Life is full of deadly risks, but most of us don’t think that sitting at your table and eating toast at home is one of them. Tell that to Fred Skinner:

Fred Skinner was eating a piece of toast when police from three different agencies burst through his front door with guns drawn, put the 76-year-old in handcuffs, and began ransacking his house in search of drugs. Minutes later, one of the officers noticed a piece of mail on Skinner’s table. The name on it didn’t match the name for the suspected drug dealer the officers were after. The officers asked Skinner if the name on the mail was his. When Skinner said yes, the officer shouted “Wrong house,” and the entire raid team headed out the way they’d come, without apologizing or explaining themselves. They were, according to a department spokesperson, in too much of a rush to get next door, where their suspect was supposedly located.

I guess the old guy should consider himself lucky that he didn’t have a dog to protect him, or the cops would have most likely shot the dog to death. And God forbid that he’d had a gun and grabbed it in the hope of protecting himself against invaders bursting through the door.

The cops failed to apologize and were clearly hoping that no one would notice.

The officers left without an apology or information about how Skinner might get reimbursed for the damage.

No one involved would specify the purpose of the raid or say why the officers broke into the wrong house.

Department spokesman Stephen Scott declined to comment but said there is an investigation into the incident.

“We haven’t determined there was a mistake yet; the investigation is still ongoing,” he said.

I submit that if it’s that tough for the police to determine in retrospect whether they had in fact raided the wrong house, then they should not be trusted with guns, warrants or badges, nor should they be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

Only after being hounded by the man’s son and two local TV stations did they grudgingly admit that they made a mistake. (As Mike Riggs noted, Skinner “lives alone, sleeps with an oxygen tank, has memory problems and a pacemaker, can’t hear well, can’t make it up and down stairs, and is recovering from a stroke.” So maybe they were hoping he would just go away.)

“It was a mistake,” Auburn Police Chief Gary Giannotta told WSYR-TV. “We’re no different than anyone else. We make mistakes just like everybody else. We try to make sure our information is as current and as reliable as possible. Once in a while we get it wrong. When we get it wrong, we make it right.”

What’s the use of the Fourth Amendment if police are free to act this way with impunity? Once again, the problem involves the use of deadly force to search for evidence of non-violent, victimless crimes. Home invasions by police should be limited to dire life-threatening emergencies (which would minimize the number of raids and thus decrease the odds of raids on wrong houses), but they are not. As Radley Balko documents, the number of home invasions by police has increased at a geometric rate.

Back in the 1970s, only big cities had SWAT teams, and they were used only in emergency situations such as bank robberies, barricades and hostage takings. But beginning in the early 1980s, that began to change. The federal government started taking the term “drug war” all too literally. Over the next 30 years, with federal funding and surplus equipment provided by the Pentagon, paramilitary police units, including SWAT teams and anti-narcotics task forces, started springing up all over the country. Criminologist Peter Kraska, who surveyed the use of those police teams from the 1980s until the 2000s, estimates that the total number of SWAT deployments across the country increased from a few hundred per year in the 1970s to a few thousand per year by the early 1980s to around 50,000 per year by the mid-2000s.

While his presidential candidacy is not viable, Ron Paul is the only politician of any importance who could care less about this awful situation. The rest apparently think it’s just fine for us to live in a police state where our constitutional rights mean nothing. Their only argument involves who gets to run it. (I’d say that people who want power should not be allowed to have it, but I don’t want to sound like an anarchist.)

As an aside, I’m wondering whether readers have any ideas on how to best protect your dog in the event of such a terrifying hypothetical situation. Dogs are there to protect you against invaders, and they are one of the best deterrents against regular criminals that you can possibly have. But if the invaders are the police, instead of a deterrent, they become a target. Police invaders don’t behave as normal criminal home invaders. They are far more dangerous.

Unlike criminals, dogs, and the rest of us little people, they have a unique right to make deadly mistakes.