How to serve a warrant: 1972 versus today, by Lt. Harry Thomas

This past week I was over on trying to convince some hot-headed, patriot-hating young cops that the Constitution is actually the law of the land. I failed. One of them refers to open carriers as “attention whores.” I was denounced as a traitor to law enforcement for insisting that gun owners actually have rights that LEO’s are legally and morally bound to respect.

It got me thinking about the great gulf that separates the law enforcement profession that I knew as compared to the one that exists today. I never thought I’d be one of those geezers that says, “I just don’t understand this younger generation today!” But the fact is, I am, and I don’t.

I offer this retrospective and comparison:


PLAN A:  Standard warrant

1) The warrant officer at your station gives you a warrant for someone who lives on your beat. It’s for an old drug possession beef. The suspect has no criminal history. Ho-hum.

(Source: WCNC Charlotte)
(Source: WCNC Charlotte)

2) You go to the location. You knock on the door. If no one answers, you leave and come back another time. If your man answers the door, you either arrest him or cite him to court. If you know he’s there (TV is on, curtains move as he peeks out the window at you, etc.) but he won’t answer the door, you call another car to watch the back while you go in the front and get him. If he submits, fine. If he resists you thump him (tasers are years in the future). If he goes for a weapon you shoot him.

Fairly simple, no?


PLAN B: The crime is serious, or the suspect is known to be dangerous

1) Bring a few more cops.
2) Bring shotguns.*

*The only full-autos that your department owns are a row of 1921 Thompson sub-machine guns with 50 round drum magazines, and, strangely enough, a single M-3 greasegun, that are standing in a rack in the armory at the Criminal Investigation Section (detective bureau). The last time that one of them was deployed was in the late 1950’s at a late-night stakeout inside a closed Kroger grocery store where a gun battle occurred between stakeout officers and a gang of professional burglars and safecrackers. One of your department’s last old cigar-chewing detectives from the gangster era used the chopper to fatally ventilate the bad guys. The old chatterguns have never been fired for effect since, and never will be again. You are not qualified on them, and know no one in your 1000 man department who is. If, through some miracle, you were to be qualified on one of the old warhorses, the thought of taking one to a warrant service would never even occur to you, and the chances of you being able to sign one out for that purpose would be nil anyway. Cops use alley sweepers, not trench brooms.


1) The warrant officer at your station gives you a warrant for someone who lives on your beat. It’s for an old drug possession beef. The suspect has no criminal history. Drug possession! This guy is obviously a degenerate, and threatens the very fabric of civilization! There’s no time to lose!

SWAT_Entry2) You and your pals put on black ninja outfits. You put black bags over your heads with little slits for your eyes. Now you can do anything you want and no one can identify you afterwards. Hey, it works for the PLO and the IRA, right? You call all of the schools within a fifty mile radius and tell them to go on lockdown.

3) You ride to the scene in an armored personnel carrier (yes, I said an armored personnel carrier!).

4) When you arrive, you jump out and storm the house, bristling with weapons that were, at one time, only used on foreign battlefields to engage implacable enemies of the United States and its interests. Now they’re used against this country’s civilian population.

5) The family’s elderly Labrador, who is now approaching you, tail wagging, is obviously there to guard the drug kingpin’s stash, and presents a grave danger to law enforcement personnel. Hose him with your M-16, or MP5, or whatever squirt gun your agency issues. That way the neighbors will see what a baaaaadass you are.

6) Don’t knock on the door…that’s for sissies. Take it down with a battering ram. Run in and cuss a lot, like they do in those cool movies. Prone everybody out on the floor. When the family’s other dog gets excited and starts barking, blow him away like you did the other one. Do it in front of the kids. That way they’ll learn that this country’s laws must be respected!

7) There are lots of news cameras outside because you called them ahead of time and told them to be there. March your prisoner out and look really grim. Now everyone watching the news can see your armored personnel carrier (yes, I said ARMORED PERSONNEL CARRIER!) and they can see how awesome you are in your Ninja outfit.

