When Cops Claimed the Right to Search Anyone Who "Causes Fear in a Community"

The history of militarized policing.


Radley Balko has published a series of stories at The Huffington Post that use the government's response to the marathon bombings as a newshook to write about Boston's recurring role in the history of militarized policing. The most interesting article in the sequence, I think, is the segment on the modern drug war. Here's the setup:

Also available: Beneath the Warrior Cop, Escape from the Warrior Cop, Conquest of the Warrior Cop, and Battle for the Warrior Cop.

In the early 1980s, Boston authorities introduced widespread stop-and-frisks, barricades, and other high-intensity policing tactics in high-crime neighborhoods like Roxbury and Matapan. Critics claimed police were implementing a "search on sight" policy of black men in some neighborhoods, doing away even with the low bar of needing reasonable suspicion before conducting stop-and-frisks. Police admitted a search-on-sight policy, but only for anyone known to be or suspected of being in a gang, along with anyone who associates with those people. They also claimed to be following a vague policy that allowed them to search anyone they felt "causes fear in a community."

According to a subsequent lawsuit, black men were stopped, patted down, and in some cases strip searched for no more than wearing the sports logo of a particular professional sports team. A Boston Globe investigation found 15 people who had been stripped searched on the street, but were never arrested.

State Sen. William Owens said the tactics were alienating an entire generation of black men, and that had effectively imposed martial law on some communities. Tensions boiled over in 1989 when a plainclothes officer shot 30-year-old Rolando Car during a stop-and-frisk after mistaking Carr's keys for a gun.

At another point, "Residents of Lawrence were issued passes that they had to show to get into and out of the neighborhood. Anyone entering Lawrence had their vehicle license plate documented by police manning a barricade. A letter was then sent to the registered owner of the vehicle to let him know the car had been spotted in Lawrence." The police chief, Balko notes, "described the tactics as a form of community policing."

Read the whole thing here, and read the rest of the series here, here, and here. And pre-order Balko's book Rise of the Warrior Cop here.