As a conservative, I am generally very supportive of law enforcement. However, I have long thought that the trend toward militarization and lawlessness of the police in American is becoming very problematic. It is another example of how we lose our rights, not by some grand gesture on the part of a President, and not by some radical legislation passed by Congress. Rather, we lose them by a creeping erosion that brings about deterioration so slowly that we barely even notice, and therefore do not find as alarming as we should.
Police lawlessness and misconduct can take many forms. One abusive practice that takes place on almost a daily basis in America is police over-reaction to being photographed or videotaped by the citizenry during the performance of their duties. This has become so troublesome that there is a website, administered by an often-arrested professional photographer, that exists to document and highlight such excesses. This post if not about this situation in particular, but for those interested in exploring the depth of this issue the photographer is Carlos Miller and the website is known by the acronym PINAC, for Photography Is Not A Crime.
A new example of another type of police lawlessness occurred recently in Ankeny, Iowa, and has been featured in two articles by journalist Radley Balko, a former Cato Institute policy analyst and someone who has researched and written about this topic extensively. I will try to summarize the salient points of both in the text below the following video.
First, the police have tried to justify their behavior based on their prior knowledge that an occupant of the house, a man named Justin Ross (who had recently been honorably discharged by the US Army), held a concealed carry permit. Ross, however, was not a target of the police investigation and was not suspected of any illegal behavior.
Second, in order to conduct this raid the police had to get a warrant. They had a choice of what type of warrant to ask for, and they requested a “knock and announce” warrant as opposed to a “no-knock” warrant. It is important to understand that the premise of a “knock and announce” warrant is that the police will knock on the suspect’s door, loudly announce that they are law enforcement officers, and then give the suspects the customary time to answer their door, thus avoiding property damage and other unnecessary disruption. In the video, it is plainly apparent that the police executed as if they had a “no-knock” warrant when they did not, even to forcing the door open with a battering ram and ripping a video surveillance camera off the porch wall.
Third, consider how the police looked when they came up the driveway to the home. They were nine officers dressed in “swat team” type uniforms with boots, helmets, bulletproof vests, and hoods, and with guns drawn and held at the ready. This appearance can have an intimidating effect, and the police can be forgiven for using that to their advantage when confronting hardened criminals with a record of violence. It has no place, however, when serving warrants on those suspected of non-violent crimes.
Fourth, the two people who were the target of the warrant were suspected of credit card fraud, a non-violent crime. The presence of a law-abiding armed citizen in the home was therefore no legal basis for requesting a “no-knock” warrant, let along executing the raid as if they had one when they didn’t. Although the police did take two houseguests into custody, the two were charged with probation violation and drug possession, neither of which is a violent crime.
One of the many disturbing aspects of this event is that the police in Ankeny insist that they did nothing wrong. That may speak volumns about how far the public has allowing this trend to progress.
Law enforcement needs to be frequently reminded that there are limits, lines that must not be crossed. And that even their personal safety does not justify disregarding the Bill Of Rights.