Tag Archives: Radley Balko

Small, Homey College Towns: Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, Mo Have Armies? But Why?

This post originally aired at The College Fix.

We should be asking the Columbia, Mo City Council why it feels the need to militarize its police force. Hopefully the University of Missouri refrains from purchasing an “urban assault vehicle.” But who knows. Those college students can be a rowdy bunch. Maybe a gun turret blast into their dorm rooms will quite them down.

While some universities, in attempts to keep a lookout for lone-wolf shooters, have spent millions of dollars on a vast array of campus security cameras, other campuses have considerably beefed up their police force tools with urban-warfare tanks—in effect creating little armies.

Ohio State University and Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri, are two such examples.

The Daily Caller reported that the Ohio State University campus police recently obtained what appears to be a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle to add to their security detail. Critics of campus security ask why such a tank-like vehicle, built primarily for urban warfare, would ever be needed in a small college town, let alone on a campus.

The massive vehicle is capable of holding 10 passengers within its bulky frame. It is also armed with a turret, gun ports and a battering ram for those hard-to-get-into dorm rooms. Needless to say, that is a lot of artillery for a small town police department tasked with the unenviable job of corralling young college students.

Not to be outdone, Columbia, Mo.—a small town compared to most other expansive cities with large SWAT forces–picked up its own $200,000, ground-pounding behemoth this past April. The vehicle is called a “Bearcat” which is an acronym for “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck.”

To that point, universities and college towns are, under the guise of safety, taking security several steps further, opting to step up the full militarization of their police forces; it remains to be seen whether or not the increasing militarization of the police is an effective tool to use to combat episodic shooting tragedies.

The Daily Caller contacted OSU media director Gary Lewis who bragged that “OSU’s campus cops are the first agency in the state to acquire such a vehicle.”

The vehicle may be used for officer rescues, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluations or campus shootings, according to campus officials.

After Lewis’ comments, and Reason Magazine’s investigations on the story, OSU and its PR department shut out all media inquiries, admitting to reporters only that the university has borrowed other law enforcement vehicles in the past. The admission appears to contradict Lewis’ claim that the OSU campus police were the first in the state to own an urban assault vehicle.

In the same vein, Lt. Geoff Jones of Columbia, Mo., SWAT told The Fix that the Bearcat was meant to replace the police department’s older armored response vehicle that had become aged and worn-out. “The vehicle needed to be replaced,” Jones said. He refused to justify why the police department needed an armored vehicle at all, only saying that it can be used in hostage situations and to break up riots.

As if the “Bearcat” was not enough to keep the crime in check, the Columbia city council in early September filled out a purchase order for more than 40 M4 Semi-Automatic rifles and a set of 25 night vision goggles, according to City Council documents. Again, the purchasing of the rifles and an armored vehicle prompted some to question the city council’s decision to arm to the teeth the city’s police department.

After the 2007 Texas Tech shootings, many universities have acted quickly, and, some say, too hastily to protect their students from episodic acts of violence—forgetting that schools are schools, not warzones.

One of the most outspoken critics of the militarization of all police forces, not just campus police departments, is former Reason Magazine editor Radley Balko.

Balko told The Fix that “schools and police officials will cite Virginia Tech or Columbine as reason for needing SWAT teams or armored vehicles, but the average campus can expect to see a homicide once every several thousand years.” Moreover, Balko said, once these Columbine/VT incidents do not transpire, which they rarely ever do, they then can use these militaristic vehicles for more mundane purposes.

In short, police departments appear to use the public’s fear of lone shooters as a way to acquire armored toys.

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Puppycide in Fulton, MO

A few days ago, SWAT officers of the Fulton (Missouri) Police Department shot and killed a dog while serving a “narcotics” search warrant. The residents of the house asked if they could cage the dog. The officers denied the request, ordering that the dog to be chained to a tree. The dog got loose and was then shot eight times, the first six shots wounding the dog and the last two point-blank, shotgun blasts killing it. After finishing off the first dog, the officers first maced and then turned their guns on caged puppies only stopping when confronted by concerned neighbors. 

