Watch and weep

Police searching for cannabis shoot and kill a dog while a seven-year-old watches.

A knock-and-announce “dynamic entry” raid – one of more than 100 carried out in this country every day – ends with the police shooting one of the family dogs to death as a seven-year-old watches. The first shot fired at the dog, a bull mastiff, missed and hit a corgi, which is a reminder that gunshots tend to hit organisms other than the one they’re intended for. Did I mention the seven-year-old? Yes, dogs can be dangerous; and police ought to have less drastic means of dealing with them. They probably do, outside the adrenaline binge of a dynamic entry.

Payoff: a misdemeanor quantity of cannabis. (Admittedly, the homeowner had a prior for cocaine distribution. But since the police waited eight days between getting the warrant and serving it, it’s not clear what the hurry was. There’s no claim that they had reason to think anyone was armed, beyond the simple fact that it was a drug raid.)

I’m late to this party – Radley Balko found the tape, Von at Obsidian Wings posted the best comment, John Cole nearly lost it, and Andrew Sullivan and Megan McArdle also weighed in.

But it’s a powerful reminder of the most important point left out of the new national drug strategy: that the drug enforcement effort is enormously expensive in money and in suffering: not only 500,000 people behind bars at any one time, but incidents such as this one. A serious strategy – i.e., one that didn’t have to pass agency review and White House vetting – would identify the costs of the drug-control effort as a social problem on the same level as illicit drug abuse itself. (Alcohol and tobacco abuse dwarf both halves of the illicit-drug problem, which is why I remain skeptical of most legalization schemes despite the demonstrated folly of much of the current policy.) We should be trying to minimize the costs of control as well as the costs of abuse. That means focusing enforcement and sentencing on the most violent drug dealers and those who create mass public disorder by selling in open markets, and abandoning the fantasy that enforcement – as opposed to the laws themselves – can substantially shrink the supply of illicit drugs in established mass markets.

Only in the drug-war atmosphere would this sort of behavior seem reasonable to the police, and to the elected officials who stand behind them. And Von is surely right that the demonstrated social and personal harms of cannabis are simply not adequate to justify this amount of violence in its suppression. I’m still against opening cannabis to commercial exploitation, but allowing growing for personal use or by genuine consumer co-ops has to be a less bad solution than the one we have now.

Even for the drugs we can’t reasonably think about legalizing, we need to de-militarize enforcement. This sort of raid shouldn’t be carried out for no better reason than to avoid destruction of evidence. If there’s reason to believe that there are weapons at the site of the raid , of course the cops have to go in heavy. But SWAT tactics have become routine in drug raids, based in this case on no specific suspicion about weapons.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

33 thoughts on “Watch and weep”

  1. The fiasco that is our drug policy suffers from a total disconnect between means and ends, and this deplorable incident is the result. We have a "war on drugs," and therefore must have warriors to fight it. Warriors do their work with weapons, the more extreme the better. We have never had a national conversation about what our goal is regarding drugs. Without knowing the desired end, how can we know what means to use? Surely it isn't a "drug-free America." After all, we are flooded with legal drugs. I can write legal prescriptions for the equivalent of most illegal drugs: narcotics, amphetamines, and — soon in most places, I think — marijuana. Our proper goal should be to reduce the social cost of the illegal drug trade. There are many practical ways to accomplish that, but bashing down doors and shooting pets over a bag of grass is cruel and bizarre. The situation reminds me a little of our other current wars: no well thought-out goals, wrong means even to accomplish our wrong goals, and mass casualties as a result of our blundering.

  2. Chris Johnson is right: Our war on drugs is as intelligent as our war on Afghanistan- and remarkably similar in mentality: open ended, extremely violent, lots of innocent casualties, expensive, creates its own future problems, and no standard for success that passes the laugh test. People learn to be thugs in an occupying military, then come home to practice it on the people who paid them the first time around.

  3. there are so many conservatives furiously fapping to this vid. Don't you ever watch 'action' movies or tv? The only difference is this is more, um, banal.

  4. The horror is that the means are actually well chosen for the ends.

    Look, any time you're trying to enforce a victimless crime law, you're up against a serious obstacle: No victims, (And calling a voluntary participate a 'victim' because you think they're stupid to use the drug doesn't MAKE them a victim.) means nobody directly involved in the crime who WANTS IT STOPPED.

