Now Playing in Memphis: Martial Law Lite!


Last week, federal, state, and local police in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas conducted a massive sweep dubbed "Operation Sudden Impact."

The operation included raids of businesses, homes, and boats; traffic roadblocks; and personal searches. They say they were looking for "terrorists." If they found any, they haven't announced it yet. They did arrest 332 people, 142 of whom they describe as "fugitives." They also issued about 1,300 traffic tickets, and according to one media account, seized "hundreds" of dollars.

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

While the operation was billed as a regional "anti-terrorism initiative," the scope was also broad—everything from the serving of fugitive warrants to spot checks of boats on the Mississippi River to ensuring drivers in Tipton County had their children properly fastened into child safety seats.

"Not all of this initiative is to arrest people," said Deputy Chief Donna Turner of the Tipton County Sheriff's Department.

Many agencies put an emphasis on traffic stops. A little after 8 p.m. Saturday in Hickory Hill, Sgt. Chris Harris of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office street crimes unit stopped a white SUV that was booming with music. The driver was driving on a suspended license—he received a citation—and there was marijuana residue in the car, but "not enough to weigh out," Harris said.

Still, every traffic stop holds the potential of netting much more than expected.

Nashville's News Channel 5 reports agents seizing equipment from local businesses:

The FBI along with hundreds of officers said they are looking for anything out of the ordinary. Agents take computers and paperwork from businesses.

One store owner said he was told the agents were looking for stolen electronics. While some business owners feel they are being targeted, law-enforcement officers said they are just trying to track down possible terrorists before something big happens.

"What we have found traditionally is that terrorists are involved in a number of lesser known type crimes," said Mark Luttrell, Shelby County sheriff.

What's really unfortunate is the complete lack of inquisitiveness in the local media. How many of these raids were backed by search warrants? What justification did police give for the traffic roadblocks and traffic stops? Random stops and roadblocks are only legal under limited circumstances. Fishing expeditions aren't one of them, though fishing expeditions disguised as DWI checkpoints usually are.