Law Enforcement is not the Battlefield

Via WTOP:  Gov.: Drones over Va. ‘great’; cites battlefield success

Police drones flying over Virginia would be "great" and "the right thing to do" for the same reasons they are so effective in a battlefield environment, the state’s chief executive said Tuesday.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, says he is open to any technology that makes law enforcement more productive. The use of drones, which was recently endorsed by the police chiefs of Fairfax County and D.C., would make better use of valuable police resources.

Here’s the thing:  I fully understand that police work can be very dangerous, but it is not the battlefield.  On the battlefield the goal is the break the enemy by use of overwhelming violence and often the innocents die in the process (this is certainly the case with our ongoing drone warfare along the AfPak border).  Law enforcement is about maintaining public order by apprehending persons suspected of crimes and holding them so that their guilt of innocence can be determined in a court of law.  These are not comparable and the fact that persons of power think that they are in disturbing.

Indeed, as Radley Balko so often chronicles, we already have too much militarization of the police going on in the United States as it is.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. This is deeply concerning, and not just here in Virginia. The talk of using drones for law enforcement is a nationwide meme.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    If having law enforcement fly around in a helicopter and view what is on the ground then what is the difference than drones.

    My guess is that Mr. Balko is also against police helicopters.

    Besides, drones are greener than helicopters.

  3. There’s already a sheriff in Texas that wants armed police drones:

    http://washington.cbslocal.com/2012/05/23/groups-concerned-over-arming-of-domestic-drones/

  4. Oh, and a question for people who are fans of the current drone kill list:

    Other than suddenly not liking collateral damage when you might be the collateral, what exactly is the argument for drone attacks on suspected terrorists that would not apply to drone attacks on suspected gangs or drug traffickers?

  5. SKI says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Not a fan of the kill list but the obvious difference is location -the difference between a location where we are in control and have functioning law and order (relatively) and an area where we are not sovereign.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    Hello “Big Brother” – I don’t really see how different observational drones are from cameras on every corner. I oppose both but here in one of the most liberal cities in the US, Portland, Oregon, the city council just approved street cameras that the police can access from smart phones.

  7. PogueMahone says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I don’t really see how different observational drones are from cameras on every corner.

    Can the cameras on the street corner look into your back yard?

    There’s a HUGE difference between street corner cameras and drones. Cameras on the streets can be avoided if you choose not to go places where you will be observed.

    Cheers.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It all depends upon one’s perspective. Certainly in Podunkville police work in no way, shape or form is analogous to a battlefield. In the country’s big, blighted Democrat cities, however, e.g., Chicago, Philly, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, etc., the facts on the ground are pretty darn warlike.

    In any event, Virginia has its share of hell holes and McDonnell has both military and law enforcement experience, having been an Army officer and a front line criminal prosecutor, not to mention a state attorney general. All he’s saying is that drones would be very effective for police work, for the same reasons they’re so successful in military engagements. Those reasons are obvious: stealth, high resolution cameras, remote control. McDonnell is not saying that law enforcement and military work are coterminous. Using cutting edge technologies to fight crime is a no brainer. The Internet’s high dudgeon reactions to this story are off base.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    @PogueMahone:

    If your neighbor can see you if your backyard and testify about your activities, when what is different about a drone? What is different between a drone and a helicopter except that a drone is greener?

  10. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    How to progressives reconcile their hatred of eye witnesses with their hatred of camera. If the government cannot depend on eyewitness testimony and cannot gather photographic evidence, then progressives are edging back to being pro-criminal.

  11. JKB says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Are you saying that in big cities and other “hellholes” the police should engage in preemptive killing if the enemy(criminals) with the only consideration of collateral(non-criminal) deaths the fact it looks bad in the press? Should the police be able to gundown bank robbers as they enter the bank with no regard to the child killed by their missed shots?

    The fact that restraint in the use of force during some military operations does not negate the fact that war is legalized murder of enemy combatants with accepted collateral deaths and law enforcement is suppose to only use deadly force to stop imminent death or serious bodily injury.

