Is American Law Enforcement Out-of-Control?

By Tom DeWeese

Amidst the renewed public concern over astonishing confessions by the FBI of the failure to reveal its use of incendiary weapons at Waco, a painful reality is beginning to take form: law enforcement may be a growing threat to the Constitutional liberties of all Americans. The main official in charge of protecting our liberties is Attorney General Janet Reno. She has failed and perhaps it is time to call for her removal from office.

Janet Reno’s rule at the Justice Department has overseen the destruction of the FBI’s once pristine reputation as the world’s number-one law enforcement agency. Reno is one of the top officials who must also be held responsible for the “militarization” of law enforcement. Reports are now being investigated that the FBI used members of the Army’s crack “Delta Force” in the siege at Waco. Such use is a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that forbids the use of U.S. military personnel in civil law-enforcement activities.

Under the Justice Department rule of Janet Reno, such concerns have been waived. Not only is the military being used in more civil actions, but civil law enforcement also is being beefed up with military equipment representing massive fire power, including: helicopter gun ships; automatic weapons; flash-bang grenades; special body armor; helmets; night vision goggles and high-tech listening equipment. A former police chief in New Haven, Connecticut says he was, “offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.” It’s all justified as a way to protect us against terrorists and to fight the drug war.

The flaw in this argument is that there have only been two known incidents of terrorism, the Twin Towers bombing by Moslem fundamentalists and the Oklahoma City bombing by two dissidents. The drug war, as it has been fought, is increasingly regarded as a failure.

Meanwhile, reports are growing of law enforcement’s abuse of power at all levels of government, often involving military-style raids on private homes.  Many, using illegal or questionable search and seizure practices result in property destruction, destroyed families, and even the deaths of innocent victims. It’s all happening on Janet Reno’s watch.

Most recently, a police SWAT team in Compton, California broke into a home about 11:00 p.m. on August 9, 1999. They killed a retired grandfather by shooting him twice in the back. They then handcuffed his widow to a chair as she sat wearing nothing but panties and a towel. Six others were taken into custody. None were charged with a crime. Police thought the house was being used as a mail drop by a drug ring. The charges were false.

In 1998, Houston police shot and killed Pedro Oregon Navarro during a drug raid of his house. Police were there because of a tip from a man arrested for public drunkenness. The drunk told police he would lead them to a drug dealer if they let him go. Without corroboration or a warrant, police raided Navarro’s home and shot him twelve times because Navarro went for a gun to defend himself during the 1:40a.m., military-style raid. Navarro wasn’t a drug dealer.

A few years ago, in Pennsylvania, agents burst through the door of the home of Harry and Theresa Lamplugh early in the morning and stuck machine guns in their faces. Without ever telling the Lamplughs why, or who they were, agents spent over six hours ransacking their home, taking personal papers and over $15,000 in possessions. No charges were ever filed against the Lamplughs. The case has been sealed and no property has ever been returned.

This is law enforcement out-of-control and most of it has happened under Janet Reno’s authority. Offending agents or local police officers in these and many other examples of abuse, have not been dismissed or demoted. Reno has taken no action to stop it.

Over the last several decades, Congress, too, has been providing legislation to introduce U.S. military equipment, intelligence, and training into civilian law enforcement. The result is a changed mindset by local police forces. “To Serve and Protect” had been the motto of local police across the nation. Today, a paramilitary attitude is replacing it. Police with such training begin to look at citizens as potential perpetrators instead of individuals with Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

Instead of protecting the freedom of the community to live their lives and move about freely, the police force seeks to lockdown and restrict activity.  It becomes a matter of course for local police forces to lobby their city councils for gun laws to disarm the citizens citing the safety of the cops who may want to come crashing into a victim’s home unannounced. It is the job of the military to use violent force to destroy its enemy. It is the job of a civilian police force to protect the Fourth Amendment rights of due process for citizens and get them into a court of law where locally elected judges and a jury of peers can decide a law breaker’s fate. If liberty is to be preserved, the two approaches don’t mix.

Congress continues to move in the wrong direction on the militarization of the police force. The current Defense Appropriations bill carries language that will strengthen military involvement in civil law enforcement, in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. Among other things, the bill allows military assistance to civilian law enforcement on a cost-free basis. Such provisions will only assure that requests for such assistance will become more commonplace. The war on drugs and terrorism is blinding our lawmakers to their first duty; the preservation of individual liberty. It must be stopped.

Janet Reno must be held accountable for the growing threat of civil law enforcement. Under her watch, the Justice Department is quickly becoming a tool for very unsavory and questionable forces in the nation. She is a threat to the First Amendment protecting the free expression of religion. She has ignored the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. She is a threat against the Fourth Amendment that guarantees that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable search and seizures, shall not be violated.” She has protected and prevented the investigation of violent elements in the nation. There are many problems with the nation’s law enforcement. The first step in fixing them must be the firing of Janet Reno.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.