Frustrated in their attempt to catch a suspect who had just robbed a bank, police officers simply stopped every vehicle in the intersection, handcuffed any adults and searched for clues. The reason was that officers had no description of the suspect. I instinctively don’t like this story because I don’t like the concept of normal citizens going about their day being subjected to “stop and frisk”. I am not too crazy about it in high crime neighborhoods but I understand balance sometimes needed so I might make some exceptions. That said, I generally don’t think the police have the right to just cordon off an entire city block and round everybody up.
That is essentially what happened here. The police assumed they had probable cause against anybody on that street at that moment because, in theory, any of them could have been the bank robber. That is not good enough. We have already seemed to accept that when we get on a plane we give up our constitutional protections because of the dangers of a terrorist on the plan. I don’t like it but I get it. The TSA is looking at doing similar things with respect to train stations and commuter rail. I like this less but part of me at least understands their motivation.
Rounding up and restraining every citizen on a busy intersection because you had no leads? So now we just throw out the Constitution because it is easier than doing some real detective work? I see this as a very dangerous sign of where we might be heading. A simple checkpoint could have accomplished the same results and more importantly, would not have been a constitutional violation; which is exactly what this was.
I understand why the officer in charge on the ground felt the need to make this decision. There were only a few minutes to make a call before a suspect potentially escaped. I am not calling for the officers to be punished. What I am calling for is a very serious commitment from law enforcement and civil authorities that something like this will not happen again. I want to know that authorities understand that having a badge or an urgent need does not automatically negate the Constitution. Urgent needs and extreme circumstances have been the excuses used for centuries by tyrants seeking to curtail liberty.