Columbia police change policy following SWAT drug raid

SWAT team

Image by OregonDOT via Flickr

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been following the disastrous Missouri raid that was videotaped by police, went viral, and resulted in an enormous public backlash. The Columbia police have now responded to the negative publicity by tailoring SWAT procedure.

Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton says under the department’s new protocol, police will keep target locations under surveillance before sending in SWAT teams. Also, police will do their best to conduct searches within eight hours of receiving a warrant. Drug search warrants must now be approved by higher-ranking police captains rather than drug officers or SWAT commanders. Police will also take the presence of children into consideration.

It’s sweet of them to take child safety into consideration, considering Jonathan Whitworth, the target of the raid, was charged with child endangerment when the cops found a bit of weed in his home. Meanwhile, the cops, who stormed into Whitworth’s home, guns blazing, were probably congratulated on a job well done when they returned to the station.

The rest of the measures seem to miss the central problems with the raid system entirely. Yes, certain aspects of raid protocol (shooting animals, shooting in the presence of children) disturbed the public. But beyond that, what upset citizens is the authoritarian behavior of the police.

In the video, the police look and act like a domestic army, and all because this “highly dangerous” suspect, Whitworth, had a prior drug record, and was suspected of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Citizens took one look at the video, and understood — at least in that moment — that the real dangerous force is the police who are hellbent on denying citizens’ personal freedom.

The Posse Comitatus Act was designed to limit the powers of the federal government to use the military for law enforcement. But when law enforcement begins to look and act like the army, and obeys federal orders to treat all drug users like enemies of the state, in a sense Posse Comitatus bites the dust.

Burton’s intent appears to be to fix his house’s foundation by moving around the furniture. Of course, it isn’t up to a Columbia police chief to single-handedly stop the War On Drugs, but the Missouri story has served as a helpful microcosm to demonstrate the utter pointless destruction of a war on an unstoppable force.

As for changing policy, Burton gives decriminalization advocates some very helpful advice.

“We were looking for a felony amount because the possession of marijuana is still a felony offense if it’s over a certain amount. And we can’t change that. I would encourage the people that are angry because of that to contact their legislators in Jeff City, contact people in Washington and get that law changed. As police officers we don’t really have a choice in that matter.”

What Ken says.


  1. core2010

    It’s quite scary to look at how much government is infringing on the rights of people:

    - SCOTUS ruling a few years ago concerning eminent domain
    - Wiretapping
    - Guantanamo
    - Waterboarding
    - Police taser use
    - Police covering for other police & faulty police reports
    - etc.

    At the same time, the government is going very slow concerning passing meaningful legislation (or repealing legislation) that would PROTECT people:

    - Pass ENDA
    - Repeal DOMA
    - Repeal DADT
    - Pass UAFA
    - etc.

    It would be nice to see Democrats and Obama doing something about these things. Many people are tired of waiting. And, in regard to police abuses, Democrats should be speaking up vs. remaining silent. It’s not like these police abuses are rare.

  2. jcalton

    These SWAT raids happen every day in America. 4.5 per day in Maryland (94% are for warrants such as this one).* The only thing unusual about this raid was that:
    a) It was recorded
    b) The tape was released to the public with minimal editing

    Most of the new public outcry is from people more concerned about family pets than our rights as citizens or becoming a police state. Dogs are shot by SWAT teams EVERY DAY…they just aren’t caught on tape.

    I completely distrust law enforcement and oppose it in public forums, but I support Chief Ken Burton (I live in Columbia). Assuming that you must have a police chief, he is about as good as you are likely to get unless you live in Mayberry. After a tasering incident, he adopted all 52 taser guidelines recommended by a DOJ research panel, even while officers and citizen-hawks complained.

    Allison’s article is the first I’ve heard of him telling voters to change the marijuana laws, but I’m not surprised.


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