Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Raid in Atlanta goes wrong

A raid in Atlanta went wrong and a 92 year old woman is dead, and three police officers are wounded.
The woman, identified by relatives as 92-year old Kathryn Johnson, opened fire on the officers from the narcotics division at a house at 933 Neal Street, according to officials. Authorities say they received a tip of drug activity taking place at the home and officers were headed to the house with a search warrant.

The woman's niece, Sarah Dozier, says that she bought her aunt a gun to protect herself and that her aunt had a permit for the gun. Relatives believe Johnston was frightened by the officers and opened fire.

Assistant Chief Alan Dreher says the officers had a legal warrant and "knocked and announced" before they forced open the door. He said they were justified in returning fire when they were fired upon.The plainclothes Atlanta Police officers were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital for treatment. One officer was struck in the arm, one officer was struck in the shoulder and one officer was struck in the thigh. All are expected to recover.
There is a whole lot of this story that ain't being told.

Officers that are executing a search warrant have to be extrememly careful about a number of things. First, you have to be damned sure you have the right house. Second, you have to make sure that you are easily identified. Third, you have to bring enough officers to properly secure the house once you're inside.

I spent a lot of my career in plainclothes. Depending on my duties, I'd either wear a coat and tie or khakis and a polo shirt. When I'd execute a warrant, I'd bring along a minimum of six officers, and we'd suit up in vests and jackets that had POLICE plainly stenciled across the front and back. If I could get some uniformed officers to go with me, I had them. In executing a search warrant, the more the merrier.

Then, before you head out, everyone gets briefed. Everything is double-checked, and everybody knows their duties. Normally, I wanted one officer on the team that had enough experience to stop everyone and say "Don't do that. You're gonna get somebody hurt."

I'm not going to pass judgement on another officer. Large city policing is different from small-city policing. I always tried to make sure that one officer on the team personally knew the people that we were going to search, and that officer knocked on the door. That is a whole lot easier to do in a small community.

Sometimes it takes two or three minutes to have somebody inside come to the door. If the occupants are asleep or in the bathroom, it isn't uncommon to wait a few minutes before the door is opened. Kicking doors down is often counter-productive and is a good way to take a trip to the hospital.

I personally decry the seemingly common tactic of deploying a SWAT team for conducting search warrants. Those guys have a place in police work, but I think that the rank and file relies on them too much. SWAT should train more and be used less. When you need the team, you need them badly, and they should be in magnificent physical condition, superbly trained and equipped, and ready to take on the worst possible scenario. I love a good SWAT team, like training with them, like watching them deploy, yet I hate having to call them out. They should be saved for the time when things are headed for the crapper and lethal force is likely to be needed.

A common search warrant isn't the time nor place for SWAT. It's a whole lot better to work smart than it is to work strong in executing a warrant. I'm not even sure if the SWAT team was called for this warrant. They aren't mentioned in the article, but it seems likely that the officers had to force themselves into the home. And, three officers are down, so maybe calling the team would have been prudent. There are a lot of details left unreported in the article.

I said earlier that I'm not going to pass judgement on other officers or agencies before all the information is in, but based on the information in the article, something went terribly wrong between the briefing and the execution.

That's a shame.


HollyB said...

Not passing judgement is a good stance to take,pawpaw, and I commend you for it. As the wife of a retired LEO with 37yrs experience, I have as tendency to give the benefite of the doubt to other LEOs. In this case tho, I think soe preliminary assumptions can be made about both "parties". Neither the little old lady or the members of the warrant team followed the four basic rules of gun safety!
While I am in favor of every law abiding Citizen having the means to defend their person and property, I wonder if this Lady had the requisite training in safe use of her firearm. At age 92, there is a POSSIBILITY, that she was hard of hearing and did not know someone was knocking on her door. She awakens from a sound sleep and there are strangers in her home. IF, and I admit it's a big IF, these officers were not wearing uniforms, or jackets, or vests with big, bright letters identifying themselves as POLICE, she may not have known they were LEOs. Or if she were just awakened, she may have not followed, or ever been taught, the safety rule of "Don't point your weapon at something that can't tolerate having a hole blown in it" like a Police officer!!!

Which brings me to the question of the actions of the officers. Why were they not using whatever cover was available in that house to clear the rooms and make each one safe? How does a 92 y.o. woman, presumably just awakened, get the drop on 3 highly trained, well-armed police officers? She was an incredibly good shot for such an advanced age, or they were tragically unlucky, or dare I say it, sloppy.
It just sounds like things went horribly wrong from the "git-go" all the way around.

Nick Charles said...

I agree completely that SWAT teams are out of control - too widey used, ill trained, and using military super weapons - 99% of the time for serving ordinary search warrants. This is insane. Properly trained police do not have enemies - they are there to erve and protect the civiians. SWAT teams however, are paramilitary units who by definition have enemies - after all we are in a "War on (insert term)". In wars - enemies are destroyed, Constitutional Rghts mean nothing.

From real life experience here is what really happens: at 2 in the morning, your doors are smashed in, simultaneously several Flash-bang grenades are set off. Concurrently a SWAT team member - already having infiltrated your house mumbles "police" - of course this can not be heard over the explosions of both you property being detroyed and the grenades. You think your home is being invaded and you step up to defend your family. WhenI say step up that means anything from literally standing up to grabbing your gun to protect yourself from imminent deadly force by "ninja'" dressed from head to tow in black, wearing ski masks and often (trust me) with no "Police or SWAT" insignia on their little ninja costumes.

The next milliseconds are filled with automatic gunfire - and if you are very, very lucky you are taken to the hospital, maimed for life, and YOU are charged with assualt on the police. What is wrong with this picture? Please look up the works of Radley Balko ("OverKill") or Norm Stamper ("Breaking Rank - A Top Cop's Expose' of the Dark SIde of American Policing") just for starters.

Pawpaw - tank you for the service you provided over your career. I particlarly appreciate your philosphy of SWAT being trained more and used less. There are time when such teams may be needed - but not for ordinary warrants.The militarization of the police forces in the U.S. is a very dangerous precident which must be stopped.