8) Make sure your department spokesman is there to give an exciting account of your great victory. That way the pretty girl with too much hair mousse can do a “BREAKING NEWS” story about how you’ve struck a stunning blow to the international drug trade.

Now, there are people who are going to think I’m being facetious here. I’m not.

Since the early 80’s, the use of SWAT teams in civilian law enforcement has increased about 1500%. No, those two zeros are not a typo. At least FORTY completely innocent American citizens have been shot to death by rogue police, either because incompetent law enforcement officials hit the wrong address, or because startled homeowners attempted to defend themselves against the masked strangers violently entering their homes and were gunned down. One of them, Kathryn Johnston of Atlanta, was 92 years old.

I well remember the first time my agency pulled one of these stunts and scared an innocent old lady damned near to death. Our chief did the one thing in his career that I actually admired. He sent down word that if any of our personnel ever again kicked down an innocent citizen’s door, that they should send back the search warrant return with their badge pinned to it since they wouldn’t be needing it anymore. It never happened again.

How did this happen? How did we go, in a few short years, from a beat cop knocking on a door to a full scale military assault reminiscent of Iwo Jima, over somebody selling somebody else a bag of weed?

It’s because of the biggest failed social experiment in this country’s history, the Drug War.

I was around in the days of yore when the first drug forfeiture programs started. If you could prove that a guy’s stuff was purchased with the proceeds of drug trafficking, you could take the stuff. It was a great idea, and it hit these guys where they lived. And for a few years the law chugged along that way.

A bounty of cash seized without due process (Source:
A bounty of cash seized without due process (Source:

Then law enforcement administrators started thinking about just how much plunder there really was out there. That thing about proving that the guy’s stuff came from drug proceeds was a real drag. They said, “HEY! We have a great idea. Let’s take people’s stuff WITHOUT proving that it came from drug proceeds!!” And they did. The law was changed. Law enforcement didn’t need to convict people of anything. They didn’t even have to CHARGE them with anything. They could just take the stuff!

The way it was explained to me in training was that the stuff was being treated as a separate entity, independent of its owner. In other words, the guy wasn’t being charged with a crime. His car, or his house, or his cash was being charged with a crime. Stuff could now commit crimes, and be convicted of them. A cop could hold a trial at the side of the road, convict someone’s money of drug trafficking, and then put the money in jail.

Agencies scrambled to create drug “interdiction” units to patrol their expressways, such as the I-75 corridor from Florida to Michigan which runs through my city.

Their mandate? Steal money.

In my agency, our higher-ups got so addicted to stolen money that there wasn’t enough in our city to satisfy them. They cut some kind of a deal with our county sheriff and got a team of our guys commissioned as deputy sheriffs. Now they could patrol our expressways all the way to the county line, miles outside city limits.

They’re still doing it. Just last week I drove I-74 into Ohio, and sure enough, there was a Cincinnati police unit just over the state line, nowhere near the city limits, watching for anyone who meets the “profile.”

His mandate? Steal money.

The only way the victim can get his money back is to sue the agency and try to prove it DIDN’T come from drug proceeds. So much for due process and the presumption of innocence. Oftentimes the cost of taking legal action exceeds the amount of money that was taken, so the victim just gives up. This is what agencies count on. Life is GOOD for law enforcement agencies! The only difference between them and pirates is the absence of an ocean. Highway robbery is back in vogue, literally!

So what to do with all that dough? No government agency ever returns money to the treasury. If they have any left at the end of the budget year they have a shopping spree.

What shall we buy? TOYS!!!

SWAT was the latest fad. Buy SWAT stuff!

An armored vehicle purchased in Alliance, Ohio (Source: YouTube)
An armored vehicle purchased in Alliance, Ohio (Source: YouTube)

Soon agencies all over the country were buying military hardware that had never before been needed or used in civilian law enforcement (this was before Congress passed laws allowing the military to GIVE surplus hardware to the cops).

