Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Smart Move

Today there appeared a news item about Seattle Police and a man who was the subject of a felony arrest warrant. The police followed the man as he ran into a house occupied by his "elderly father" and a "five-year-old niece."

Once upon a time, the standard response was to get out the shotguns, strap on the flak vests, assault the house, kick in the door - announcing authority and purpose, of course - roar in and catch the bad guy. With luck, no one gets shot. With bad luck someone gets shot. If the luck is very bad the shooting victim is a cop or an innocent bystander, the price of discharging an order of the court. Bystanders receive a memorable experience (psychologists call this trauma). I used to be the guy with the flak vest and the shotgun.

These days, police procedure is to surround the house to prevent escape requiring a pretty significant response on the part of the police; lots of people who aren't policing the rest of the city. Then someone telephones into the house to get the man to come out. Most of the time this is sufficient to bring the person into custody. Most of the time.

In this case the officers telephoned into the house, but the man did not reply. When this peaceful approach fails the police are justified in going back to the old days with the flak vests and shotguns (but without me). An authority of no less importance than a judge has ordered the police to bring the man to court. There is no "if convenient" or "only if he answers the phone" in the warrant. Do it. Failure to obey a court order would be contempt. Cops hate being charged with contempt. It's bad for morale.

What to do? Warrant in hand, suspect inside, but unwilling to cooperate, officers in place, shotguns and flak vests ready: Let the balloon go up (Pentagon term).

Last night, Seattle Police, certainly a sergeant and probably a lieutenant, elected to find the guy another day. The warrant is described in the news article as for a narcotics offense, a felony to be sure, but hardly a situation where waiting puts the community at risk. He probably neglected to show up for court. Drug traffickers are notoriously bad about appointments.The cops returned to the streets and a five-year-old girl will never know the scars of trauma. I think the cops did the right thing.

Alas, other members of our community do not agree. Anonymous visitors to the news web site left these comments:

Sounds like the inmates are running the asylum!

and

Is this the new [Mayor] McGinn law enforcement procedure?
Don't arrest felons with outstanding warrants if they run into a house and refuse to answer the door?
Amazing.


Fools.