Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Local Police Could Become Spys, A Tool or a Weapon?

I was reading a story by Trip Jennings in the New Mexico Independent Website which was based on an article in the Washington Post. The article intrigued and concerned me. The articles describe a Justice Department proposal to implement a new domestic spying measure designed to allow state and local police to collect intelligence about citizens and share the data with federal agencies. The local agencies would also be able to retain the data for up to 10 years.

As I read the Washington Post story I tried to decide, is this good or bad for local law enforcement? It reminded me in a very roundabout way of one of the first times I was called to a homicide scene as a young officer. On May 10 of 1989 I was called to a home on Urioste Street. It was about 3am and Connie Brito had called police to report she found her 100 year old Grandfather Pino Madrid beaten in his bedroom. I arrived at the home to find this 100 year old grandfather in his bedroom. His bedroom looked like a scene from a horror movie with blood everywhere including the ceiling. Mr. Madrid was still alive and actually sitting up on the bed.

He had 18 to 25 holes in his head all bleeding. When I would try and apply pressure with towels there were too many holes to cover and when I would cover some wounds, increased blood would flow from the remaining holes. His genitals were swollen to the size of cantaloupes which was so out of place it looked inhuman. We later discovered Connie's husband John Brito had beaten his wifes 100 year old grandfather with a claw hammer. The beatings with the claw end were so intense the steel claw had broken off the hammer in Mr. Madrid's skull during the attack. Amazingly Mr Madrid survived until June 2, 1989 before succumbing to his injuries.

What does this have to do with local police gathering spy type information on citizens? I like working with my hands and often do home remodel projects, woodworking projects and other Tim Allen type man stuff. In doing this work the claw hammer is a tool that one can hardly do without and does much good for mankind. With the hammer you can provide shelter for the homeless, build hospitals, soup kitchens, and schools to teach our young. When asked if the hammer is a good invention most people would say yes. But even the best intentions can turn bad. In the death of poor 100 year old Pino Madrid the hammer was a weapon and not a tool. A real cruel vicious weapon that had to have inflicted horrible pain upon a man in the last days of his life.

There may be some good in allowing local officers to play international spy and maybe develop important information which could one day prevent a terrorist attack on American soil. On the other hand some officers could use this to gather intelligence on groups which are not doing anything illegal and are not planning to do so. Perhaps, church groups? How about NRA members or political groups? Can't happen?

In the Washington Post article incidents of local police spying on political and other activists groups are described. In Maryland State Police agents spied on death penalty opponents and antiwar groups in 2005 and 2006. Undercover New York police officers infiltrated protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention and California state agents eavesdropped on peace, animal rights and labor activists. There have also been revelations that Denver Police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered.

Local police currently gather data and intelligence on criminals involved in Drugs, Gangs, Burglary Rings and other crimes which are both investigated and prosecuted by local police and District Attorneys. The types of data we now gather are really based on ongoing criminal investigations or known criminals. I do think we have a responsibility on a local level to keep our eyes and ears open for national crimes, and should be trained to recognize and deal with possible terrorist threats. We also have a responsibility to report these tips or information to federal authorities. I do not think we should make junior g-men out of local law enforcement.



Reena said...

Again, another well written and excellent blog! Sheriff Solano, you always impress me with your thoughtful consideration of the issues. You are a credit to your profession and to our city.

Sheriff Greg Solano said...

Thank you Reena, I appreciate your compliments and knowing you enjoy my blog.