously wrong.

If community policing rests on mutual trust between the police and the people, militarized policing operates on the assumption of “officer safety” at all costs and contempt for anyone who sees things differently. The result is an “us versus them” mentality.

Just ask the parents of Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Around 3:00 a.m. on May 28th, the Habersham County Special Response Team conducted a no-knock raid at a relative’s home near Cornelia, Georgia, where the family was staying. The officers were looking for the homeowner’s son, whom they suspected of selling $50 worth of drugs to a confidential informant.  As it happened, he no longer lived there.

Despite evidence that children were present — a minivan in the driveway, children’s toys littering the yard, and a Pack ‘n Play next to the door — a SWAT officer tossed a “flashbang” grenade into the home. It landed in 19-month-old Bou Bou’s crib and exploded, critically wounding the toddler. When his distraught mother tried to reach him, officers screamed at her to sit down and shut up, telling her that her child was fine and had just lost a tooth. In fact, his nose was hanging off his face, his body had been severely burned, and he had a hole in his chest. Rushed to the hospital, Bou Bou had to be put into a medically induced coma.

The police claimed that it was all a mistake and that there had been no evidence children were present. “There was no malicious act performed,” Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a terrible accident that was never supposed to happen.” The Phonesavanhs have yet to receive an apology from the sheriff’s office. “Nothing. Nothing for our son. No card. No balloon. Not a phone call. Not anything,” Bou Bou’s mother, Alecia Phonesavanh, told CNN.

Similarly, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor continues to insist that Jay Westcott’s death in the militarized raid on his house was his own fault.  “Mr. Westcott lost his life because he aimed a loaded firearm at police officers. You can take the entire marijuana issue out of the picture,” Castor said. “If there’s an indication that there is armed trafficking going on — someone selling narcotics while they are armed or have the ability to use a firearm — then the tactical response team will do the initial entry.”

In her defense of the SWAT raid, Castor simply dismissed any responsibility for Westcott’s death. “They did everything they could to serve this warrant in a safe manner,” she wrote the Tampa Bay Times — “everything,” that is, but find an alternative to storming the home of a man they knew feared for his life.

Almost half of all American households report having a gun, as the ACLU notes in its report. That means the police always have a ready-made excuse for using SWAT teams to execute warrants when less confrontational and less violent alternatives exist.

In other words, if police believe you’re selling drugs, beware. Suspicion is all they need to turn your world upside down. And if they’re wrong, don’t worry; the intent couldn’t have been better.

Voices in the Wilderness

The militarization of the police shouldn’t be surprising. As Hubert Williams, a former police director of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick V. Murphy, former commissioner of the New York City Police Department, put it nearly 25 years ago, police are “barometers of the society in which they operate.” In post-9/11 America, that means police forces imbued with the “hooah” mentality of soldiers and acting as if they are fighting an insurgency in their own backyard.

While the pace of police militarization has quickened, there has at least been some pushback from current and former police officials who see the trend for what it is: the destruction of community policing. In Spokane, Washington, Councilman Mike Fagan, a former police detective, is pushing back against police officers wearing BDUs, calling the get-up “intimidating” to citizens. In Utah, the legislature passed a bill requiring probable cause before police could execute a no-knock raid. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank has been a vocal critic of militarization, telling the local paper, “We’re not the military. Nor should we look like an invading force coming in.” Just recently, Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department agreed with the ACLU and the Los Angeles Times editorial board that “the lines between municipal law enforcement and the U.S. military cannot be blurred.”

Retired Seattle police chief Norm Stamper has also become an outspoken critic of militarizing police forces, noting “most of what police are called upon to do, day in and day out, requires patience, diplomacy, and interpersonal skills.” In other words, community policing. Stamper is the chief who green-lighted a militarized response to World Trade Organization protests in his city in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”). It’s a decision he would like to take back. “My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose,” he wrote in the Nation. “Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict.”

These former policemen and law enforcement officials understand that police officers shouldn’t be breaking down any citizen’s door at 3 a.m. armed with AR-15s and flashbang grenades in search of a small amount of drugs, while an MRAP idles in the driveway. The anti-militarists, however, are in the minority right now. And until that changes, violent paramilitary police raids will continue to break down the doors of nearly 1,000 American households a week.