    But people involved in crimes who want them stopped are the main resource police have in fighting crimes. Without them, police have no good way to even know the crime has happened, know nothing of the details. They're working blind. So the chance of any particular 'perpetrator' getting caught is extremely low, and they know it.

    So, what do you do, when you've got a law to enforce, and you AND the criminals know you won't be able to catch most people who break it?


    Senseless brutality in the enforcement of a victimless crime law is, in fact, a well chosen method of making people afraid. Just as people will buy lottery tickets where the chance of a payoff is low, if the payoff itself is very high, people will avoid committing crimes where the chance of getting caught is low, if the results if you do get caught are terrifying enough.

    This sort of thing happens any time the police are given the hopeless task of enforcing a victimless crime law, and aren't content to massively fail. Drugs, prostitution, shotguns that are a 1/8" inch too short, you name it: Where you can't catch most of the criminals, you set out to make them afraid by being brutal.

    Only in the imagination of soft-hearted busybodies is effective enforcement of victimless crime laws without brutality possible.

  5. So, I'm curious as to why you posted this story. Mr. Kleiman, because you otherwise seem such an apologist for prohibition, criticizing cannabis legalizers and puffing your iconoclastic "brief intervention/incarceration" sanctions as the solution to 100 years of muddled drug policy.

    So, what would be your remedy here? Cannabis is still illegal because the squares cannot abide by dispensaries which threaten their precious children and affront their senses. You still feel it "drug use" is an affront to the statist authorities and must be controlled. So in your YouTube video from 2016, the guy is still being dragged away by the cops for failing a mandated piss test, with the dogs probably still being shot and the kids traumatized.

    Or is it simply the "dogs being shot" part of the equation that you find offensive. Or is it you don't think cannabis is "that bad" but cocaine is and they are both "drugs" and the communication problems to he public are so difficult to convey that nuanced message so, essentially, the hell with it. Better to carp about clueless Newsweek reporters and the Versailles-like minuet of cynical careerist apparatchiks at ONDCP?

    p.s. Agree with you on the aptness of "Obsidian Wing's" comments. Do you accept his implication that like Christianity, the "war on drugs", or whatever it is called these days, is a prime example of people doing evil because they are blinded by their own good intentions?

  6. > … which is why I remain skeptical of most legalization

    > schemes despite the demonstrated folly of much of the current

    > policy.

    Someone smarter than me put it this way:

    "Decriminalization falls short of legalization because the sale and distribution remain a serious felony. … While this strategy may make sense domestically for the U.S., Mexican officials say it is the worst possible outcome for Mexico, because it guarantees demand for the drug by eliminating the risk that if you buy you go to jail. But it keeps the supply chain illegal, ensuring that organized crime will be the drug's supplier."

    It's all about the money (on both sides). You have to do away with prohibition.

    Letting people grow their own, or legalizing pot for medicinal purposes, in fact anything short of out-and-out legalization of substances of abuse, will not cut it.

  7. Jack Leibowitz: If you're really curious, rather than just being snarky, how about reading some of my work? You might start with my book Against Excess. If you had, you'd know that I don't think "drug use" is an offense to anything. I do think that highly-reinforcing psychoactive drugs lead some people to lose control of their drug-taking, and that some of them (notably alcohol and the stimulants) make some users more prone to do nasty things to other people. Those are real problems, not imaginary problems, just as the collateral damage of the drug war is a real problem. The question before us is how to minimize the sum of those two problems. For cannabis, I think that means letting people grow their own or form consumer co-ops to grow it for them. Steve Sturgill thinks this "will not cut it," but doesn't explain why. If you want to see what outright legalization on the alcohol model looks like, look at alcohol: huge, hugely profitable corporations prospering in the business of creating and maintaining addiction, and using the political clout their money buys to keep taxes low and regulations loose.

  8. If the problem is hugely profitable corporations selling marijuana, then why not outlaw hugely profitable corporations from selling marijuana? What is the need to outlaw my selling my homegrown marijuana to a friend, or even my opening a storefront and selling it in my community? But, then, if a hugely profitable corporation can sell it cheaper than I can, why shouldn't it? The only reason you give it that it could use its political clout to keep taxes low and regulations loose. But that doesn't seem like a marijuana problem; it seems like a political problem. Your logic would justify banning hugely profitable corporations from selling prescription drugs and OTC drugs, not to mention cars, because they can use their political clout to keep taxes low and regulations loose with respect to all these products.