After kicking in doors, killing a family pet, pepper-spraying and attempting to kill two caged puppies, and generally terrorizing a neighborhood, the only charge filed against the Fulton man was misdemeanor marijuana possession. He was released the same day. Par for the course in the War on Drugs. We’ve certainly seen plenty of similar dog executions here in Columbia. We’ve interviewed grieving dog owners and shown proof that the dogs were shot while running away from officers. And don’t forget the infamous SWAT raid that made Columbia, MO the dog shooting capital of the world. A guess Fulton wants in on the action.

http://www.komu.com/news/update-fulton-dog-died-man-arrested-in-a-drug-search/

*Puppycide is a term coined by Radley Balko

 

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CPD SWAT Killed Two Retreating Dogs in 2008 — Video

 

This is a video of the Columbia, MO SWAT team serving a search warrant for marijuana on 03.07.2008 at the home of Mr. Jonathan March.
 
According to Attorney Dan Viets, “Mr. March had no prior felony convictions” at the time of the raid and he did “possess firearms which were absolutely legal and constitutionally protected.”
 
During the raid, 5 concussion grenades were exploded in and around the home. One of the grenades exploded near the feet of the young lady visitor, seen in the video, who, at the time, was seated on the couch. Two additional grenades were exploded subsequent to the arrest on the premise that the CPD needed to prove that the previous 5 grenades had done no damage. The grenades left clear charred remains on the carpet and other areas of the home.
 
During sworn testimony taken by Viets, the SWAT officers who executed this raid acknowledged that they had shot to death two dogs with their machine guns. Both dogs were shot in the back while retreating. One of the dogs is shot at around the 6:30 mark in the video as an officer tops the stairs, passes a suspect on the floor, and steps into a bedroom. You can see a glimpse of the dead dog as the officer stands in the doorway. The dog is obviously facing away from the officer. At 6:55 you can see another injured dog struggling in the hall.
 
It is important to note that this raid took place before Chief Ken Burton accepted his position with the CPD. Due to the overwhelming public outcry stemming from a more recent yet similar raid under his command, Chief Burton has, for the time being,  reigned in the use of his SWAT team to serve search warrants for non-violent crimes and criminals.
 
While the prevalence of violent, paramilitary raids has waned in Columbia, this type of raid is happening somewhere in the United States right now. Please speak out against this government sanctioned domestic terrorism.
 
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Chief Burton

Since the story broke regarding the Dresner/Haden illicit affair, some have made the argument that Dresner and Haden are the only ones at fault. While it is true that both Dresner and Haden are to blame for their extramarital coworker coitus, it is important to take a look at how the situation was handled by Chief Burton.

One important fact that is often left out of the discussion is that Haden was married to a cop. Not only was she married to a cop, she was married to a cop who was serving under the leadership of her lover, Deputy Chief Tom Dresner. So Dresner was sleeping with a subordinate and the wife of a subordinate. Not only did Dresner oversee the promotion of his lover, he was literally sending the husband of his lover into situations where he was literally asked to put his life on the line. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence can see the problem with this situation.

Since Haden and her husband did not share a last name, I’m going to let his identity remain a secret for those who do not already know. The guy has been humiliated enough by his former wife and his chief.  If you must satisfy your curiosity, it’s a matter of public record. Look it up.

Imagine how Haden’s cop husband must feel. His boss, Deputy Chief Tom Dresner, is sleeping with his wife right under the nose of Chief Burton and when Burton is forced to take action by Dresner’s wife, all he does is ask Dresner to resign. I guess we don’t have to look to far to know who sent the anonymous press release regarding Burton’s handling of the affair. And let’s not forget that a copy of Haden’s resignation letter was also sent to the media anonymously. Suffice it to say that there are those among the ranks of the CPD who want Burton gone.

What this boils down to is that there is at least one – and more likely several – Columbia police officer(s) who have lost faith in Chief Burton. If he refuses to punish his right hand man, Dresner, for sleeping with your wife, does he really have your back on the street?

As the Tribune story points out, Burton is no stranger to controversy. While in Texas, he was embroiled in some unsavory investigations into his actions and the actions of his department.

During Columbia’s vetting of candidates for chief that eventually settled on Burton, concerned citizen Tracy Greever-Rice, did her homework on the candidates and found a great deal of information on Burton. She points out that we may be seeing a pattern now that was ignored during the search. Greever-Rice told KCF:

Ken definitely has a charismatic personality. He interviews well, and people tend to like him personally (including me). However, he has a pretty solid pattern of having things work out the way they seem to be headed here. With just a little research, we could have avoided what will likely prove to be an expensive mistake of having to run a new search for a police chief in the relatively near future.

I certainly agree with her assessment of Chief Burton’s personality. He seems like the kind of guy you’d want to set down and have a beer with. Heck, it almost pains me to critique his work until I remember that he is a public official in charge of a public police department paid with public funds. Public scrutiny goes with the territory.

