2 High Publicity Police Fiascos: When the Police Use Military Equipment

There is a current debate about the “over-militarization” of the police and the use of military equipment. This is nothing new. I am old enough to remember the following 2 police fiascos.

The LAPD Armored Personnel Carrier Battering Ram

In 1985, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) proudly displayed their new 6-ton armored personnel carrier equipped with a 14-foot battering ram.  It was designed to crash through the walls of fortified “crack” houses. The police chief bragged that it was a “revolutionary new weapon in the war on drugs.

With the reporters present and TV cameras rolling, the “tank” crashed into a “major crack house” and “drug distribution center.”

After smashing into the family’s dining room, the police searched the residence.  There were no weapons.  There were no drugs. They got the wrong house.

It was a complete PR disaster. 

Later, the California Supreme Court issued an injunction against the use of the “tank.” Collapsing walls and ceilings could be fatal.  Severing electrical wires and rupturing gas pipes could cause deadly explosions. The “tank” was never used again.

The Philadelphia PD C-4 Plastic Explosive Satchel Bomb

Not to be outdone, shortly after the LAPD military “tank” fiasco, the Philadelphia PD dropped a C-4 plastic explosive satchel bomb onto a roof “bunker” and burned down an entire neighborhood. 

The Philadelphia PD had been in a 24-hour standoff with a group of radicals.  There had been some gun battles. The radicals were barricaded in a bunker on the roof of their row house.

Frustrated, the police dropped a bomb on the bunker from a helicopter.  The house caught fire and spread to the adjacent homes.  About 60 homes were destroyed and about a dozen people burned to death.

Silver Lining

One bright spot.  The Philadelphia PD disaster consumed all of the media attention, saving the LAPD from further embarrassment from their fiasco. Timing is everything.

(“Armored Personnel Carrier PAPD Crack House,” Scott Harrison, LA Times, “From the Archives,” May 14, 2017; Langford v. Superior Court (1987) (Cal. Supreme Ct.) 42 Cal.3d 24; “The 1985 Philadelphia Bombing that Change the City Forever,” http://www.vox.com; “Police Drop Bomb on Radicals’ Home in Philadelphia,” William Stevens, New York Times, May 14, 1985)

(Other articles: londonedition.home.blog or http://www.londonedition.net) (“Court Case Friday,” “Historical Tuesday,” “Sunday Sermon.”)

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