A Solution To Swatting That’s Safe For Everyone

There is a nationwide trend, heavily in use among the gaming community, that is playing Police Department deficiencies against unwitting citizens.  It’s called swatting and is beyond repugnant.

The basic aspect of the game is that through one of several means, a phone number is spoofed and the prankster (a name that belittles the seriousness of this crime) calls the police and reports that some horrific murder and hostage situation is occurring at a specific address.  The goal is to get the biggest police response possible to the target’s house.  According to what the Long Beach Police Commissioner told the Huffington Post:

“In this … bizarre world of swatting, you get points for the helicopter, for the police cars, for the SWAT team, for the type of entry,” Michael Tangney, Long Beach police commissioner, told CBS New York. “It’s very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous.”

I tried to find a website that had the so called rules and point system for this swatting game, but my brief use of Goggle found nothing. Not surprised, this isn’t really something those playing want the police to discover.

In a recent case in Long Island, the result of the prank was a $100,000 response of over 70 officers, a dynamic entry into a home, and terrifying a mother and her two sons. The prankster got points for just about everything but the helicopter.

This is not a game, at least not a game in the same way that Russian Roulette is not a game.  People can die in this game.  So far, I can’t find an instance where someone has, but the potential for things going seriously wrong is huge.  Consider the kid who answered the police knocking on his door with his game controller who ended up shot and killed. In this case the police officer who did the shooting is under a grand jury ordered investigation.

Frankly it seems to me that the problem is as much with the police policies as it is with the prankster asshats that call in the swatting.  Specifically how they handle these hostage situations. Keep in mind how these work, the asshat calls the police claiming murder and hostages at a specific address. He clearly WANTS the police attention.  From the police point of view, they arrive on scene and they have a couple of options. One shouldn’t be to kick in the door.

The first thing that I would expect the police to do is attempt to make contact inside the house. Talk with the neighbors, did they hear gunshots?  Do they have a land line phone you can call?  Do neighbors know their cell phone number?  Does the house look like it’s barricaded and ready for a police response? Does the house look like the homeowners are blissfully unaware of the growing army outside?  Then perhaps it’s time to make peaceful, respectful contact.  If there is no land line and no cell numbers found, do a ding dong ditch and leave a cellphone and a sign on the front porch and see if the door is opened and the phone is picked up.  In other words, make peaceful contact first.

That’s not really as radical as you think, and it has worked.  A swatting event in Huntsville, Alabama turned out just that way. As the police infiltrated the area, they quickly realized things were not as they seemed, and managed to put no one at risk, including themselves.  Because no-knock entry into a home is a dangerous thing for police to do.  The people inside have the constitutional right to fight back when an unknown force bursts through their front door.  And police SWAT teams will not respond kindly to being shot at.

The truth is that SWAT raids are a dangerous business, even when the SWAT is the correct use of force.  But lately, SWAT has been used to deliver more warrants than ever.  Even knock and announce warrants.  And that puts the public at danger.  Since 1981, use of SWAT style raids have exploded, and is partially to blame for the fact that police have killed more American’s than terrorists since 9/11. It’s all tied up with the further militarization of police.

A part of that militarization and why SWAT raids have become so dangerous is what a blogger known as ExCopLawStudent has written about extensively known as the first rule of policing. Basically, the first rule of policing is “Go home alive.”  As a result of this rule, Officer Safety is the number one excuse for any use of force, however outlandish.  A subset of this rule is the level of respect generated.  There was a time when the police actively worked hard to gain the respect and trust of the community they served.  Sadly, that is rarely the case today.  Instead, the respect (at least in the mind of the police) is generated because they have the badge.  As a result, they expect us to give them respect from the outset of an encounter, be that a traffic stop, a public arrest or a SWAT raid.

Personally, I do. Not because they earned it. And not because it’s the “right thing to do.” But because, on the street, like it or not, thanks to the first rule of policing, they have all the power.  I’m respectful and kind. I do what they tell me.  I’m not stupid.  I raise my rights, I don’t answer questions and I refuse to consent to searches, but I don’t argue. Because on the streets is not the place to plead your case.  Police are the brute force of the Government, militarized or not.  The place to plead your case, correct the wrongs (if any) done to you at the hands of the police, are in the courts.  Although that is a whole other bag of trouble.

But overall, I can’t help to think that if police went into every encounter not with the concept of shock and awe, but with the concept of de-escalation the system would be far safer for everyone.  Wouldn’t it be nice if reducing crime AND reducing arrests was the stated goal.  And if police action and use of force is determined by the best result for everybody and not just the police.  Then, maybe just, there wouldn’t be federal investigations into police brutality.


Distilling the home brewers dilemma….