  12. Herb says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “In the country’s big, blighted Democrat cities, however, e.g., Chicago, Philly, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, etc., the facts on the ground are pretty darn warlike. ”

    Well…I dunno about that. But I do think it’s notable that you don’t mention some of the blighted rural areas that usually go Republican. Wouldn’t a drone be just as effective (if not more!) sniffing out meth labs in Appalachia as it would be finding crack dealers in Baltimore?

    Come to think of it, a drone makes more sense in Texas than Chicago. All those wide open spaces…..

    @superdestroyer:

    If the government cannot depend on eyewitness testimony and cannot gather photographic evidence, then progressives are edging back to being pro-criminal.

    Translation: If you don’t agree with me on this, I’m going to call you names.

    Hate to say it, guys, but if you wanted to make the case that drones like this are/could be a useful law enforcement or investigatory tool, you’re not doing that. If you wanted to demonstrate how drone technology can be misused by law enforcement….great job.

    FWIW, I vigorously support drones in actual war scenarios. In domestic law enforcement? No way.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    In the country’s big, blighted Democrat cities, however, e.g., Chicago, Philly, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, etc., the facts on the ground are pretty darn warlike.

    You really don’t have a clue, do you?

  14. matt says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Chicago? Where the police have no qualms about framing people for murder beating up females half their size or routinely breaking traffic laws? Where to most people the scariest thing you could say is “Hell I’m from the police station”?

    I lived near that town for several decades and I can assure you that a lot of the problems there are self inflicted by the corruption of the police department..

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @Herb:

    If progressives are against drones, against eye witness testimony, and against forensic evidence, then how do progressives plan on ever punishing anyone for crime.

    If progressives are against all method of convicting criminals, then the only alternative is that progressives do not want to punish criminals. This could be due to the belief that crime is a medical problems or a social welfare problem or due to status seeking by progressives.

    However, do you really want to live in a society where criminals are not punished.

  16. PogueMahone says:

    @superdestroyer: If your neighbor can see you if your backyard and testify about your activities, when what is different about a drone?

    There is no comparison.
    There are remedies for having a neighbor look onto your property if you so chose to implement them – namely a privacy fence. If your neighbor seeks to hurdle that obstacle for the purpose of looking onto your property, depending on the situation of course, you could perhaps accuse your neighbor of violating voyeurism statutes and attempt to have an injunction against your neighbor doing that activity.
    Using law enforcement for what it should be intended to be used for… protecting you, not spying on you.
    If your neighbor was looking onto your property, there’s a good chance you’ll know about it. A police drone, miles in the sky, looking onto your property with a hi-res camera would never be detected.

    What is different between a drone and a helicopter except that a drone is greener?

    Helicopters and their pilots are expensive to operate, thereby limiting their usage to actual police work rather than merely as an eye in the sky.
    And who cares how “green” it is???
    You wanna know what’s greener? How about we require all webcams to be accessible by law enforcement via internet? How would you like that? Look at your webcam right now… a cop could be watching you… feel safer? Besides, how is that different than a neighbor looking though your window?

    It always amazes me about conservatives that they claim they do not want the government in their business, yet they want to give the government every tool and allowance imaginable for the government to do just that.

    Cheers.

  17. @superdestroyer:

    If progressives are … against forensic evidence

    ????

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @PogueMahone:

    You still did not answer the quesiton. You have no expectation of privacy when you are in your front or back yard. Thus, whatever is seen there is admissible without a court order. A court order is required to actually enter your home.

    People post videos of their stupid neighbors all of the time of Youtube. What make the law enforcement any different.

    What is the difference in flying a drone over a protest in northern virginia or over an open air drug market versus installing cameras?

  19. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Look up state crime labs on any progressive websites. Progressives hate the idea that government run crime laws, that governments conduct analsys of crime scenes, and that the government employees testify about the results of those analysis.

