Patterico Just Doesn’t Quite Get It
Some may already have heard the story about how it is looking like that botched raid in Atlanta was well and truly botched. As in the cops lied to obtain the warrant. If this is true, then we are quite possibly looking at a murder committed by the cops.
Patterico got in on this story early and cautioned everyone not to jump the gun and assume the cops were dirty and/or screwed this up. Now he is defending himself against a commenter who was critical that Patterico didn’t comment about the above story shortly after it put on the Atlanta Journal Constitutions website. And Patterico is right that criticizing him for that is a more than a bit dopey. After all, one can’t read every on-line news article and be right on top of story all the time.
However, where Patterico drops the ball is when he writes,
P.S. I know that there will now be a pack of libertarians in the comments screaming that I was wrong and I owe an apology. I sense that it will infuriate them to know that I do not apologize for saying that we should wait for the facts before forming concrete opinions.
And here we see the double standard of those in law enforcement circles. It is okay for the cops to “jump the gun” and not verify all their facts and go in with their machine guns locked & loaded, tossing flash bang grenades, hurling people to the floor, and shooting the family dog. But if we civilians, who don’t have machine guns, flash bang grenades, and aren’t shooting any dogs, jump the gun…well were just bad people for that. And what happens to the cops when we civilians jump the gun? Pretty much nothing. At most they might get a suspension, but even that is rare, based on what I’ve read about botched raids. Of course, if Patterico has any data on this, I’d be willing to look at it and change my views. Somehow though, my guess is that police departments keep few if any statistics as to when they screw up.
Sure the above is the ideal. But the complaint of us “infuriated” libertarians is that the cops just don’t seem to come anywhere close to that ideal all too frequently. Yes, yes I know that most raids are on the right house. That in most raids nobody is hurt and criminals are apprehended. My comment didn’t say all, but that all too frequently such raids are botched. Radley Balko compiled a list of about 300 botched raids and considering that little if any data is kept on such raids that number is at best a lower bound–i.e. the number of botched raids is almost surely higher and a some of these botched raids could have been avoided by doing simple things like looking at the address on the warrant and the address on the house. Is it asking too much of the police that they double check such things. Really such a measure should take what, 1 to 2 minutes? And if your suspect is a well respected member of the community with no criminal record…maybe sending over a couple of uniformed police officers to take him into custody is better than sending in the SWAT team that shoots him dead in front of his home.
Patterico then goes on to make the following statement,
P.P.S. The observant reader will note that, in this post, my opinion is conditioned on the statement “if the source is correct.” That’s because the source is anonymous, so there is a chance we are being fed bad information. I know that not a single libertarian will see this as a possibility.
Care to over-generalize anymore Patterico? Hey, two can play that game. Let me see, Patterico is a prosecutor out here in Los Angeles. Mike Nifong is a prosecutor in Durham North Carolina. Nifong has shown to be incompetent, deceitful and general a fool. Hmmm…could one make an over generalization here about Patterico based on the actions of another prosecutor? Hopefully it is obvious that such over-generalizations are non-sense and bad logic, and yet here have Patterico hectoring us “infuriated libertarians” about logic.
P.P.P.S. I may stop blogging about libertarian topics generally, because people become so personally nasty with me that it becomes no fun running the blog.
Well gee, I have no idea why that would be the case. Oh…wait, could it be that because you tar every libertarian with an awfully broad brush? Naw, that would be crazy talk.
Update: In the comments Patterico asserts that my statment about how it is okay for the police to “jump the gun” distorts his position. He asserts that he does not think this is okay. However, there is one problem. In another comment Patterico admits that he gives the cops the benefit of the doubt generally speaking. Now as a person who likes to put things into Bayesian probabilities whenever possible this leads to a bit of a problem for Patterico. To keep things simple we’ll look at two probabilities,
- Prob(cops telling the truth),
Prob(civilians telling the truth).
One could argue that an unbiased starting point would be to set these two probabilities equal. Then we’d update them via Bayes theorem,
- Prob(cops telling the truth|Evidence) ∝ Prob(Evidence|cops telling the truth)*Prob(cops telling the truth),
Prob(civillians telling the truth|Evidence) ∝ Prob(Evidence|civilians telling the truth)*Prob(civilians telling the truth).
Since Prob(cops telling the truth) = Prob(civilians telling the truth) the above basically resolves to looking at,
- Prob(Evidence|cops telling the truth) vs. Prob(Evidence|civilians telling the truth).
That is we look at the likelihood of who is telling the truth. Whichever is the larger is the one we go with. But once we deviate from this we simply can’t look at the likelihoods. Now the initial probability becomes a factor. This means that the civilians have to have evidence that is much more in their favor than the cops would. In short, Patterico is admitting to stacking the deck in favor of the cops–at least in this kind of simplified scenario and in fariness life is rarely this simplified. So while he may not see the cops “jumping the gun” as okay, he certainly isn’t going to be open to the idea that cops “jumped the gun” and that they should be held accountable. And to be fair, I also have my own biases that are counter to Patterico’s. Of course, I’m not a prosecutor.
UPDATE (James Joyner) 1-17: Since xlrq and Patrick have invoked my name in this one, I’ll exert moderator’s privilege and weigh in.
I haven’t read the comments Patrick received at his site that has him apprehensive about the libertarian hordes although, having been around the Internets for a number of years, I have no doubt that they are “personally nasty” and that, taking them personally would sap any “fun running the blog.” And, while I read his site and Radley Balko’s with some regularity, I’m only vaguely familiar with the squabbles between them.
My own biases in these matters are as follows: My dad was a cop, both an Army MP and later a CID special agent, including a stint as an undercover narcotics officer. I’m very appreciative of the risks cops take on a daily basis. At the same time, I expect them, as agents of the state with the license to employ deadly force and cause substantial harm to individual liberties that come with their badge, to exercise a high degree of professionalism at all times. The vast majority of cops do this, I think, but far too many don’t. Unfortunately, just as we focus far more attention on rare plane crashes than on the tens of thousands of safe landings, the abuses are what we notice.
While there is a tendency for those, like Radley, who study police abuse cases to jump the gun in assuming that every innocent death is the result of recklessness rather than a horrible accident, I think Patrick’s original post went too far in the other direction. Yes, waiting for the facts to come in is a good thing. Still, the nature of breaking news reporting–and certainly of blogging–is to speculate from available facts, including past incidents.
Absent a hostage situation, no-knock raids and paramilitary action on the part of police are highly problematic. Domestic law enforcement should not be handled as a MOUT operation. Even in the 99 percent (caution: made up statistic) of cases when police are at the right house, kicking in the door activates a fight-or-flight instinct that leads to a lot death than it prevents. Properly trained and equipped officers can chose the time and place of their actions to minimize the danger.
Further, police are more effective when they have the support and cooperation of their communities. Treating the city as a war zone and all civilians as likely perps creates animosity and distrust. How many times have you heard a law-abiding citizen avow a hatred for cops? That’s an untenable situation and one that needs to be addressed quickly.
Technically, I’m abusing the terminology here in that the actual likelihood would also be divided by the Prob(E). But since this is the same in both cases, we can dispense with this as well.
In the above it is implicitly assumed that if one side is telling the truth, the other side would be lying. I suppose it is possible that both sides could be lying, or that there are not simply two sides–e.g. two defendants each telling different stories. Also, the rules of how evidence sharing works could play a role as well. The prosecution has to share everything they find, I don’t know if that is the case with the defense, although I suspect they would share evidence if it meant their client wouldn’t have to go to trial.