Governor Bob Riley

Back last May, Governor Robert Bentley signed into law the bill that turned thousands of Alabamians from criminals to connoisseurs.  With the passage of HB9, The Alabama Homebrew Bill, Alabamians now have the legal ability to brew small batches of beer in their homes from raw ingredients.  I’ve done this, and it was great fun!  (I lived in Tennessee… where it was legal at the time).  It’s pretty fun trying to turn raw materials into a finished mug of perfectly brewed beer.

Now, with home brewing legal in Alabama, one must ask why it isn’t legal for home distilling?

The simple answer is that the distillation of spirits is controlled exclusively at the federal level, and all home distillery activities are strictly illegal.  After all, we can’t have a moonshine still in every backyard… can we?

Why is distilling linked to home brewing?  Because there is only one step extra added to distilling a spirit than brewing a beer.  Some may believe that it is that specific step that makes distilled liquor contain more alcohol than beer.  And you’d be right.  Sort of.

Distillation does not create alcohol.  Period.  The chemistry behind distillation dictates that it can not!  Distilling happens at high temperatures, well over 170F, is simply too high for yeast to create alcohol.  So distillation does not make alcohol at all.

Spirits are made from distilling a fermented mash.  And making a mash is no different in distilling than it is in making beer.  In fact, you could use a mash from beer making to distill a beer spirit.  It wouldn’t be very good, but you could do it.

So all distilling involves is using heat and cooling to concentrate the alcohol.  But distilling isn’t the only way to do it.  Beer makers use a different method.  Ever had an Ice Beer?  It’s beer that has been concentrated by freezing.  Alcohol doesn’t freeze as quickly as ice, so if you freeze a beer and remove the ice, you have a more concentrated alcohol content in the beer.  But freezing beer isn’t illegal.  So why is distillation?

Because, Prohibition!  Because, Moonshiners!  Because, Drunks!

Let’s be honest.  Because, TAXES!  The same arguments that Alabama Home Brewers fought getting Home Brewing legal, that home brewing will lead to drunkards, loss of tax revenue, and general unlawfulness, are the same ones (only on a national level) that home distillers face.  But just like in home brewing, they just don’t make sense.

Not the Home Brewers Beer

Let’s handle the drunkards issue first.  Just like home brewers, home distillers aren’t cooking up their elixirs for getting drunk.  Being drunk doesn’t allow you to enjoy the flavors, some quite subtle, in your brew or spirit.  So home brewers and home distillers aren’t looking for a quick drunk without paying tax on it.  Because, well… there is nothing quick or cheap about the hobby.  To make five gallons of beer or spirits, typically the size a home brewer can deal with, you’re spending at least double… if not triple… the cost of a cheap beer in the same quantity or a cheap spirit in the same quantity.  And yet, after spending the money you have nothing to drink.  You’ve wurt to make, and mash to ferment.  And a second fermentation if you’re making beer.  Staying with beer, there is bottling and bottle conditioning.  All this takes weeks and weeks.  Distillers may be a shade faster.  They stop at the first fermentation and move on to the distillation.  But sometimes, it must be distilled twice.  And that’s assuming that you’re not aging the distillation any.  Because if you are… you’re talking years.  In either case it is far cheaper and faster to fetch a case of Natty Lite or Burton’s Vodka if all you’re looking for is a quick, cheap drunk.

As to loss of taxes, it’s rubbish.  Home Brewers/Distillers would be paying taxes on all the ingredients that they use in making their liquid.  The only place that the state/feds lose taxes is on the sale of the brew/spirit.  And that’s BS.  One of the rules of all home brewers/distillers is that they can’t sell their brew/spirit.  So there isn’t any loss there.  But what’s the point of being a home brewer/distiller if you can’t prove you’re better than the big boys?  So the home boys compare to the big boys.  So they have to buy the big boy’s products anyways.  And, taxes!  I’ve been to a home brewer’s tasting.  They are all the same.  The brewer pulls out his brew and a selection of the brews he thinks he’s competing with.  Flights are poured.  Beer is tasted.  Everyone applauds the brewmaster for being better than the big boys.  And the brewmaster knows how truthful they were by how eagerly they grab the proffered four packs.  (BTW, the more eager the more truthful.)

Now we come to the rub.  General unlawfulness is harder to argue with distilling than brewing.  Because of the double fermentation process brewers prefer, the cost of setting up for mass quantities of production is prohibited.  Add to it the bottling expense, so it gets even worse.  Beer by the bottle is just cost prohibited.  Plus, the big boys do thing a bit differently, and the difference is not appreciated among the Natty Lite crowd.  So selling large quantities of home brew is hard because there is no demand.