  9. Making it legal to use pot, while outlawing the entire supply chain, is just an excuse to keep the war going. Whole hog or not at all; Anything short of legalization, we end up with the disadvantages of a war on drugs, AND the disadvantages of a stoned population. And the drug warriors will just say that they were right all along.

  10. I disagree. I have shifted from an orthodox libertarian position to something akin to Mark Kleiman's because of the ruthlessness of corporations and how they would manipulate these substances if they were legal in the way alchohol is. My preferred approach is to decriminalize drugs, and make them available for sale in government run stores for the cost of their provision. Selling would be prohibited – but there would be little need to enforce it. Such a measure would do the following:

    1. There would no longer be any money at all to be made from dealing or getting people addicted. You either make/grow your own or get it super inexpensively.

    2. There would be no need to harm others to get the money to pay for an addiction.

    3. Any time a person wanted to kick their addiction, they would have a place to begin the process.

    4. The quality of the drugs provided would be safe.

    5. The means of using the drugs would be safe.

    6. SWAT thugs would be mostly disbanded.

  11. I'm surprised this video is up here. I'm surprised by a number of things, but let's just review the circumstances of the raid and video

    1. Video never shows the encounter between SWAT and dog.

    2. It was dark.

    3. The child, suspect, and a woman were nowhere near where #1 takes place.

    4. The suspect has a prior for coke distribution; distributors are not known to take their shipping duties lightly.

    5. There is an implication by the dog's owner, that it has a tendency to approach people in an assertive but playful manner.

    As to #5, in a split second decision, is there any other circumstance where a dog doesn't end up hurt or dead? I think that whoever planned this raid should have probably known they had dogs. But in any case, this raid seems like it followed proper protocol, and yes, protocol that includes barging in, and kicking a suspect who is on the ground for what turns out to be a small quantity of marijuana. Voters want "tough on crime" hair-trigger people at the helm of police departments and they certainly got them.

    Moreover, leave it to the death of a pet to get people talking about drug raids and their costs. Absent the shooting of a dog, no one would have raised a stink about this. Out of 100 raids every day, you don't think there are some false positives? Where police bust in, hold weapons in people's faces, take them outside to sit on their lawn in handcuffs, probably in very little clothing, while their neighbors look on and gawk for what turns out to be NO drugs? Or in the case of this

    And last, who approved the search warrant and on what grounds? That's what really led to this. Had the judge not approved the search warrant, this never would have happened. What happened to the days when judges were hard asses not just on criminals, but on the law enforcement agencies in charge of pursuing them?

  12. The police deliberately create situations that are dangerous for everyone involved. Then they try to work the situations so that they are less dangerous for them than for everyone else.

    And when something goes wrong, they use a double standard. When a SWAT team member, with situational awareness, wounds or kills an unarmed suspect or innocent bystander, their excuse is that even highly trained individuals can make mistakes in a highly volatile situation. Sh!t happens!

    When an untrained, unsuspecting civilian is awaken in the middle of the night with seconds to figure out whether he is the victim of a "legal" or illegal home invasion and mistakenly kills a cop, he's a cop kill who should go to prison for life or be executed.

  13. Adding on to CharlesWT's statement (which is pretty good), I take exception to: "As to #5, in a split second decision, is there any other circumstance where a dog doesn’t end up hurt or dead?"

    As has been noted, it took the police 8 days to serve the warrant. At that point, unless they have a real good reason otherwise, they could have dealt with it in another manner.

  14. "I disagree. I have shifted from an orthodox libertarian position to something akin to Mark Kleiman’s because of the ruthlessness of corporations and how they would manipulate these substances if they were legal in the way alchohol is."

    Oh, excuse me. Didn't realize it was an evil corporation that shot the dog… Thought it was an evil government. They're kind of like evil corporations, except that they shoot people a lot more often.

    No, SWAT would NOT be disbanded under that scenario. Who do you suppose would be going after the people who weren't supposed to be providing that supply chain you'd leave illegal?

