This is the incredible, incomprehensible story told by Radley Balko in an op-ed published February 4 in the Washington Post.
Finally, note that police department officials say they “do not have a written policy governing how search warrants are executed.” That’s inexcusable. Most police departments do. But whether or not they’re governed by a formal policy, the use of these kinds of tactics for nonviolent crimes like credit card fraud is hardly unusual, and it’s happening more often, not less. I’ve reported on jurisdictions where all felony search warrants are now served with a SWAT team. At least one federal appeals court has now ruled that under the Fourth Amendment, there’s nothing unreasonable about using a SWAT team to perform regulatory inspections. To be fair, two others have ruled that such tactics are not reasonable. But it’s concerning that this would even be up for debate. We have plenty of discussion and analysis about when searches are appropriate. We also need to start talking about how.
The American approach to law enforcement was forged by the experience of revolution. Emerging as they did from the shadow of British rule, the country's founders would likely have viewed police, as they exist today, as a standing army, and therefore a threat to liberty. Even so, excessive force and disregard for the Bill of Rights have become epidemic in today's world. According to civil liberties reporter Radley Balko, these are all symptoms of a generation-long shift to increasingly aggressive, militaristic, and arguably unconstitutional policing—one that would have shocked the conscience of America's founders.
No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valor. But when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty. When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence [sic], — yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed, — what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies!
If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
Noah Webster, the influential federalist whose name still appears on dictionaries, stated: "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed... ." Pamphlets on the Constitution of the United States 56 (P. Ford ed. 1888).
Where does this leave the American Second Amendment, with its reference to a well-regulated militia necessary to the security of a free state, and its insistence that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed? I would argue that the Second Amendment mirrors English belief in the individual's right to be armed, the importance of that right to the preservation of liberty, and the preference for a militia over a standing army.
Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment — from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers — American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop — armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.
Americans have long been wary of using the military for domestic policing. Concerns about potential abuse date back to the creation of the Constitution, when the founders worried about standing armies and the intimidation of the people at large by an overzealous executive, who might choose to follow the unhappy precedents set by Europe's emperors and monarchs.