Spirits are different.  Clearly there is a demand, otherwise there wouldn’t be moonshiners.  Preparing a mash isn’t that difficult, and distilling it isn’t either.  Moonshine isn’t aged, so it isn’t that hard to make.  Additionally, it’s barely cut and the bitting taste is desired so its rarely filtered.  The result is that what a hobby distiller would consider a early first step, a moonshiner considers a finished product.  (This isn’t a slam on moonshine.  I’ve tasted some mighty fine moonshine that was obviously crafted with care.  I didn’t pay for it, nor did I think to check on the bona fides of the person offering me a taste.)

So it is possible a moonshiner would try to hide his moonshining under the guise of hobby distilling.  However there are still drawbacks.  Five gallons isn’t exactly a windfall, so the moonshiner is more likely to continue his dead of night distillation in the woods than small batches in his garage.  Also, who cares if the moonshiner hides in the garage?  If the making of it isn’t illegal, the moonshiners is more likely to take greater care in making their product.  I’m serious, have you thought about how clean these backwoods setups truly are?  After all, it’s the sale that’s illegal, not the making (if home distilling was legalized) so catch them there.  Let the sales be the target, since the making is now safer anyway.  And the legalization will allow thousands of hobby distillers create a whole new economy.

Yes, I said economy.  The (not so) recent explosion of  great craft beers is directly linked to the healthy home brew crew.  No big boy brewmaster will take a risk on a new recipe.  But a small to medium brewer will see that boysenberry is selling like crazy at the home brew store and will take the chance.  (I’ve never had a boysenberry flavored beer.  Someone make some, and I will.  Maybe.  I don’t like boysenberry.)  In Tennessee, there is a growing micro-distillary industry.  That micro-distillary industry will only grow faster, sooner, with hobby distillers taking chances the commercial places can’t.  Additionally, the micro-distillary industry is suffering from a lack of experienced distillers.  Bringing back Home Distillation will allow a new crop of future distillers to grow up outside of the big boys influence.

Who knows, in a few years following legalized home distillery, boysenberry infused vodka may be the new, hot cocktail mixer.  Then again, maybe not.

 –I must stress that my discussion of how to make both beer and spirits is intentionally rudimentary.  I actually know a good bit more, but didn’t find the details relevant to the overall discussion of legalizing home distilled spirits.  For example, I alluded to the fact that the big boys don’t bottle condition without explaining what bottle conditioning actually is.  Why home brewers bottle conditions and why the big boys don’t isn’t really relevant here.  But I just know some militant (tongue firmly implanted in check) home brewer would complain that I didn’t explain something correctly.– 

How much does it cost to educate the public servants?

The City of Chicago is paying a heathy fee for not being able to learn from past mistakes.  In the past ten years, the city has paid over half a billion dollars to settle police misconduct cases.  Yet in the past ten years, there has been little to nothing done about the root causes of the problem.  2013 was a particularly bad year for Chicago, they paid over $87 million but had only budgets $27 million. Why a city would budget to cover a problem that shouldn’t exist if they held their officers to the same standard that McDonalds holds their cashers to is beyond me.  It didn’t take long for the city to bust the budget.  They settled a single case for $22.5 million in January of 2013.  In August, another single case was settled for $12 million.

Chicago isn’t the only city with significant bills for police misconduct.  Cities around the nation are faced with higher and higher settlements and awards for the police abusing their authority.  And there is no excuse for it.  Police have qualified immunity, which means they can not be sued for doing their job and doing it correctly.  If they follow the law and their own policies, they would be immune from being sued.  That they are getting sued as often as they are means that judges across the country are agreeing that police are not following the law and are not following their own policies.   Municipalities are rapidly learning to settle cases once the veil of qualified immunity is pierced, juries are quite unforgiving once they are convinced that the police did wrong.  

What is sad is that the common public hold the belief that it is a few bad cops that are making the whole force look bad.  But when these so called good cops stand around and do nothing when the bad cops act up, they aren’t good cops.  Then again, perhaps police don’t call out other police action because of the very real retaliation their brother in blue will perform against them. But that retaliatory attitude is tacitly supported by the system police have built for themselves, and it is quite a system.  

Thanks to police unions and lobbyist, the laws and contracts of the police force is a powerful thing.  In the millions Chicago paid out, most of the officers who performed the misconducts didn’t get any punishment.  So much so, that not included in that $500 Million payout is the paid leave the officers got.  Once the complaint was filed, the police department does its own internal investigation.  It’s the police policing the police, and it doesn’t work.  And often leads to weird situations such as both defending and going after the officer at the same time.

A few things need to change, or you are going to see this payout to private citizens continue.  Police must stop policing themselves.  An independent, outside agency should handle all the complaints that come in against officers and departments.  Chiefs must be able to fire problem officers without interference from the union.  And cops need to stop covering cops who do bad things.  Until those three things are fixed, all the training in the world won’t stop the money bleeding out of departments around the country.