Under Federal Lockdown!

Under what authority can the police lock down an entire city block, restricting our freedom of movement absent probable cause?

I’ve just gotten this bizarre notice from my building management:

We have been advised that 15th Street, NW between M & L Streets, NW has been enforced to shut down due to a current incident on the 15th Street corridor.

During their investigation, the Federal Police Services (FPS) has ordered that no one may enter nor leave the current premises until further notice.

We will inform you when FPS has lifted the shut down and you will be able to leave and enter the premises.

Under what authority can the police lock down an entire city block, restricting our freedom of movement absent probable cause?

UPDATE: In the time it took to disseminate the information and for me to crank out a quick blog post, the lockdown was ended.  Still, it’s a bit creepy.

UPDATE II: Apparently, it was a “suspicious package” in the parking garage I use.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    What no plastic wrap? You must have missed the federal wrap yourself in plastic (Shelter–in-place) planning. I advocated for personal SIP kits: Dry cleaning bag and a rubber band.

  2. Mithras says:

    Under what authority can the police lock down an entire city block, restricting our freedom of movement absent probable cause?

    The police are always authorized to use reasonable measures in exigent circumstances; e.g., trying to save your life in the face of a possible bombing. That authority ends when the emergency does. Probable cause isn’t required because you’re not being “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The police are always authorized to use reasonable measures in exigent circumstances; e.g., trying to save your life in the face of a possible bombing.

    Or trap me in a building that’s about to blow up, as the case may be.

    Probable cause isn’t required because you’re not being “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

    It’s a pretty odd interpretation. If I’m not free to go because the authorities have me detain, then I’m effectively under arrest.

    Legally, it may be meaningless but I make a distinction between being blocked from entering a street, building, or whathaveyou and being denied the right to leave.

  4. Mithras says:

    Or trap me in a building that’s about to blow up, as the case may be.

    Well, yes. They’re authorized if keeping you trapped in the building appears to be the reasonable thing to do, for example because the police don’t want people streaming out of the building in panic as they are trying to defuse the bomb.

    If I’m not free to go because the authorities have me detain, then I’m effectively under arrest.

    “Arrest” is a term of art. You can’t be arrested without probable cause. You can be detained under all sorts of circumstances that do not rise to even a reasonable suspicion that you’ve committed a crime.

    I’m not advocating for this legal state of affairs, I’m just describing it. This has been the state of the law for many decades.