Tuesday, July 16, 2013

"They Throw Kids on the Ground, Put Guns to Their Heads" -- The Horrors Unleashed by Police Militarization | Alternet

"They Throw Kids on the Ground, Put Guns to Their Heads" -- The Horrors Unleashed by Police Militarization | Alternet

 

The following is an excerpt from RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP: The Militarization of America's Police Forces by Radley Balko.  Reprinted with permission from PublicAffairs Books.

Betty Taylor still remembers the night it all hit her.

As a child, Taylor had always been taught that police officers were the good guys. She learned to respect law enforcement, as she puts it, “all the time, all the way.” She went on to become a cop because she wanted to help people, and that’s what cops did. She wanted to fight sexual assault, particularly predators who take advantage of children. To go into law enforcement—to become one of the good guys—seemed like the best way to accomplish that. By the late 1990s, she’d risen to the rank of detective in the sheriff’s department of Lincoln County, Missouri—a sparsely populated farming community about an hour northwest of St. Louis. She eventually started a sex crimes unit within the department. But it was a small department with a tight budget. When she couldn’t get the money she needed, Taylor was forced to give speeches and write her own proposals to keep her program operating.
What troubled her was that while the sex crimes unit had to find funding on its own, the SWAT team was always flush with cash. “The SWAT team, the drug guys, they always had money,” Taylor says. “There were always state and federal grants for drug raids. There was always funding through asset forfeiture.” Taylor never quite understood that disparity. “When you think about the collateral effects of a sex crime, of how it can affect an entire family, an entire community, it just didn’t make sense. The drug users weren’t really harming anyone but themselves. Even the dealers, I found much of the time they were just people with little money, just trying to get by.”

The SWAT team eventually co-opted her as a member. As the only woman in the department, she was asked to go along on drug raids in the event there were any children inside. “The perimeter team would go in first. They’d throw all of the adults on the floor until they had secured the building. Sometimes the kids too. Then they’d put the kids in a room by themselves, and the search team would go in. They’d come to me, point to where the kids were, and say, ‘You deal with them.’” Taylor would then stay with the children until family services arrived, at which point they’d be placed with a relative.

Taylor’s moment of clarity came during a raid on an autumn evening in November 2000. Narcotics investigators had made a controlled drug buy a few hours earlier and were laying plans to raid the suspect’s home. “The drug buy was in town, not at the home,” Taylor says. “But they’d always raid the house anyway. They could never just arrest the guy on the street. They always had to kick down doors.” With just three hours between the drug buy and the raid, the police hadn’t done much surveillance at all. The SWAT team would often avoid raiding a house if they knew there were children inside, but Taylor was troubled by how little effort they put into seeking out that sort of information. “Three hours is nowhere near enough time to investigate your suspect, to find out who might be inside the house. It just isn’t enough time for you to know the range of things that could happen.”
That afternoon the police had bought drugs from the stepfather of two children, ages eight and six. Both were in the house at the time of the raid. The stepfather wasn’t.

“They did their thing,” Taylor says. “Everybody on the floor, guns and yelling. Then they put the two kids in the bedroom, did their search, then sent me in to take care of the kids.”

Taylor made her way inside to see them. When she opened the door, the eight-year-old girl assumed a defense posture, putting her- self between Taylor and her little brother. She looked at Taylor and said, half fearful, half angry, “What are you going to do to us?”

Taylor was shattered. “Here I come in with all my SWAT gear on, dressed in armor from head to toe, and this little girl looks up at me, and her only thought is to defend her little brother. I thought, How can we be the good guys when we come into the house looking like this, screaming and pointing guns at the people they love? How can we be the good guys when a little girl looks up at me and wants to fight me?And for what? What were we accomplishing with all of this? Absolutely nothing.”

Taylor was later appointed police chief of the small town of Winfield, Missouri. Winfield was too small for its own SWAT team, even in the 2000s, but Taylor says she’d have quit before she ever created one. “Good police work has nothing to do with dressing up in black and breaking into houses in the middle of the night. And the mentality changes when they get put on the SWAT team. I remember a guy I was good friends with, it just completely changed him. The us-versus-them mentality takes over. You see that mentality in regular patrol officers too. But it’s much, much worse on the SWAT team. They’re more concerned with the drugs than they are with innocent bystanders. Because when you get into that mentality, there are no innocent people. There’s us and there’s the enemy. Children and dogs are always the easiest casualties.”
Taylor recently ran into the little girl who changed the way she thought about policing. Now in her twenties, the girl told Taylor that she and her brother had nightmares for years after the raid. They slept in the same bed until the boy was eleven. “That was a difficult day at work for me,” she says. “But for her, this was the most traumatic, defining moment of this girl’s life. Do you know what we found? We didn’t find any weapons. No big drug operation. We found three joints and a pipe.”

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