The "Holy Shit!" Rule

Back in the mid-90s, when I was a fed, I was making some DEA agents and local Sheriffs happy by taking seriously their investigation of a relatively low-level drug trafficking organization. I was helping them with warrants, doing some grand jury work, flipping low-level mopes, that sort of thing. Nobody else was taking them particularly seriously.

So when I got them a search warrant for the ranch of one of the lead targets of the investigation, they were thrilled with me. "Ken," they say, "we've arranged air support for this operation. So we want to have you picked up on top of one of the buildings downtown in one of the Sheriff's helicopters, give you a raid jacket, and have you come along on the search to run a command center on the ground and trouble-shoot any legal issues with the search."

HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN, my 26-year-old self thought. (Yes, I was a 26-year-old federal prosecutor. Defense attorney hand-wringing — which annoyed me at the time, but which I now join — goes here.) A helicopter raid! A raid jacket! A COMMAND CENTER! They'll probably give me a gun. You know, in case any shit goes down.

But even at 26 I had a certain rudimentary old-mannish quality, and it occurred to me to ask — does that sound too good? So during lunch I wandered into the office of the U.S. Attorney– who had been my supervisor in rookie row not long before — to talk about it.

He listened sympathetically. Then he told me. "Ken," he told me, "if your reaction to a proposal is "HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN," then as a government lawyer and member of law enforcement, you almost certainly shouldn't be doing it."

It was a hard rule, but one that served me well for the rest of my government career. It helped me avoid some foolish cinematic flourishes, some bad but tempting decisions, and some social events. (Take, for instance, the local ATF's notorious big-guns-and-barbecue-in-the-desert gatherings. Holy shit, that sounds like fun, doesn't it? Yeah. Never attend a desert barbecue-and-gun-extravaganza by a federal agency that vacillates between "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUCK YEAH" and "Hey guys, watch this!" as a motto.)

Regrettably, many in law enforcement do not follow this simple rule. So some cops can be induced to do extremely foolish things — things that will shatter the constitutional rights of citizens, things that will expose them to vast liability, things that will threaten innocents with death — while under the influence of toys, cameras, celebrities, and tactical plans that wouldn't make the table read in an A-Team sequel.

Hence, as Patrick pointed out, cops under the influence of cameras, celebrity, and the opportunity to drive a tank (WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAA!) will decide that it is appropriate to raid a suspected cock-fighting operation with roughly the amount of force typically reserved to take a Pacific atoll from Imperial Japan. And now, via Radley Balko, I see that it is getting them in (entirely predictable) trouble, along with the highly irritable and oddly puffy Steven Seagal.

To our friends in law enforcement, here is a perfect application of the "Holy Shit" rule: if Steven Seagal asks you if you will stage a cock-fighting raid with a tank for the benefit of his reality show, if you have a badge, then you say no.

No, don't thank me. I'm just glad I could help.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    So damn logical. I mean… this really applies to many different areas of life as well. Not that you shouldn't ever do things that are super exciting, but it is a good rule to give yourself a little reality check every now and then.

  2. Al says

    Speaking from experience, I would say that if you do get the chance to drive a tank without the whole unnecessary use of force thing then go for it. Lots of fun.

  3. mojo says

    Yeah, that's the problem (or one of them, anyway) with outfitting all these one-dog burgs with a SWAT team and all the goodies – they're tempted to use it all the time. Just to justify the expense, that's pretty much required.

    Seriously – a full-on armed raid on a freakin' chicken ranch?

  4. says

    The Museum of the American GI, located in College Station, TX (home of Texas A&M, and not too far from where I live) offers a Tanker School where you can supposedly learn to drive tanks.

    Several of my cow orkers are very excited by this idea. (These same people are also big into "World Of Tanks".) I have pointed out to them that if it is 110 degrees outside, how hot do you suppose it is inside a non air-conditioned WWII vintage Sherman tank? But they don't listen.

  5. Frisco Scooter Trash says

    I love Radley and read his stuff daily, but can't get him to distinguish between an armored vehicle, an armored personal carrier and a tank.

    Its bad enough they're using an APC, but it will be much worse if they ever graduate to tanks.

  6. buzz says

    Everyone knows you dont send in the swat team and tanks for a chicken raid. You save that for the big stuff. Like if a guitar maker is using wood from India. Stuff like that.

  7. d-day says

    I once realized I was thinking of myself as a "fan" of a particular politician. After much mental effort, my auto response to that impulse is automatic increased skepticism. Urgh.

  8. says

    Ken – well stated. All of it. I cannot imagine how Arpaio and Seagal thought that this was a good idea. There are just so many things wrong with it:

    1.) Unecessary use of force – there was no indication that there would be resistance at all to the raid, much less armed resistance. This is backed up by the fact that no guns were found.

    2.) Jurisdictional issues – Seagal isn't a cop in that town. How was he even involved?

    3.) Property destruction – it seems as though they killed 100 chickens during the raid. I'm not entirely sure how you can do that without a conviction first (ie, how do you know that these were fighting roosters prior to the guy being convicted of cock fighting to begin with?) They also broke down the walls to this guy's house with a tank, so there's that, too. Whatever happened to innocent until proen guilty? When were the police first allowed to begin handing out non0judicial punishment to suspected law breakers, especially given that no trial had yet been held?

    It is obvious that this stunt was pulled for the cameras. Period. Which means that Joe Arpaio and Steven Seagal both belong in jail awaiting their trial, not still wearing a badge out in public.

  9. says

    When were the police first allowed to begin handing out non0judicial punishment to suspected law breakers, especially given that no trial had yet been held?

    The ability to punish by seizing property and holding it pending trial goes back at least a few decades, and probably a lot further if felt like depressing myself by looking.

  10. CTrees says

    @Goober: "I cannot imagine how Arpaio and Seagal thought that this was a good idea."

    Read that again, slowly, and think about it real hard

  11. Jag says

    The ongoing cross-pollination and training of local law enforcement by the Federal Government is extremely concerning as well. When the shit hits the fan, local LEOs are going to look to their arms masters for guidance. It's actually a smart move by the alphabet agencies.

  12. says

    The raid about which you and Radley Balko have written may actually be the "one step too far" for that obese tax-eater Arpaio; as a few commenters here and elsewhere have noted, it is a stretch to imagine that the use of force was justified, even using the tortured logic of the likes of John "It's Not Torture Unless An Organ Fails" Yoo. (OK… maybe John "Cheney's Hop Sing" Yoo would give it a pass… but not a human).

    If Arpaio gets indicted for this (it easily fits within several Federal felony statutes, if my reading is correct) I imagine he would have no shortage of applicants to be his cellie. And since fuckwads like him make light of anal rape in the US penal system, the karmic load will be greater than all the (ahem) loads that will be shot into his riven, broken sphincter between now and when he offs himself.

    Couldn't happen to a more deserving corrupt fat fuck. And if Seagal was in there as well, his self-aggrandising claim to martial arts prowess would get raped just as badly as his Seagal (a 'seagal' is a fat puffy asshole).

  13. Iman Azol says

    While I agree with the direction of GT's thrust, so to speak, I think his obsession with anal rape bespeaks deeper issues that need tapped, gotten to the bottom of, plumbed, as it were.


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