    And, yeah, the companies selling alcohol aren't my favorites, but they're much, MUCH nicer than the people who were selling alcohol during Prohibition.

  15. I kind of agree with the points that HG made. Disturbing as this video is to watch, there is almost certainly more context to the video on both sides that the casual watcher of the video cannot appreciate. And the point of it taking a dog being shot for this to become a big story is also a good point. Two things were much more disturbing to me than the sound of the dog yelping: 1) the mother carrying that poor child across the living room makes me want to cry, and 2) what kind of person was holding a steady enough hand to run a video camera and tape the whole incident. Another point I want to make is what does it say about our culture and society that we circulate these types of videos around the internet and play them on tv? My wife likes to watch these "real crime" shows on tv and it drives me absolutely crazy because it's like there is a fascination with with watching other people's real pain for our own entertainment. Of course we justify it and say that it needs to be seen to reveal what really goes on, and that we're mortified by it (which we may legitimately be) and need to see it to have a serious discussion about the issues. But to me it just desensitizes us to the real pain that is experienced in these real life situations. It minimizes them by making them available for almost entertainment purposes (at least for some). Do we really need to even see this?

  16. HG-

    I'm not sure what you're surprised by: the video depicts people who are supposed to be society's defenders and order-keepers instead re-enacting an old episode of COPS, crossed with Men Behaving Badly.

    You note that this raid seems to have followed "proper protocol": if wanton thuggery constitutes proper protocol, then maybe its time to refine that protocol.

  17. > Steve Sturgill thinks this [anything short of out-and-out legalization] “will

    > not cut it,” but doesn’t explain why.

    There was one glaring reason why given in my comment, and that's just one reason among many.

    Tom Friedman had a column the other day in which he gives his view of what's going on in Mexico. He described a growing meritocratic middle class, which he calls the Naftas, and contrasts them with two other classes, the No's and the Narcos. The No's are the conservative middle class whose privilege is based on Mexico's dwindling oil. The Narcos are, well, the Narcos.

    Friedman says that as Mexico's oil dwindles, the No's will lose the means to maintain their status quo, and that when the Naftas progress to a certain point relative to the No's, that's when you'll see real political and economic reform in Mexico.

    Friedman sort of dropped the Narcos from consideration in his predictions for the Mexican future, as though the Narcos are irrelevant to the shift in influence that he says will occur between the No's and the Naftas as Mexico's oil depletes. Friedman's short shrift of the Narcos is a shame and a mistake because, given the Narco's ruthlessness, and as long as Prohibition acts as a great profit multiplier, what is far more likely is that the No's will be ever less and less able to deal with the Narcos. The Naftas will be impotent bystanders in all of this. The advances Friedman predicts for the Naftas, which require a class of relatively healthy No's, will go up in smoke.

    Facilitating a failed state next door is only one reason why anything short of out-and-out legalization won't cut it.

    National drugs policy does not serve the public interest. It serves special interests. Money interests.

    It's all about the money.

  18. I'm amused that people think that if we criminalized that actual problem, the marketing by corporations, 'evil government' would break into some rich ad executive's house the same way they will break into some mexican guy's house.

  19. The political power of corporations is indeed a big problem, and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court will continue to make it impossible to shrink that problem. But the bigger problem is marketing. A firm allowed to market an addictive product is a firm in the business of creating addiction, because the casual users, while more numerous, account for only a trivial fraction of the product consumed. (80% of the alcohol consumed in the US is consumed by people who drink too much.) You may regard the fight between an advertising agency and a teenager where the advertising agency wins if it gets the teenager hooked on cigarettes as a fair fight. I don't.

  20. How many cops went into law enforcement for the (relatively) meager salaries? I suspect that more got into it for access to pussy and for the opportunity to bully civilians.

  21. A "fair fight" is something we look for in a boxing match. People trying to persuade other people isn't a "fight" in the first place, it's a conversation. Even if you don't like the people at one end of it. Even if you think they're horribly wrong and evil.

    If you don't like who's 'winning' a conversation, the proper response is to engage in some conversations yourself, not to bring the force of government to bear, in an effort to make the side you don't like STFU.

