They Can Do That?! 10 Outrageous Tactics Cops Get Away With
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In the Supreme Court's ruling in Ohio v. Robinette, “The Court made clear to all lower courts that, from now on, the Fourth Amendment should place no meaningful constraints on the police in the War on Drugs,” writes Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow. The Court determined that cops don't have to tell motorists they're free to leave before getting “permission” to search their car.
In the mid-1980s, the DEA rolled out Operation Pipeline, a federal program that trained city cops in the shady art of leveraging pretext stops into consent searches. The discretionary nature of many of these searches resulted in massive amounts of racial profiling, so much so that some officials say “the reason racial profiling is a national problem is that it was initiated, and in many ways encouraged, by the federal government's war on drugs.”
8. Police dogs. Don't consent to cops searching your bag? If you're in a car or an airport, police can bring in the dogs to smell your stuff, and if the dog responds, they have probable cause to search you without your consent. “The Supreme Court has ruled that walking a drug-sniffing dog around someone's vehicle (or someone's luggage) does not constitute a 'search,' and therefore does not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny,” Michelle Alexander writes.
But if a dog barks or sits, shouldn't we be comfortable with that triggering probable cause? Radley Balko has reported on the phenomenon of drug dogs giving false positives after reading cues from their handlers:
The problem isn't that the dogs aren't capable of picking up the scent; it's that dogs have been bred to please and interact with humans. A dog can easily be manipulated to alert whenever needed. But even with conscientious cops, a dog without the proper training may pick up on its handler's body language and alert whenever it detects its handler is suspicious.
This is called the “Clever Hans effect,” named after the horse who could do arithmetic by tapping his hoof. In reality, the horse could recognize the shift in his owner's body language when he had arrived at the right number.
9. Surveillance drones. The drones are coming, and the few illusions of privacy we cling to will soon disappear. The domestic market for drones in the next decade is estimated in the billions, and police departments are chomping at the bit to implement this new technology. Drones already patrol the US-Mexico border, and cities such as Seattle are moving toward using surveillance drones. In August, a North Dakota court ruled that the first-ever drone-assisted arrest was perfectly legal.
In our ever more authoritarian society, expect politicians and the lobbyists who fund their campaigns to justify increased incursions into privacy in the name of security. The short-term incentives to value privacy have been all but forgotten, as “if you're not doing anything wrong you've got nothing to fear” has gone from self-evidently absurd cliché to national motto.
10. Enlist the private sector. The comedian Chris Laker says of privatization: “You can't privatize everything. Learned that from RoboCop.” But it seems police departments haven't learned that lesson. In Arizona, police enlisted the help of the Corrections Corporation of America, a private, for-profit prison corporation, in a drug sweep of a public school. PRWatch reports:
"To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the 'schools-to-prison pipeline' I've ever seen," said Caroline Isaacs, program director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice organization that advocates for criminal justice reform.