Questions were raised. SWAT is a legitimate concept, and is needed in cases of barricaded persons, hostage situations, etc. But most agencies, even big ones, go for months and sometimes years without experiencing such events. The toys gathered dust. Officials and concerned taxpayers asked, “What do you NEED this stuff for?”

No need? CREATE a need!

And that’s why things that used to be handled in a low-key, non-confrontational way by street-savvy beat cops now require SWAT intervention, including routine service of warrants for insignificant and non-violent offenses.

Are we better off? You decide.


Lieutenant Harry Thomas is retired from the police department of Cincinnati, Ohio. A former member of the boards of the National Rifle Association and the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, he was twice the victim of assassination attempts by his own superiors for his stance in support of gun ownership and against police excesses. He now resides in the Greater Indianapolis area.




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Lt. Harry Thomas
About Lt. Harry Thomas 3 Articles
Lieutenant Harry Thomas is retired from the police department of Cincinnati, Ohio. A former member of the boards of the National Rifle Association and the Ohio Gun Collectors Association, he now resides in the Greater Indianapolis area.

20 Comments on How to serve a warrant: 1972 versus today, by Lt. Harry Thomas

  1. This is absolutely spot on. I’d just like to give you a shout out. This is an amazing article and I really hope you keep writing.

    Much love.

  2. I was an MP in the army in the late 50s and early 60s. I was stationed at Ft Bragg with a company of reserves from N.Y city. This is the way the law was back then and should be now. To most cops now it’s just a job. Good article. Keep writing.

  3. I would like to say this is an overreaction to something that happened in the person like or that it is complete BS…. But I can’t… to tell you the truth this is far more common and a very mellow example of how bad it is now…

  4. After my son suspiciously died in McGregor (TX), on Feb. 16, 2006, McGregor’s ‘FINEST’ have since resigned, got a new chief, the new chief ‘suggested’ I relocate…..which I did after he reiterated, arrested ME for my first time in an attempt to tarnish my credibility should I sue.
    I am now back, within McGregor’s jurisdiction and the PD has formed a ‘Task Force’, I am once again on their radar!
    What I can’t ascertain: How does an arrest of my surviving son in LORENA get MCGREGOR Task Force to execute a search warrant where I live in MOODY???!!!

    • Cynithia R, i was in a store the other day and heard about the warrantless search and your name was talked about. this guy looked like a cop and he said that they were comin after you and that she better get out of his area. He said something about your son and that he hung himself and you would not stop saying it was murder. WOW What was it, in your opinion. I believe anything about these city cops. are you in mcgregor or moody. He cant come to moody and serch you house in moody if he is in mcgregor.

    • Cynthia that’s quite a messed up story. If you don’t mind talking openly about it, would you like to tell me more? I’m a new journalist on this site and would maybe like to write a story about the harassment you’re experiencing. If you’d like, email me at and we’ll talk.

  5. no we are worse off, all because of greed, which is a two way door, it swings both ways. I have watched a lot of videos where the police break into a residents home, put everyone down with threats to taze them, shoot the family pet/pets, curse at them like they are already convicted of a crime, these cops are acting like gang members with a badge. Pretty much just like you stated in your article. why is this? are they instructed to do this by their supervisors? in many cases they have the wrong address, or they get upset over a law abiding family that refuses to allow them to use their home as a observation point etc.i can understand a homeowner shooting what they think are intruders especially when the cops involved refuse to identify themselves and from the way they are dressed you really cant tell if they are cops at all. How can this be allowed to go on, do they now have cart blanch to do anything they want? Are they above the law? so how do you defend against that?

  6. Organized crime is alive and well, in the form of the police. Only difference between now and the past is, we have no one to turn to for help when we become victims of this hit squads. The police no longer protect and serve the public, they are out to punish and enslave. That’s not just a slick movie line, it’s reality.

  7. Back in the 70s when the Supreme Court first approved no-knock raids, I saw the writing on the wall, and I had no dog in the fight then other than my concern for the Bill of Rights and our freedoms; I wasn’t hanging with the drug-using crowd then, and I still don’t today.