    "I want to keep the illegal drug trade around, because legal drug markets would be permitted to advertise." has got to be one of the more outrageous justifications for keeping the war on drugs going that I've ever heard.

  22. Brett, you're pointing out the inherent absurdness of the liberal ideology that always trusts big government over big business, as if big government was somehow more trustworthy or safe. Obviously this video shows the potential dangerousness of the long-arm of the law, and yet liberals persist on pushing for extending more power to government over business.

  23. What is fraud, Brett, but a form of persuasion we have chosen to forbid? After all, no one was forced to invest with Bernie Madoff or to send money to Nigerian scam artists.

  24. Seems to me that keeping the sale of pot illegal while allowing growing for personal use would all but eliminate black market sales. Allowing users to grow (and face it 'distribute' to friends) would crash the price to the point of not being worth the trouble much less the risk. Selling anything is a hassle and entails expenses and if Asley Roachclip can grow his bud on the windowsill without fear of arrest he will leaving smuglers and distributors with no market to serve.

  25. Well, Mark, I suppose that there's the little question of whether you're persuading people by saying things which are literally false, which is, so far as I know, this thing called "false advertising", when done in the course of selling something. Is there some reason that you expect drug legalization would be combined with a repeal of laws against false advertising?

    Or are you arguing for calling things 'fraud' which aren't, technically, false?

  26. "(80% of the alcohol consumed in the US is consumed by people who drink too much.)"

    How could anyone possibly know that, even assuming that "drinking too much" were definable? When I buy something in a liquor store, no one asks me how much I have bought or drank lately.

  27. Reading Bill Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (for the first time!) I was eventually struck by the fact that the U.S. had Prohibition, and our gangsters went into the booze business. Germany did not, and their gangsters went into the government business.

    It's time to move drugs to a medical model and put them in the lap of the health care community. Allowing the police to become our de facto doctors has been a total failure. Worse than a failure. Whatever the hazards may be of giant corporations taking advantage of legalization, they are still outweighed by the advantage the corporations have taken of prohibition. The fiscal costs of the substitutes for the safe and effective opiates are astounding.

    Washington State has been driving smoking rates down with high taxation. In contrast, beer is still cheaper than soda pop. One key here would be to stop allowing advertising and lobbying as deductible business expenses.

  28. Henry, we know about the distribution of drinking behavior via survey research, and we know how much is too much via medical research. (To be in the top quintile of drinkers, you need to average more than two drinks a day, year-round; anything more than a drink a day isn't good for you. See Phil Cook's excellent book, Paying the Tab

    Brett, it wasn't "false" when Lorrilard advertised "Kent, with the Micronite filter" which "makes the taste of a cigarette mild as a sunny day in the month of May." "Micronite" was simply a trademark, and "mildness" is no doubt a subjective experience. So all the people who bought cigarettes with filters made of carcinogenic asbestos – which is what "Micronite" was, as Lorillard well knew – had no legitimate claim against Lorrilard when they died of lung cancer or asbestiosis. Caveat emptor!

  29. Yup, caveat emptor. Which for all it's drawbacks, is better than having the government going around declaring speech that isn't objectively false, (Or maybe even is objectively true.) "fraud", and prosecuting it.

    How many people were born with spina bifida while the FDA was ordering vitamin marketers not to say that folic acid could help protect against it? That's the sort of thing you get when speech doesn't have to be objectively false to be treated as fraud.

    Frankly, I don't think there ever should have been a 'commercial speech' exception to the First amendment. And there sure as hell shouldn't be the 'political speech' exception campaign 'reformers' are so hot for…

  30. Mark, you wrote, "I do think that highly-reinforcing psychoactive drugs lead some people to lose control of their drug-taking, and that some of them (notably alcohol and the stimulants) make some users more prone to do nasty things to other people. Those are real problems, not imaginary problems, just as the collateral damage of the drug war is a real problem."

    I haven't read Against Excess (too many boosk, too little time), but I do wonder if you have any good pointers about trying to evaluate the total costs to society of, on the one hand, drug addiction and abuse in an environment in which psychoactive drugs are more or less completely decriminalized, and on the other, the war on drugs. Because it strikes me that it would take an astonishingly high dollar value for the former to counterweight all of the harm done by jailing a larger percentage of our population than any other country.

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