Many Americans were shocked by scenes from Portland, Oregon, in which federal agents in military combat equipment clashed with demonstrators. The Oregon Governor, the Mayor of Portland and a number of Democratic Senators have launched stabbing attacks on the operations.
However, the use of heavily armed law enforcement task forces, such as those confiscated in Portland, has been supported for years by U.S. mayors and other democratic and republican politicians, despite allegations of police overreach and lack of evidence to improve them public security.
"You come in with tanks. They come in dressed for the fight. The methods themselves look a lot like Portland, ”said Judith Green, director of Justice Strategies, a research organization in New York. "If you were in the middle of a residential project, you wouldn't know the difference."
The Department of Justice has recognized some of the task force's mistakes in studies and reports, but presents them as management problems rather than failure of a strategy that, if it works, can bring federal and state funding, information sharing, and other benefits to local police.
Critics say, however, that agencies sometimes exaggerate problems to justify the establishment of a multi-jurisdiction task force and then exceed their efforts to be successful. "I think it's great for sharing information and resources," said James Hernandez, a criminal justice professor at California State University in Sacramento who specializes in gangs. But "some are hokey like hell."
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In April 2012, Carlos Gamino had just gotten to his maintenance job in Sacramento Park when he had to rush home because he found out that his daughters had been injured by a stun grenade that was thrown by the police that raided his home.
"You have an army vehicle. You have police officers and sheriff representatives. One of my daughters is sitting outside and has a panic attack where she cannot breathe. She is handcuffed. I am trying to get in and want to show me the warrant. They say, "We don't have to show you anything," Gamino said, recently describing the scene in an interview.
Police arrested Gamino as a suspected gang member before releasing him without charge that day and sent his 16-year-old daughter to the hospital with burns to the legs of a stun grenade. Officers had mistakenly identified Gamino's house as the home of his brother, who had left the country years earlier.
This was part of the culmination of Operation Red Sash, which focused on the largely Spanish Broderick neighborhood of West Sacramento. It was a military-procured anti-land mine vehicle, SWAT snipers, more than 100 officers from a dozen agencies – including the Yolo Narcotic Enforcement Team; the police departments of Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento; The Yolo County Sheriff's Department and the Yolo Gang Task Force – which issued 12 arrest warrants and 16 warrants, according to a press release from then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Harris had been fighting Governor Jerry Brown's proposals to cut funding for regional law enforcement task forces. And she described Operation Red Sash as a success in her initiative to fight what her office called "transnational gangs".
"Today's operation will paralyze these criminal street gangs and their criminal corporate network," Harris said in a statement at the time.
Harris was hardly unique in giving shine to a task force operation. Politicians across the country have claimed that task forces have driven, crippled, or eliminated certain types of misconduct.
"It's a political thing," said John Raphling, a criminal rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "They use shock value, the visceral response to gait, to justify funding for these useless and ultimately harmful operations."
For local officials, a law enforcement task force in multiple jurisdictions is often seen as a bonus and without obligation. Typically, "such an operation adds resources and removes accountability," said Raphling.
Rick Gore, a former Yolo County Prosecutor who led Operation Red Sash, described the Task Force's operations there as a way to increase budgets: “Giving money is a great incentive to enlarge departments . As you hire more detectives, more supervisors, more cases, more deputy district attorneys, more supervising district attorneys, your office grows and your resume can be drawn up to move from a 40-person office to 650 people. "
Patrick Jaicomo, a lawyer at the Institute of Justice, said politicians should "justify funding and be active in this area," he said. "If your task force is tasked with arresting a certain number of people or finding a certain amount of drugs, don't think twice about raiding someone's house at 3am. Why not raiding five houses? It leads to a mindset in which you do everything you can think of to achieve the goal. "
Through a spokeswoman, the Yolo County sheriff refused to comment on Operation Red Sash. The Yolo County district attorney declined to comment on a spokeswoman and said Kamala Harris was responsible for the operation.
Sen. Harris' office did not respond to calls or email.
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Multi-agency law enforcement tasks have existed since the 1970s and now include hundreds of organizations that include thousands of officers.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, one of many federal and state organizations coordinating law enforcement task forces, reports that it manages 271 task forces involving 5,000 federal and state officials. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has 160 gang task forces across the country.
There is no official list of expenses for these types of operations. However, a 2014 Brennan Center for Justice report states that the federal government sends at least $ 3.8 billion nationwide in grants to the federal criminal justice system, primarily for task force operations. Additional billions are being sent through national security programs by the Defense and Homeland Security ministries, the report said. And this does not include the budgets of state, local, and regional agencies, which also provide significant resources and resources for the task force's operations.
"These task forces operate in every community in the country," said Jaicomo.