    See http://search.huffingtonpost.com/search?q=state+crime+lab+&s_it=header_form_v1

  20. sam says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If your neighbor can see you in your backyard and testify about your activities, when what is different about a drone?

    Old joke.

    Elderly woman calls the police and reports that her neighbors are having sex right out in the open in their backyard. Police respond. Cop: “Excuse me, ma’am, but I can’t see into that backyard from here. There’s that big wall in the way.” Elderly concerned citizen: “Well, just stand on that box over there against the wall and you can to see it all real clear.”

  21. DRS says:

    Superdestroyer, it’s time to take your meds. We’ll wait for you to come back.

  22. PogueMahone says:

    @superdestroyer: You still did not answer the quesiton.

    Yes I did. I explained the difference. If you choose not to accept that explanation, then that’s your problem.
    BTW, if you have a privacy fence around your property, then you DO have a reasonable expectation of privacy (think of the fence as just another wall of your house). Like I stated earlier, if a neighbor is purposely getting around that obstacle for the purpose of looking onto your property, you CAN attempt to have a judge sign a restraining order against that activity, and if your neighbor persists, then your neighbor could be arrested and charged for violating that order.

    As another example – I live on five acres of heavily wooded property. If a neighbor can see me in my backyard, then that neighbor MUST be on my property. Therefore, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy while in my backyard. No? But a cop’s drone can stare down on me from miles above, and I would have no protection against that clear invasion of privacy.

    Look up state crime labs on any progressive websites.

    I followed your link. I think what you mean to say is that progressives have a disdain for government run crime lab incompetence. Not necessarily government run crime labs.
    Just like I have a disdain for police abuse. Not necessarily police.

    Cheers.

  23. superdestroyer says:

    @PogueMahone:

    If I fly over your house with a helicopter, I can photograph your backyard without a court order, If the police fly over your five acres, the the police can testify what they want, transmit a picture of what is seen, and record the review for later viewing.

    Saying that drones are evil because they can stay up longer than helicopters is asinine. Of course, if you really do not like law enforcement it makes sense to oppose drones, helicopters, cameras, or state crime labs just like Mr. Balko. How do you expect law enforcement to operate if eye witnesses testimony, cameras, and forensic evidence. Do you really believe that the only criminals are those that confess?

  24. @superdestroyer:

    If your neighbor can see you if your backyard and testify about your activities, when what is different about a drone?

    My neighbor doesn’t have the time to stare into my backyard for hours on end every day for months at a time.

  25. PogueMahone says:

    @superdestroyer: If I fly over your house with a helicopter, I can photograph your backyard without a court order, If the police fly over your five acres, the the police can testify what they want, transmit a picture of what is seen, and record the review for later viewing.

    This would seem to destroy your comparing police surveillance with that of a neighbor’s observation?
    You see, it is the fact that I cannot stop the police from spying on me whereas I can stop a neighbor spying on me that is the difference.*

    I’m glad you’ve come to see it my way.

    Saying that drones are evil because they can stay up longer than helicopters is asinine.

    I disagree.
    It is because the primary purpose of a police helicopter is not to randomly fly around spying on people that distinguishes it from drones.

    Of course, if you really do not like law enforcement it makes sense to oppose drones, helicopters, cameras, or state crime labs just like Mr. Balko. How do you expect law enforcement to operate if eye witnesses testimony, cameras, and forensic evidence. Do you really believe that the only criminals are those that confess?

    That is quite the platoon of strawmen you have there.
    I’ve not read anywhere, here or at The Agitator, suggesting that the use of police helicopters, cameras, or state crime labs should be opposed. What I have read is where police and prosecutorial abuse, as well as the use of flawed evidence from incompetent crime labs, should be opposed.

    And I would hope that you too, Mr. superdestroyer, would also oppose the use of the latter.

    Cheers.

    * And I if my neighbor owns an aircraft and is flying over my property for the purpose of spying on me, I most certainly CAN bring accusations of violation of voyeurism statutes, requesting a restraining order. Not necessarily so with regards to the police, whose purpose is to spy on me. See the difference?

