Don't Help the Cops!

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My dear friend is a concert pianist of renown. She has appeared, in recital or with symphony orchestras, all over the world. On a few occasions she has honored me by playing my piano; she’s even autographed it. She doesn’t mind at all if I play also, although the sounds emanating from the instrument tortured under my hands must cause her pain. The world of music can accommodate both of us.

My nephew is a contractor. He specializes in room additions, kitchen and bath remodeling, and the like. He’s done work for us on numerous occasions, but if I put up some shelves, or change a washer myself, he doesn’t care. He may wince at my workmanship, but that’s OK. He’d never attempt to prevent me from a DIY project. There’s work enough for all of us.

It’s different with the cops! Don’t attempt to do their work for them. Harley Walker can confirm this. He was arrested by policeman Chris Marlowe for flashing his lights at oncoming motorists, to warn them that they were approaching a speed trap. The charge against him was that he was interfering with a police officer’s duties. But what are those duties? To raise revenue by issuing speeding tickets? If so, then Walker was indeed interfering. But if the cops enforce speeding laws to discourage speeding, then Walker’s mild efforts were in furtherance of that objective. He should have been given a commendation, not a citation.

A judge eventually dismissed the charges against Walker, agreeing that he was exercising his right of free speech by flashing his lights. It cost Walker 1000 to defend himself for aiding the police by flashing his lights.

Then there’s the more serious case of LaShawn Banks. He didn’t answer his door when the doorbell rang. He was in the shower, and didn’t hear it. Not to worry: his callers entered anyway, by simply smashing the door down after about fifteen to twenty seconds of waiting. Banks was suspected of using and distributing cocaine, and the search did indeed find the stuff in his apartment.

A U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco held that the search was illegal, not being within Justice Department guidelines, but the Supreme Court recently ruled, unanimously, that it was not. The issue, said Justice Souter, was not that Banks was in the shower, and did not reach the door before it was broken down. The issue, said the Justice, was that, had the cops waited longer, Banks might have had time to destroy the cocaine.

But isn’t that desirable? What did the cops do with the cocaine once they had seized it? Did they use it themselves, or sell it? Heaven forbid that we should even hint as such a possibility. The cops destroy seized drugs, don’t they? And didn’t the feds spend millions spraying poppy fields in Columbia and Afghanistan? Don’t they regularly have bonfires of marijuana? They want to get rid of drugs. Do you have to be a government official to do that? Doesn’t the non-official flushing of drugs eliminate them just as thoroughly as the official destruction of them?

The Justice Department also argued that a "prolonged delay" could have exposed the officers to undue danger from violent criminal action, as if smashing in a door and bursting into an apartment does NOT so expose the officers. If the purpose of the "war on drugs" is to eliminate drugs from our society, why not knock on the doors of suspected drug users and sellers (I believe that, for all intents and purposes, the law regards them as the same), and announce, "We’re the cops, and we want to come in. If you have any drugs, better get rid of them." (The latter in case the suspect was too obtuse to take that course of action on his own.) No smashing, no shooting, no drugs. No expensive trials, and no possible mysterious disappearance of drugs from police evidence lockers. Of course, one does not need to be a law-enforcement officer to knock on a door and declare, "We’re here to seize drugs. Better flush them quick," so my scheme would just about eliminate the need for government action regarding drugs. How likely is the government to warm to that idea?

We’ve often heard of people who stood by and did nothing while a crime was being committed. Shame on them — they were not public-spirited! On the other hand, any method of reducing the need for police action is met with stiff resistance — by the police. You can’t win. Maybe that’s the idea.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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