War, once started, can rarely be contained.

If You Drive on a Highway; Chances are the Police are Tracking You

The article was shared with the CopBlock Network by a reader named Joe, via the CopBlock.org Submissions Page. The article was originally posted on the blog of the ACLU. It details the growth of the surveillance state under the guise of stemming the movement of substances some people deem “illicit.”

Are you the property of someone else? Do they have “right” to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body? Do they have the right to track your movement using your own dime? Personally hat’s not the kind of society I want to live in. As this article correctly notes “

Anyone who thinks all of the above will never happen doesn’t know much about history.” The best solution is not to further compound problems created and exacerbated by drug prohibition, arbitrary political boundaries, and claimed double-standards for law enforcement, but simply to not give them any credence by recognizing and acting as if you own yourself, because you do!

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The DEA wants to capture the license plates of all vehicles traveling along Interstate 15 in Utah, and store that data for two years at their facility in Northern Virginia. And, as a DEA official told Utah legislators at a hearing this week (attended by ACLU of Utah staff and covered in local media), these scanners are already in place on “drug trafficking corridors” in California and Texas and are being considered for Arizona as well. The agency is also collecting plate data from unspecified other sources and sharing it with over ten thousand law enforcement agencies around the nation.

We know that automated license plate scanning (ALPR) technology is rapidly being deployed by local police around the country. However, its use by a federal agency raises new issues and questions. To begin with, the federal government is in more of a position to create a centralized repository of drivers’ movements, so federal deployment of the technology is even more serious a matter than widespread local deployment.

In addition, a federal agency is required by law (the Privacy Act of 1974) to disclose to the American people how it is collecting, using, and sharing data about them. However, we were not able to find a Privacy Act notice anywhere in the Federal Register in which the DEA describes any collection of license plate data. (The two recent DEA Privacy Act notices we found do not mention the practice.)

We have received reports from ACLU affiliates along what the government calls the “SWB” (southwest border) that ALPR technology appeared to be in use at border checkpoints. And we did find mention of ALPR in DEA written testimony to Congress. In May 2009, DEA and Justice Dept. officials mentioned the agency’s use of the technology along the border. They wrote:

Within the United States, DEA has worked with DHS to implement its ‘License Plate Reader Initiative’ (LPR) in the Southwest border region to gather intelligence, particularly on movements of weapons and cash into Mexico. The system uses optical character recognition technology to read license plates on vehicles in the United States traveling southbound towards the border. The system also takes photographs of drivers and records statistical information such as the date, time, and traffic lane of the record. This information can be compared with DEA and CBP databases to help identify and interdict vehicles that are carrying large quantities of cash, weapons, and other illegal contraband toward Mexico.

The word “particularly” in that statement is particularly ominous. In March 2011 written testimony, a top DEA official updated the picture:

DEA components have the ability to query and input alerts on license plates via an existing DEA database, and other law enforcement agencies can do the same via EPIC [the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center]. DEA and CBP are currently working together in order to merge existing CBP LPRs at the points of entry with DEA’s LPR Initiative. In addition, the FY2010 SWB supplemental provided $1.5 million to expand the LPR initiative by purchasing additional devices and barrels and support maintenance to allow DEA to monitor traffic and provide intelligence on bulk currency transiting toward Mexico.

Law enforcement officials defended the program in part by describing it as an extension of already existing ALPR deployments in the rest of the state. But rather than mollifying the legislators, this answer prompted them to resolve to hold hearings on those local uses of the technology.

As usual, the authorities also tried to package their proposal with all kinds of soothing promises: the data would not be used except to catch drug traffickers and to investigate “serious crimes.” The data would not be cross-referenced with other databases containing driver’s names (and therefore presumably to the vast realms of other information that that would be available). The data would not be used to locate people with outstanding traffic tickets and misdemeanor warrants.

This is what you call sugaring a pill so that people will swallow it. Anyone who thinks all of the above will never happen doesn’t know much about history. We’ve seen this dynamic many times—a new surveillance technique is unveiled supposedly for use only against the most extreme criminals and is quickly expanded to much broader use. (To take just one example: DNA testing was first applied only to convicted murderers, then to all convicts, then to certain arrestees who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.)