Giving police the authority and power to manipulate the law is a danger to all of us. What looks like a good and necessary tactic in one instance can be justified in its use in ways never anticipated or designed.
Consider RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) legislation that was designed to combat racketeering. As is typical with these types of laws (e.g., the Patriot Act), the original intent of the law is expanded far beyond its original design:
“Much of the growth of federal criminal procedures has been tied to the expanded use of RICO—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970. RICO has succeeded in blurring the lines between state and federal law enforcement and in overturning the protections inherent in the due-process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.”
Now it seems that an everyday security feature is being abused. Police faked 9-1-1 phone calls to warrantlessly search homes.
If a law can be abused in one case, it’s easy to see how abuses could take place in other cases.
A dubious police tactic has come to light, in which officers used falsified information in order to gain ‘consent’ to search private properties without a warrant.
Officers in Durham have apparently discovered that they can create the legal pretext for a search by lying about calls to 9-1-1 emergency services that never actually took place. The tactic is apparently legal — and commonplace — according to an officer’s sworn statements. WTVD-TV explains:
A Durham police officer admitted under oath that he lied in order to gain entry to a home and to serve an outstanding warrant.
During a court hearing last May, court officials say he told a District Court judge that it was a common practice within Durham’s police department.
He said he knocked on a resident’s door, claiming police had received a 9-1-1 hang up call. But, it never happened.
The tactic was pervasive enough for the Durham police chief to issue a department memo immediately calling for its disuse:
It has recently been brought to my attention that some officers have informed citizens that there has been a 911 hang-up call from their residence in order to obtain consent to enter for the actual purpose of looking for wanted persons on outstanding warrants. Effective immediately no officer will inform a citizen that there has been any call to the emergency communications center, including a hang-up call, when there in fact has been no such call. – Jose L. Lopez, Sr., Chief of Police
Chief Lopez deserves credit for rejecting the practice within his department. But the situation is troubling and raises many questions. But how pervasive is the tactic elsewhere? What can protect people in other jurisdictions from being searched using deception?
Is this one of those situations that qualifies as an “unreasonable search” which is prohibited under the 4th Amendment?