Tuesday, August 27, 2002

"jump out" squads and photographing loiterers

I'm not certain that Wilmington's Mayor Baker is having a good day today. I read the following quote from him this weekend in the local newspaper, and circled it in anticipation of writing about it this evening:
Mayor James M. Baker said criticism of the photographing is "asinine and intellectually bankrupt," and he will not stop the practice.

I don't care what anyone but a court of law thinks. Until a court says otherwise, if I say it's constitutional, it's constitutional.
It appears that a number of other people have spread the word far quicker than I could. The practice being complained about involves taking pictures of people on high drug traffic street corners when a "jump out" squad arrives in response to a stakeout of the corner. Photographing people whom you are subjecting to a Terry Stop might not be illegal, but it's gotten quite a few people concerned.

The most extensive coverage seems to come from the UK Guardian, who tell us that Wilmington is a "US city where you can be guilty until proven innocent." The author of the report, Oliver Burkeman, observes from New York City that:
In a sinister, authoritarian American city of the future, cutting-edge surveillance technology and over-zealous policing combine to create the ultimate weapon in the war on crime: the ability to track down individuals who will go on to become criminals - before they have even done anything wrong.

This may be the premise of Minority Report, the sci-fi thriller starring Tom Cruise, set in Washington DC in 2054 - but it also appears to be par for the course today, barely 100 miles away in Wilmington, the largest city in the otherwise unremarkable US state of Delaware.
I've used the phrase "jump out" squad without really explaining it. The Wilmington News Journal ran a similar story to this one about three weeks ago, but without a controversial quote from the Mayor of Wilmington. Its focus was less upon photographs, and more upon the use of "jump out" squads:
Two new Wilmington police squads have been conducting raids in the city's most notorious outdoor drug areas this summer with a tactical approach that uses as many as 20 officers at a time.

The large squads of police officers have been surprising dealers by speeding up to a corner in an unmarked van, with several more officers in marked and unmarked cars close behind. In seconds, the officers jump from the vehicles and begin questioning and searching people on the corner.
A surveillance car is being used to verify that some type of drug activity is going on at a street corner before a "jump out" squad is called. This is the time when Terry Stops are being made, and some photographs are being taken. The locations are a limited few. And, not all of the people who live in those locations are upset about an increased police presence:
Robert Cooper, of 29th and Tatnall streets, said the squads have descended on corners in his neighborhood several times since June. He said the raids are the reason he can do yard work in the afternoon without having to face groups of hostile young men from other parts of the city standing on his corner.

"I saw a father teaching his son how to ride a bike around our block one evening last weekend," said Cooper, who has been a critic of other recent police deployments. "They couldn't have done that last year. We were all inside because that's the only place it was safe to be at night."
I'm not going to go as far as a News Journal editorialist and praise Mayor Baker (Baker is right to ridicule photo critics). The use of one of the pictures in a police lineup would be inspiration for a motion to supress, as noted by one of the attorneys interviewed by the News Journal. But, I do want to make certain that people are aware that the citizens of Delaware aren't being lined up, and photographed for inclusion in a pre-crime database as might exist in the movie Minority Report, or as portrayed in this Associated Press release from the Houston Chronicle.

[later- August 28, 2002 - Norman Lockman's editorial A lot of bad actors wound up in pictures is worth reading on this topic.]

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