Here is an excerpt from Tracy Greever-Rice’s email to a member of the selection committee:

In the links below are info regarding three firings and a demotion made by Burton. Two fired officers were reinstated and the demotion was reversed (which could certainly in & of itself be interpreted as reason to question his judgment). Conversely, two other officers, both of which shot and killed dogs – one of whom shot at yet another dog but instead hit a person, was twice caught beating people up, and also caught driving drunk –  were disciplined for these incidents but not fired. I think this is worthwhile information for Columbians to consider: Do these decisions by Burton reflect our community’s values?

So let’s take a look at some of the information Tracy Greever-Rice uncovered early in 2009 and shared with the selection committee.

Some of what she found has now been archived and is only available for a fee. If you are interested in taking a look at these archived sources, visit the Star-Telegram archive and search for “Police Chief Ken Burton”. You’ll be able to read the first few paragraphs of each story without paying.

Here are some of the stories that are still available for free…

The Tribune article mentions an incident regarding the purchase of a motorcycle while Burton was chief in Haltom City in Tarrant County, Texas. From what I can tell, the story goes like this. Burton wrote a letter to Harley Davidson on behalf of one of his officer buddies assuring Harley Davidson that a soon to be purchased motorcycle would be used for police business. This helped save the officer nearly $4000 because Harley offers a special deal for law enforcement motorcycles. The motorcycle was actually intended for personal use and was never used for police work. Another officer, Eric Chambliss, blew the whistle on the fraud which triggered an investigation by the Texas Rangers. During the investigation, Burton claimed he didn’t remember signing such a letter and the letter was never produced for the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury refused to indict Burton based on lack of evidence. After the ruling, the letter signed by Burton surfaced. Burton later fired the whistle blower, Eric Chambliss, for “disrupting the workplace”, a charge unrelated to the whistle blowing. The city then overturned the firing of Chambliss and reinstated him.

Read all about it HERE and HERE

So it’s OK to steal nearly $4000 from Harley Davidson, but not OK to steal a soda?

And it appears that Burton is was no stranger to controversial firings being overturned. Read about it HERE

He also left some work in Bryan, Texas after some strange personnel decisions.

He became the unit supervisor for the department’s bicycle team in January 2002. Six months later, then-Chief Ken Burton promoted Slanker to assistant chief, passing over several veteran lieutenants.

More on Burton’s personnel decisions HERE

Greever-Rice even found precedent for Chief Burton’s acceptance of  “Puppycide” (a term coined by Radley Balko). In an incident that will seem strangely familiar to folks who have followed the Kinloch Ct. incident in Columbia, Burton’s officers in Haltom City were cleared of wrong doing after they shot an obese Jack Russell terrier after kicking in the door of a residence. The story goes on to tell of another incident under Burton’s watch where one of his officers missed the dog and shot a man in the legs. It appears that under Burton’s leadership, when it comes to dogs, the rule is shoot first and ask questions later even when the dog is an ankle-biting Jack Russell terrier.

Here are a list of links regarding Burton’s tenure in Texas.

City seeking grip on Burton gripes

Bryan officers speak out for chief

Burton given high marks in survey

A letter to the editor regarding the survey of Burton

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Burton’s Chickens Come Home To Roost

Last winter, when the Dresner/Haden extra-marital cop love affair came to light, I took a little heat from local progressive aficionado, Mark Haim, for both the tone of my blog and the assertions I made regarding the impact the affair may have had on the department. What Mr. Haim didn’t know is that many folks in the community knew about the affair and, upon hearing the story, the rest of us made an educated guess based upon the number of times the couple was seen together around town sharing knowing looks and furtive smiles. Certainly the investigative experts in the department came to the same conclusion.

I’ve blogged three times on the subject HERE and HEREand HERE

Now it appears that I may have been closer to the mark than even I myself thought. Brennan David over that the Columbia Tribune has reported that Haden has filed a complaint against Police Chief Burton alleging that he violated her privacy by disclosing her identity.

The Human Resources Department is reviewing the allegation, made by ex-department spokeswoman Jessie Haden in her Feb. 8 resignation letter in which she said Burton effectively “bartered” away her identity to a KOMU reporter to make an information request “go away.”

So what exactly is Burton hiding? Why not simply release the emails?

Read Haden’s letter of resignation HERE

Even old dirty Tom chimed in in defense of his honey:

Haden and Dresner — who still are a couple — say Burton was sympathetic to their situation at first, and they were “dumbfounded” by the chief’s decision to move Haden to patrol and release her name.