  26. @superdestroyer:

    Look up state crime labs on any progressive websites. Progressives hate the idea that government run crime laws, that governments conduct analsys of crime scenes, and that the government employees testify about the results of those analysis.

    The complaint about crime labs is not with forensic science. The complaint about crime labs is with the LACK of forensic science. That is, a lot of forensic evidence isn’t scientific at all. They set up “experiments” where they know going in what the desired answer is, and the results are subjective and based on untested theories, thus allowing them to make up a lot of pseudo-scientific BS to rationalize a pre-ordained conclusion.

    The problem is that forensic “science” is being used as a method for railroading people rather than as an investigative tool.

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    so is the solution to regulate the state crime labs out of existence? then law enforcement is left without eye witness testimoney, without camera pictures, and without forensic evidence. If every lab in every state is having “junk science” then it should be apparent that progressive will never believe what the labs say.

    Of course, that is exactly what defense attorneys want: no want to convict criminals. Mr. Balko seems every interest in doing away with law enforcement in the U.S. The question then becomes what will replace it after the state gives up on the idea of punishing criminals.

  28. Jenos Idanian says:

    …and yet soldiers are expected to be cops. We’re supposed to treat terrorists as simple criminals, and not apply to them the rules of war.

    Which would explain, now that I think of it, Obama’s “no prisoners” policy of simply killing terrorists and not capturing them for potential intelligence value. If they are going to be as useful and communicative as corpses, why not simply make them actual corpses?

  29. @superdestroyer:

    Yes, because obviously our only two options are corrupt systems that railroad people, innocent or guilty, for the benefit of politicians and the prison industry and doing nothing at all about crime.

  30. @Jenos Idanian:

    We’re supposed to treat terrorists as simple criminals, and not apply to them the rules of war.

    Which would explain, now that I think of it, Obama’s “no prisoners” policy of simply killing terrorists and not capturing them for potential intelligence value.

    I don’t think you know what the rules of war are regarding interrogating prisoners…

  31. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Oh, I know the rules. So does the military. Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to apply them to terrorist detainees. Instead, they are to be afforded full legal rights of arrested criminals.

    Including attorneys and civilian trials.

    The distinction between “war” and “law enforcement” needs to go both ways. I really, really, REALLY don’t like how the Obama administration has them blurring together. I’ve just been arguing against it from the other direction — welcome to the fight.

  32. @Jenos Idanian:

    If you’re complaining that we’re not exploiting them for full intelligence values, then no, you don’t. It’s against the rules of war to coercively interrogate a POW.

  33. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’ve had this argument before — my position is that they aren’t POWs as they don’t abide by the rules of war — distinctive uniforms, avoiding harm to civilians, and whatnot. So they should get treated as war criminals.

    I can pretty much bet you disagree with me, and I could probably give your arguments why you think I’m wrong — and we’d both get bored rehashing arguments we’ve each had (separately) over and over. So wanna just agree to disagree here?

  34. @Jenos Idanian:

    Unfortunately, they’re not allowed to apply them to terrorist detainees. Instead, they are to be afforded full legal rights of arrested criminals.

    Except, of course, this is not true.

    Have you not noticed, for example, the fact that we still have not figured out a way to provide a trial to most the detainees at Gitmo. And, indeed, the one attempt to bring one of those detainees to trial in a federal court was utterly thwarted.

  35. @Jenos Idanian:

    Well if they aren’t POW’s what are they? Protected non-combatants? Criminals? At this point I frankly don’t care what we decide they are as long as we pick one, rather than randomly shifting from one category to another depending on whatever happens to be most convenient from one momment to the next.

  36. superdestroyer says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The only way to ensure that no innocent person in convicted is to convict no one. Mr. Balko seems to take that approach to handling law enforcement. If there is no law enforcement, then no person will be wrongfully convicted.

    Of course, such a system quickly becomes survival of the toughest. I guess that Mr. Balko believes that he is clever enough to take advantage of no laws while avoiding the downsides.