I’m not an attorney nor am I a legal scholar. I’m also not one who opposes the reasonable, necessary and prudent use of technology to solve crimes. I’ve always found great satisfaction in putting bad guys in bracelets and taking them to jail. However my sixth sense, which has served me well since the ’60s when I was pushing a black and white around south-central Los Angeles, is causing a very queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I sense a pending condition red for the future of what this nation has always stood for. And the biggest knot in my gut is because I perceive the profession I love being subtly lured into violating the rights of average, law-abiding US citizens. Let me explain.
Everyone’s Under Suspicion
Much has been said and written over the past few months about the data mining being conducted by the National Security Administration (NSA). It’s occurred under the cover of preventing terrorist acts, thus earning the judicial seal of approval making it legal. The domestic use of drones — some operated by law enforcement — is technology intended to “prevent crime and, when crimes occur, lead to swift apprehensions of those responsible.” A number of cities, using DHS grants, are installing surveillance cameras throughout their jurisdictions. Why? To deter criminals and, again, to help solve crimes caught on video.
License Plate Reader (LPR) technology is a boon to those agencies that can afford it. Certainly the ability to automatically scan, read, query and determine if a particular vehicle is stolen or been used in a serious crime is viewed by the technology’s proponents as beneficial. LPR technology allows for vehicles with expired registration to be flagged, yet many jurisdictions opt out of this particular use or mandate that expired registration “hits” not be acted upon. Why? Because of political correctness in many places where a high percentage of those enjoying defacto amnesty operate their vehicles with expired registration.
More recently, again thanks to DHS money, a number of police agencies are establishing checkpoints and motorists stopped are asked if they’ll voluntarily give a DNA sample to be maintained in a database for investigatory use. I know what my response to such a question would be. Not only no, but hell no! It would be my answer even though I have no intention of ever committing a criminal act.
Then there’s the TSA. Frankly, I see them as little more than an expensive make-work project allowing too many people to exert too much authority over the elderly, infirm, disabled, infants and small children. Like too many other things in our feel-good society today, it’s mostly show and very little go.
All of the aforementioned uses of technology have been determined to be legal either under the Patriot Act or because public places are involved wherein there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy. Individually, perhaps none of these things are offensive or inconsistent with the principles upon which this nation was founded. Collectively, they create an atmosphere and an attitude, which is anything but supportive of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Losing Our Way
I don’t know about you, but I know exactly why I became a professional peace officer in the first place. It was to protect and serve. To put real bad guys — against whom I’d developed probable cause — in jail. I did not become a cop to contribute to a climate in which the average, law-abiding citizen was treated with suspicion, placed under surreptitious surveillance and made to feel guilty until proven innocent. I especially didn’t become a cop to contribute to that perception/reality based upon a person’s political or religious beliefs.
What disturbs me the most is the fact that far too many police agencies have begun to emulate what they see DOJ, FBI, IRS and NSA agents doing. And given the recent track record of those federal agencies, I don’t consider this a good thing at all. While they may be acting in a legal fashion, the tone of many recent federal investigations and activities has been in conflict with the intent of our Founding Fathers. For local law enforcement to copy the federal example is to do the law-abiding citizens — whom we serve — a disservice.
My concern is for the potential to abuse and misuse all of the bits, bytes and other data modern technology can collect on our behalf. Clearly the IRS, for example, misused technology for political purposes. Who’s to say local law enforcement won’t be tempted to commit the same sin? With so many so-called police leaders putting political correctness and personal power ahead of oath of office it’s bound to happen. The day it does, the destruction of our constitutional republic is almost guaranteed … and law enforcement will have aided and abetted it. Not my idea of protecting and serving.
Questions, comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Jerry at [email protected]