Despite the enormous cost, critics say that little effort has been made to assess whether the task forces actually reduce the problems they are designed to solve. The idea was to select a single crime issue that was of public concern – gangs, narcotics, terrorism and the like – rather than local authorities dealing with the crimes that occurred, but to tackle a single problem by assembling teams and equipment from different agencies be used to carry out surveillance, raids, arrests and court cases.
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In 2007, a report from the Department of Justice outlined how task forces can better find out whether their efforts reduce crime or other problems. By that time, the author of the report said in an interview, they have taken stock of things like the number of arrests or the seizure of weapons. The following year, the Department of Justice issued guidelines and again recommended a "performance measurement" to determine if they had done anything good.
However, according to the Brennan Center Report 2014, there is little incentive to measure whether these operations reduce the problems that they are dealing with. Grants to local law enforcement agencies are based on activities such as arrests, seizures, and law enforcement, rather than evidence of increased public security per dollar spent.
This "accidentally creates incentives to increase arrests," the report said, adding that hundreds of federal grant programs "provide additional dollars while losing the line of accountability and clear direction."
Subsequent studies analyzing law enforcement task forces revealed a similar information vacuum.
FBI analyst Laura Jamison noted that "besides crime statistics, there is no system, no requirement to measure performance, and no clear definition of success," according to her article, "Measuring Performance Within Anti-Gang Task Forces." in Texas "from December 2019.
Experts immersed in individual task force operations have identified problems similar to those in Operation Red Sash, where overwhelming use of violence has resulted in overwhelming results.
In February 2008, hundreds of officers from nine different agencies came to the largely black neighborhood of Oak Oakwood in Los Angeles to prevent drug gangs from terrorizing the community, according to a press release by Democratic Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. The raid in two dozen homes frightened many parishioners, said Raphling.
"You entered the neighborhood. They had armored vehicles and three hundred officers. They put hooks on window bars and broke windows, kicked doors. In one case, they kicked in a door while the baby was sleeping and simply failed to fall on the baby. They all roasted and handcuffed people in front of their houses. And they didn't make up shit, ”he said.
In response to an inquiry, a spokesman for current prosecutor Michael Feuer said he "had nothing to say about the actions or policies of a former prosecutor."
In April 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice released a press release announcing the "biggest gang in New York history" by a task force involving the New York City Police Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of alcohol, tobacco belonged, firearms and explosives. At dawn, nearly 700 officers raided the Eastchester Gardens apartments and surrounding Bronx neighborhood with special weapon and tactical teams, tanks, and helicopters. At a press conference, US attorney Preet Bharara said the US had charged 120 people with extortion, narcotics and firearms offenses. He also said there were allegations of murder, shootings, and stabbing.
In fact, less than half of the people caught in the raids were gang members, and some were actually charged with crimes for which they had already been punished, according to City University of New York law professor Babe Howell, of the aftermath. Most were not accused of violent crime, but were marijuana, cocaine, or other drug dealers.
"You used a small number of single-digit murders, some of which have already been resolved to warrant a massive shutdown," Howell said. "They persecuted non-gang members in a gang breakdown and admitted that they are again prosecuting people for crimes for which they have already been punished."
The Justice Department responded in a statement highlighting the violent criminals arrested and adding that it is possible to accuse non-gang members of gang harassment for sometimes helping gangs. If local punishments for the same crime are too short to prevent gang activity, they can be re-examined according to federal extortion laws, the statement said.
A federal official sprays a protester in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. courthouse in Portland, Oregon on July 20, 2020.
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As in cities across the country, several hundred demonstrators gathered in Portland in May along a six-block stretch of road north of the Willamette River to denounce the police assassination of George Floyd. On June 23, a group organized a march to commemorate two men who had been killed to defend black teenage girls from racist epithets. Portland protesters surrounded a police station and later the headquarters of the local police union. Some people set fire to a sculpture of an elk in the city center.
"Daily protests have been followed regularly by nightly criminal activities in the form of vandalism, property destruction, looting, arson, and assault," an agent from the US Federal Security Service wrote in an affidavit in which two protesters were accused of interfering in the work of the officials to have interfered with defense of federal buildings. On July 4, dozens of federal agents in camouflage and combat equipment formed around the federal courts building in Portland. And for the next three weeks, scenes of lightning grenades, fireworks, tear gas, injured protesters, and agents who chased away a demonstrator in an unmarked van dominated America's national conversation. Agents arrested 60 protesters. Prosecutors accused 46 of crimes such as arson, property damage and bodily harm. On July 31, Operation Diligent Valor withdrew from the city center.
Experts who investigate less noticed task force operations say they have seen many of these elements before.
"The aggressive way in which these operations are carried out, regardless of the actual impact on the community, seems similar to me," said Raphling of Human Rights Watch.
Howell, the CUNY law professor, added: "You can say," We are the white hat that comes into local jurisdiction and deals with your street crime problems. "