Overkill

My research on bounty hunters shows that they are more effective than the police in recapturing criminals.  I’m often asked (and sometimes told), however, about the potential for abuse and mistaken arrests.  No one ever bothers, however, to ask how bounty hunters compare on the abuse score with the police.  My suspicion is that the bounty hunters would come out better because they know that a mistake can put them out of business while the police may routinely break down the wrong door under cover of law.

Some data on the potential for abuse and mistaken arrest or worse from the police is provided in a new Cato report, Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, by Radley Balko.  The report notes:

Over the
last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization
of its civilian law enforcement, along
with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of
paramilitary police units (most commonly called
Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine
police work. The most common use of SWAT
teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually
with forced, unannounced entry into the
home.

These increasingly frequent raids, 40,000 per
year by one estimate, are needlessly subjecting
nonviolent drug offenders, bystanders, and
wrongly targeted civilians to the terror of having
their homes invaded while they’re sleeping, usually
by teams of heavily armed paramilitary units
dressed not as police officers but as soldiers.

Along with the paper is an interactive map showing hundreds of mistaken raids over the past several decades, a number of which lead to the deaths of innocents.

Comments

There is actually a TV series about a bounty hunter, called, I think, Dog the
Bounty Hunter, and on, I think, A&E. What is also notable is that Dog and his
"assistants" impose almost no physical harm on the bail jumpers they round up and their sources of information about where the jumpers are is 10 times better than the police have.

This is an interesting post in light of the post below regarding the cost-
effectiveness of police. Balko's research could suggest that higher
police expenditures could exacerbate the problem, as departments feel the
need to justify their spending. So, there's probably some trade-off
between the enhanced deterrence effect of the additional police and the
enhanced aggression of the departments. I'm not sure of a reasonable way
to compare the costs to society of these two sides.

Seems like it would matter what the department was spending that extra money on. An extra squadron of Officer Friendlies might do some good while a tank and a crate full of tear gas...not so much.

Either drugs are not horrifically addicting (in which case there is no reason for the war on drugs) or else drugs are horrifically addicting and very insensitive to price (in which case the war on drugs could not succeed in eliminating profitable sales of drugs).

This seems wrong to me. Or do you agree that raising taxes on cigarettes has no effect on the rates of smoking? Everything I've ever read portrays cigarettes as at least as addicting as most illegal drugs.

Elasticity of demand for cigarettes is higher than one might think:
http://www1.worldbank.org/tobacco/book/html/chapter4.htm

The RCMP are pretty relaxed. They've been known to apologize for having to give you a ticket.

The A-Team was also more efficient than the government at protecting and rescuing:

http://blog.mises.org/archives/005325.asp

Also,the latest in QEJ: Pay, Reference Points, and Police Performance:

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/qjec.121.3.783

"Americans have a tendency to overlook the obvious connection between the "militarization of civilian law enforcement" in the U.S. and the absence of gun control."

And apparently some Canadians have a tendency to oversimplify the relationship between gun control and criminal access to guns.

I have two comments:

First, Bruce Benson in "To Serve and Protect" mentions that US states spend very little time, money or efforts at seeking out criminals who have fled the trial process. I think he even goes so far as to point out the really low rates of success at them performing such avtivities compared to random checking of criminal records during routine traffic stops. It's more successful just to wait till the criminals come around the bend again.

2. In the question of brutality used by bounty hunters compared to police officers there might be a bias in the measurement in that bounty hunters might perform violence with greater certainty as to the guilt of their suspect than police do.

Colin -- I associated the density of incidence in the Boshwash corridor
with the population density rather then gun control. If you look at
the map that was the first thing that I saw -- a strong correlation between
population density and the density of incidence except that there seemed
to be more incidences in the Southeast & Texas then population density
would suggest.

Spencer -- you are correct. No doubt higher population plays a significant factor -- likely a huge one. I just take issue with the logic that the police raids are a product of gun control or lack thereof. In DC we have plenty of guns despite gun control measures. Granted, obtaining guns is relatively simple since states with laxer gun laws are nearby (this makes the huge assumption, of course, that criminals go the legal route to obtain weapons). By the same token, however, I doubt it is especially difficult for Canadians to obtain guns in the US and sneak them over the border if they want.

Regarding the comment that the M-16 is not an efficient weapon, that's incorrect. It's not as modern as a HK G36, but even the most modern assault rifles are not sufficiently superior to the M-16A3 (and its shortened brother, the M-4) to justify changing it. It is, however, an ineffective police weapon. Police departments justify purchasing them in order to counter criminals with body armor, but the 5.56mm bullet it fires will not only penetrate all but the strongest military body armor, but exit the back, hit the person standing behind the target, exit that person, and hit someone else. That is why it was rather amusing following September 11 when airports around the country were stocked with National Guard soldiers armed with M-16s. What were they going to do with them? Fire one in an airport, and you kill not just the target but half a dozen innocent bystanders.

I think the police buy them because it means they have a modern SWAT team, and you're just a hick village cop if you don't have a modern SWAT team.

the 5.56mm bullet it fires will not only penetrate all but the strongest military body armor, but exit the back, hit the person standing behind the target, exit that person, and hit someone else

Fire one in an airport, and you kill not just the target but half a dozen innocent bystanders.

Not.

The 5.56 round usually doesn't penetrate past one person, splintering on impact:

http://www.snipercentral.com/223.htm

Or google "5.56 ballistics". The 5.56mm is not a potent rifle round.

"Americans have a tendency to overlook the obvious connection between the "militarization of civilian law enforcement" in the U.S. and the absence of gun control."

What nonsense. Police are worried about being shot by CRIMINALS, who by definition ignore the law. Gun control, also by definition, chiefly affects those who follow the law, i.e. non-criminals.

This is lesson #1 in understanding gun control. I cannot comprehend why it is not more widely understood.

Just some little observations:

Noah: Criminals are, by definition, people who disobey at least one law. It does not follow that they disobey all laws.

Not to get all ECON101 on you, but criminals also respond to incentives, like everyone else, which means that when guns are (relatively) expensive, difficult to obtain, and risky to keep on one's person, fewer acquire them. I don't know if you've ever watched COPS, but some of these criminals aren't too bright. Some of them aren't that rich or resourceful either. So it's not like they just go around doing whatever they want, while the law stands helplessly by.

Colin: The fact that there is a connection between the proliferation of handguns and the jumpiness of cops does not exclude the possibility of other connections. Similarly, the fact that I drew attention to one such connection does not imply that I deny all others. Maybe they put more sugar in the doughnuts down where you live as well. There could be all sorts of factors. I was just drawing attention to the most crushingly obvious one.

Finally, what is the rationale for this analogy between attempts by the state to control gun proliferation and attempts by the state to ban the sale of alcohol and drugs? Why not compare it to the attempts by the state to ban leaded gasoline? or lawn darts? or large quantities of C4 for personal use? The fact that a law does not generate perfect compliance does not mean that it does not have useful consequences.

Joseph: While the whole "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws..." argument is a ridiculously simplistic sound-bite, there are sensible models of criminal behavior under which gun control could worsen crime rates. If you assume that the chance that a potential victim will be armed plays an important role in the decision to comit a crime, then gun control laws will cause crime rates to go up if they have a greater effect on the gun ownership of non-criminals than of criminals.

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