Police in Prince George's County, Maryland, are conceding that, just maybe, last week's violent raid on the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, during which officers killed two dogs, was a mistake.
Police raided Calvo's home after he took delivery of a package containing 30 pounds of marijuana.
The package was addressed to Trinity Tomsic, Calvo's wife. But law enforcement sources said last week that they are now investigating the possibility that the mayor and his wife were unwitting recipients and that a deliveryman might have intended to intercept the package as part of a drug smuggling scheme.
The package landed on Calvo's doorstep after police posing as deliverymen brought it to the door and Calvo's mother-in-law asked that it be left on the porch. Police recovered the unopened package from the home Tuesday night but made no arrests. Calvo has said he was interrogated for hours while handcuffed and surrounded by the bloody bodies of his dogs.
OK, let's back up here. Police burst into Calvo's home with guns blazing because ... he took delivery of an officially disfavored intoxicant. There was no hint of violence, no hostages or threats -- just a lot of wacky weed.
So why the "Raid on Entebbe" tactics?
The fact is, the results could have been a lot worse. I'm not trying to minimize the slaughter of the dogs here -- I'm a dog owner myself, and I'd be driven into a murderous rage were anybody to gun the furry beasts down. But if animals died, people could have died too -- they often do in these violent drug raids. Just today, a Lima, Ohio, police sergeant was acquitted of criminal charges stemming from his killing of an unarmed woman and shooting her one-year-old son during a botched drug raid. Cory Maye is currently serving life in prison for killing a housebreaker who turned out to be a raiding police officer acting on bad information.
Violent police raids are dangerous. But marijuana, in and of itself, is not. Even if Calvo was the intended and willing recipient of that package, there's no excuse for enforcing the laws against marijuana by knocking his doors in and shooting his dogs.
As of now, the definitive study of violent, militarized policing in this country is Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America (PDF) by Radley Balko, formerly of the Cato Institute, and now of Reason magazine. The study is accompanied by an online map detailing some of the raids researchers have looked into, and their results, including the deaths of innocent people, deaths of police officers, deaths of nonviolent offenders and raids on innocent suspects. (Dogs, sorry to say, are not included).
As of 2006, Balko estimated that as many as 40,000 violent raids of the sort suffered by Calvo and his family take place every year in this country, although not all of them end in blood and tragedy.
I wish Cheye Calvo the best. But I also wish as much attention were paid to the regular people -- non-politicians -- who are usually on the receiving end of these raids.