Drug raids should end

The list of tragic deaths of innocent people caused by police and SWAT teams blasting into people’s homes in the middle of the night with battering rams and with their guns firing continues to grow. Some jurisdictions have stopped the use of so-called ‘no-knock’ warrants that allows them to break down doors without warning.

But John Oliver on last week’s Last week Tonight says that there is little difference between a ‘no knock’ warrant and a warrant that requires knocking, since the police are only required to wait only 20 seconds after knocking before breaking down the door. Since they usually arrive in the middle of the night, the 20 second limit is meaningless. Hell, it often takes me longer than that to answer the door even when I am awake and dressed and it is in the middle of the day.

He says the solution stares us in the face. We should ban the use of drug raids that make up the majority of these cases. The ‘war on drugs’ is the cause of a vast number of abuses in the justice system, such as the hyper-militarization of local police forces, mass incarcerations for low-level non-violent offenses, and police brutality while providing very little benefit. Most of the people targeted are users, who need treatment and other forms of help rather than imprisonment.

The problem is that because many police departments have now become paramilitary forces equipped with wartime equipment, they use massive force to deal with pretty much every situation, as this story reveals, and courts have ruled that they are not required to compensate people for the damage to property they cause. Some are suing to try and change that.

[I]f the government won’t be on the hook for any cost from the damage, cops have little reason to stop and think before they bash up someone’s home, said Daniel Woislaw, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian public interest law firm that is not involved in Baker’s case.

“The incentive structure that’s created when the government is not accountable for destroying or taking private property is they’re going to do that more, they’re going to be more destructive, they’re going to use more military equipment,” Woislaw said.

Without accountability, abuses by prosecutors and police will continue.


  1. ardipithecus says

    A couple of years ago I got to witness an RCMP raid on a house. I was out for a walk on a crescent street with a slight down grade which the police used to ghost to the house (coasting in neutral with their engines off). They were marked cars. As I neared, I could see a third, unmarked car parked at the curb pointed in the opposite direction. Six cops emerged and gathered silently in front then two trotted around to the back yard. The four in front waited about 3 seconds then went up the stairs to the front door. The first held a ram, the second held a piece of paper, the third had his handgun out, held in both hands and pointed down and away. All the other cops’ handguns were holstered.

    Someone yelled “Police! Warrant! Open up!”. Immediately, the cop with the ram bashed the door open, no waiting for a response.

    Quick. Efficient. Minimal risk of hurting anyone., especially bystanders. Raids can be done without shooting your way in.

    Our big bugaboo seems to be wellness checks, where cops are dispatched to make sure someone is all right, but end up beating them or even killing them.

  2. KeithRB says

    Would you feel the same way if the drug dealer was down the street from you? This just happened to me. I was *glad* for the pre-dawn raid by the DEA.

  3. says

    You can go to the store and pick up a bottle of arsenic (commonly used as rat poinsoning). You do not need to show ID to buy arsenic. You do not need to be 18 to buy arsenic. And yet, arsenic is more toxic than any illegal drug. Maybe it’s naive of me, but I think more dangerous things should be more illegal than less dangerous things. If possesion of arsenic is legal, than possession of far less dangerous substances like cocaine should be too.

    On the other hand, guns are far more dangerous than arsenic. You can’t go into a crowded mall and force-feed arsenic to 500 people before security gets there (well, NOW you can’t do it because there are no crowded malls, but you couldn’t do it before COVID-19 either). So guns should be more heavily regulated than arsenic.

  4. Mano Singham says


    I see your point and in fact have lived on a street where the house that was two doors away was believed to be used by people selling drugs, though whether they were big time or small time dealers I do not know. They pretty much did not bother the neighbors. If you knew that the house was occupied by a drug dealer, then it must be common knowledge. Why not arrest the dealer when he comes out? What exactly is the purpose served by such a raid that could not have been achieved by other means?

    I recall the infamous Branch Dravidian case in Waco, Texas. Its leader David Koresh would go into town regularly and hang around talking with people. Instead of picking him up then, they staged a pre-dawn raid on the compound (accompanied by TV crews of course), that resulted in a shootout and fire that ended up with nearly one hundred deaths. It was such a raid that killed Fred Hampton and Breonna Taylor and so many others.

    When so many such raids end in so many deaths and such destruction, that is a sign that it is a bad policy.

  5. komarov says

    Maybe the low threshold for raids, the little to no due diligence in preparation and the lack of accountability are also what make “SWATing” possible. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s where someone (anonymously) calls the police claiming there’s a crime in progress at an address to get them to send in a SWAT team. This has been used as a prank or for revenge and, if I remember correctly, there have been deaths.

    I’ll second Mano’s sentiment in his comment. Raids are a cudgel and on many occasions public safety would surely be better served by a more nuanced approach. What good is a surveillance state anyway, if you can’t even figure out when a suspect is out and about where they can be discreetly collected with a minimum of fuss? It’s not like the necessary warrants would be an issue, not if John Oliver is to be believed.

    I’ll also note that ardipithecus’ Canadian raid example doesn’t seem much better, to be honest. It sounds like the key diffference to a US style raid is “fewer guns.” That’s nice? All the other problems are still there, although, in fairness, we have no way of knowing if this was a scenario where the aggressive stance (“no waiting for response”) was justified.

  6. Michael Bushnell says

    Seeing as the CIA is one of the biggest drug cartels, the point of “how would you feel if your neighbor was dealing drugs” makes no sense. We need to change the law so the ability to make money off of these things is much less. Inform people on correct use, maybe someday people won’t look at drugs as something that will slit your throat if seen in person. A lot of these people have only gotten into dealing drugs because they only see it as a way to make money and a product of their environment. When our own government is the one controlling drugs and the drug flow, you know there needs to be a big change in the system.

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