    The raids of today are not bad implementations of a good policy; they’re the inevitable consequences of bad, unenforceable policy. When catching thieves, rapists, and murderers, one has nearly unanimous support from the community; even the criminals prefer to live in a world where they themselves are not victimized. Hence, all but the most extreme psychopaths will not fight the “peace keepers”, as the police used to be known.

    Today, enforcement of mala prohibitum “crimes”, made up out of whole cloth by legislators, puts LEOs at odds with the very communities which they used to “protect and serve.” When the focus is on law rather than peace, LEOs will go to any length, including breaking down doors and shooting family pets and incarcerating innocents, to preserve and protect their “authority,” which has morphed into the power to project force against anybody at any time for any reason.

  8. Horrible article from an out of touch LT who probably rode the pine for the past20 years. Probably filled out plenty of negative contact forms against his cops for thumping people up, or kicking opening doors because they heard a TV on inside for a “dangerous” drug warrant. Maybe in his actual work days. Probably became anti authority after he forced fed his brand for many years. This article reeked of stale Police Brass waxing poetic for when they were “real” cops and the new guys / gals are useless when their main issue is being hogtied by HIS policy’s and spineless answers to complains from the public. Article made me wretch. Thank goodness my career is near the end. Sandwiched between the 70’s take it all free, sleep every midnight and lump up the bad guy with the 2010 afraid of their own shadows.

    • Sorry his article made you ill but the truth will sometimes do that to you. Times have changed dramatically since the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. LEO’s were once concerned with “legally” enforcing the law and most made every effort to do just that and comply with it and the restrictions that came with them. There were signs of change years ago and it was a common saying for years that “Bad police work caused bad laws”. This generally referred to newer restrictions on applying the law which made it somewhat more difficult to enforce the law. Attitudes amongst Officers changed as well and Gestapo tactics took center stage over common sense and discretion. There are good and bad cops in every department and it’s pretty easy to tell which are which, even today. I understand the need to protect one’s self but there is also the need to protect the public as well, yet many enforcers go too far and make a bad situation worse. It’s probably a good thing you’re retiring soon, you sound worn out and bitter and that’s a bad combination for anyone in Law Enforcement.

    • Sorry to disappoint you son, but I was a street cop my entire career, patrolman, sergeant and lieutenant. And I stayed in constant trouble with my superiors for backing my men when my cowardly bosses were trying to throw them under the bus to cover their own shortcomings. Good Luck on the upcoming retirement. It’s pretty nice to live like a normal human again.

  9. Years ago in White Plains New York, the police burst into an elderly woman’s apartment. The woman had a heart attack and died. this was in the early 1970’s. It must have taken ten years for this “policy” to get west to Ohio.

    The police who entered the apartment were all cleared of wrongdoing, and were affirmed to be following correct police procedure at the time. I believe they did fire some clerk at the court house for putting the incorrect apartment number on the warrant.

    BTW the new thing to spend money on is drones.. They will be coming to my State (Maine) soon, and will be property of the State police.

  10. So, when is it ok to don some body armor, get an effective weapon, and shoot these thugs? When they beat homeless people to death on the streets? When they gun down 92 year old ladies in their homes? When they blow down the doors of innocent families daily and kill their pets and family members? When they kidnap 18 year old kids off the street and lock them up for months without telling their family, a trial or even charges? Because THEY ALREADY HAVE.

    I don’t mean this in a flippant, “ha ha ha, lets hate cops, yo” way. This is a serious question. What is the purpose of the second amendment, if not to teach thugs from an out of control government a lesson in respect for the liberty and the natural rights of citizens?

    American LEO’s, in attitude, armament, behavior and legal immunity, are little different from the Stazi, the NKVD, or the SS. Where do we draw the line? An armed citizenry is useless if the citizenry is unwilling to use their arms. Many LEO’s, in every sense of the word, are tyrants and criminals. If we aren’t going to stop tyrants and criminals with force, who are we saving our guns for? We as a society need to figure this out soon, otherwise, all our rights will evaporate the same way ethics and morality have from our paramilitary police forces.

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