“There are certain actions that fall into the category of things a police chief just can’t do, or any public-sector official, for that matter,” Dresner said. “And that is causing a Sunshine request to go away with an exclusive interview for the media outlet that made the request, hours before everyone else was even notified.”

“While I make no claim as to my impartiality regarding the players, the way he did what he did to her is demonstrative of what he’s willing to do when he gets in a jam,” Dresner said.

Is this simply a pattern of CYA from Chief Burton?

A Tarrant County, Texas, grand jury declined to indict Burton on a complaint of abuse of official capacity in connection with an officer’s purchase of a motorcycle that later was determined to be for personal use. Burton fired the whistle-blower, but the person later was reinstated. Burton told the commission the whistle-blower was fired for an unrelated incident.

Perhaps a KCF sunshine request for those precious emails is in order.

Another interesting tidbit is the release of the Haden resignation letter to the media. There’s an anti-Burton rat somewhere in the department. It makes me wonder if it is the same person who sent the anonymous press release regarding the affair last December.

This trail of lies and deciet leading to the highest ranks in our police department casts a shadow of doubt on every piece of information the department presents to the public. The department has demonstrated their willingness to censor legitimate public comment in an open forum to keep their P.R. machine rolling. Remember, these are the public employees, armed with sub-machine guns and paid by our tax dollars, whom we are supposed to trust to protect and serve our community.

Something tells me this saga is far from over.

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It’s Link Time

Check out this interesting blog post and video put together by Larry and Carl over at United For Missouri. It seems reasonable to me that the City of St. Louis should have control of their own police department. The state controls their police now and their police aren’t doing a great job fighting crime. But wait, it’s all about the cop pensions. Who cares if you get murdered?

Why do cities continue to spend our tax dollars paying bad cops? Radley Balko takes on the question in this interesting piece at Reason.com.

Columbia’s own Citizen Police Review Board has agreed to hold a public meeting to discuss the local police policyon serving search warrants. In little ol’ Columbia, every search warrant is served by the SWAT team who kicks in the door wearing Kevlar ninja suits and swinging MP5 sub machine guns. That might be alright when searching for an armed murderer, but what about folks who are suspected of non-violent crimes? John Payne of the Show-Me Institute has already agreed to address the board. Getting Radley Balko here to talk to the board might be a game changer. If anything, the board members should all read Balko’s white paper on the use of SWAT, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America.

Keep Columbia Free wholeheartedly endorses Mitch Richards as a candidate for Columbia’s First Ward City Council seat. Check out the local coverage of the first candidate forum of the season.  The Missourian coverage seems to be a bit more in depth than The Tribune, but The Trib has been known post their stories early and update throughout the day.

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New Columbia Police SWAT Video

Our friends at The Show-Me Institute obtained this video of a Columbia Police Department S.W.A.T. raid that took place in 2008. This raid took place before the era of Police Chief Ken Burton and the S.W.A.T. reforms he instituted following the famous botched raid on Kinloch Ct.

The first four minutes is footage of the police driving to the location of the raid, so hang on. 

 

A couple of things stand out.

Chief Burton admitted that mistakes were made during the lead up to the famous Feb. 2009 Kinloch Ct raid. Those mistakes included a lack of surveillance that would have alerted the officers to the presence of a young child in the home. 

In this new video, several young children are present. Was a lack of surveillance to ensure the safety of children standard operating procedure and not a “mistake” for the CPD prior to Chief Burton’s policy changes?

There is a very telling statement made at the 7:30 mark in the video. The officer is in the bathroom with an extremely docile and confused elderly woman when he says, “We’re just going to put you in handcuffs for right now just so we can control you.”  He then handcuffs the old woman.

I’m not suggesting that this officer violated any policy, but handcuffing an innocent old woman simply to “control” her sends chills up my spine.

Thankfully, Chief Burton has taken some baby steps toward S.W.A.T. reform, but paramilitary police raids on family homes take place all over the country, every day. In that context, his baby-steps seem giant.

I recommend you read Radley Balko’s white paper, “Overkill.”  Balko is the nation’s foremost expert on paramilitary S.W.A.T. raids.

Thanks to the folks over at Americans for Forfeiture Reform for their help with this video.

Mark Flakne

***UPDATE***

Erica Warren over at COMOCITIZENS has located the warrant and the accompanying Tribune story regarding this raid. This was a narcotics search warrant served at 1002 Madison, Columbia.

Here is a picture of the address from Google.

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