Who's Next?

Annette Green didn't have to die. Her death was a tragedy waiting to happen in St. Louis County's reckless war against two-bit drug dealers and addicts.

Jackson doesn't see eviction as an option. "If you think that out, there's lots and lots of drug houses throughout St. Louis County and everywhere," the lieutenant says. "We have to address them in the manner that seems most practical, keeping in mind our mandate is to enforce the law."

Time and again, Jackson, a point man himself on the tactical unit before going into the investigative end, uses the words "efficient" and "effective" to describe how the police go about their business. "I was a paramedic for a long time," he says. "I've always, I guess, been wanting to do this kind of thing. But the reason I did it [worked point] while I was there was, I didn't think anybody could do a better, more effective, more efficient, safer job than me, quite frankly. Everybody who does that job believes the same about themselves. And breaching [taking down a door with a ram] is an art form. It's like the point man. The people who do the breachings, they're artisans."

Of course, things can go wrong. "It reaches a point where you say, 'Whoa, this is a kind of risky thing,'" Jackson says. Bader, the tactical-unit commander who worked point earlier in his career, learned this firsthand 11 years ago while handling the ram during a raid at the home of a suspected marijuana and cocaine dealer who was known to collect firearms. "When the front door came open, he was standing there with a gun," Bader recalls. "I got caught in the crossfire." Actually, there was no crossfire. The dealer didn't get off a shot. Bader was wounded in the leg by a fellow officer who also shot the shotgun-toting dealer four times. The dealer lived and was convicted on assault and drug charges. Until the Green case, that was the only time county officers had shot anyone while serving a warrant. As with Green, the necessity of a surprise strike was questionable. The dealer had 10 pounds of marijuana, far too much to flush even if police had knocked on the door and waited for someone to open it.

Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."
Jennifer Silverberg
Bertha Williams says she is still shocked by her daughter's death: "I didn't think she would leave the world that way."

Noting that private-practice psychologists examined Steib and pronounced him fit for duty, Bader says the public shouldn't be concerned that Steib was back on point less than a month after he shot Green. "I don't see why there should be a concern there, and I'll tell you why," Bader says. "The reason why is, simply, we had people who were independent of the department rule that this officer was capable of performing the job of being a police officer."

Steib declined comment, citing the pending review by the Police Practices Review Committee.


Statistics show St. Louis County is no different than the rest of the nation when it comes to using paramilitary force to enforce drug laws. A 1997 study by Dr. Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University criminology professor, found that the number of tactical-unit call-outs shot up 1,589 percent between 1980 and 1995 as a result of increased use of SWAT teams to serve search warrants and an explosion in the number of tactical units. Twenty years ago, SWAT teams weren't commonly used in drug cases -- just 40 percent of such units in 1980 were used to serve search or arrest warrants. By 1995, 94 percent of SWAT teams in America were serving warrants, and the number of teams had increased from 63 in 1980 to more than 250.

St. Louis County has seen similar numbers. Between 1981 and 1991, the county tactical unit served 593 search warrants. During the past 10 years, the team has served 1,767, thanks in part to more detectives assigned to the county's drug bureau and a decade-old county policy of serving warrants for any agency that requests it, at no cost to the requesting department.

For Kraska, Annette Green's case is all too familiar.

After eight years of studying the use of paramilitary force by American police, Kraska has reached a simple conclusion: Cops nationwide are using one-size-fits-all sledgehammers to pound gnats, with tragedies such as Green's the inevitable result: A 12-year-old child blown away by a shotgun blast in Modesto, Calif. A Denver man shot to death by police who went to the wrong address. A SWAT commander in Oxnard, Calif., who mistakenly shot a fellow officer three times.

"If someone was to say, 'What's the most important thing you've come to after all this research?' I would say it's the stupidity of the approach that police are adopting using SWAT teams going after drugs," Kraska says. "Nobody can make a credible argument that it's wise public policy to conduct 40,000 drug raids a year by SWAT teams when the bulk of them are for relatively minor drug offenses. Does the potential benefit yielded out of this warrant the extreme tactics taken? I would answer with a resounding 'Absolutely not.' It's hard after you examine this for awhile to not come to the conclusion that this is a solution in search of a problem. To me, it's clear that the police have this thing in place and they're looking for something to do with it, obviously putting themselves in harm's way and citizens in harm's way. This stuff is intoxicating for them."

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...