This essay explores and details the rationale for police intervention in situations of continuing criminal activity where traditional police tactics cannot be applied or have been but have failed to abate the problem. The rationale is a keystone in the tactics of the Anti-Crime Team but provides a format for routine patrol force suppression of these nuisances as well.
Examples of these situations can include locations where fencing, prostitution, gambling, and narcotics may be conducted. The current “rock house” phenomenon where several of the above vices may be practiced simultaneously is the most onerous and demanding scenario. Varying degrees are likely but community concern clearly indicates the need for police action in all cases.
The precursors for these tactics will usually be situations where, for instance, the Narcotics or Ice (gambling, prostitution) or Commercial Squads have recognized a target but have not been able to enter an agent or informant to create the usual access, a search warrant or arrest warrants or both.
Other situations where repeated police attacks have been frustrated by the use of proxies operating the illegal operations, against whom “dominion and control” or proven “intent to possess” cannot be established, will also warrant intervention. Clearly the mid and upper level criminal actors have learned that the use of these expendable proxies creates an excellent buffer, insulating them almost entirely from routine police attack.
With the evolution of the “rock house” syndrome, the sheer number of targets, up at least fivefold from recent indicators adds to these dilemmas for the police. The follow up units recognize they have limited impact for this reason and generally endorse the patrol suppression of those locations which are beyond their control.
Although prosecutions may not be obtained in many cases, the retrieval of weapons and stolen property and the intelligence gathered which may enhance other investigations is of significant value in the whole sense of the police mission. And restored public confidence is of inestimable worth.
The tactics, then, evolve from the recognized restraints upon civil liberty which are inherent in social situations. The classic example is the reasonable and necessary restraint upon free speech which precludes a citizen from falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded auditorium, possibly triggering a stampede to the exits in which others are injured or killed.
In the same sense no one would argue the right to set up a target and practice with firearms in a crowded shopping mall, as an activity permitted by the Second Amendment.
And no reasoning person would suggest that the police ignore either situation. They would be outraged, in fact, if the police did. Other such necessary restraints would come to mind as each constitutional guarantee was considered.
And in addition to such passive responsibility, other active imperatives upon the citizenry come to mind, many of which are required by ordinance. Among these, the requirement to assist police officers upon request, to control one’s animals (leash laws, etc.), to operate motor vehicles properly, or to remove hazards or attractive nuisances from private property, are clear indicators of the precept of “civil responsibility,” as it were, which must be met if there is to be a viable social climate.
Extending this principle, then, to the homestead is imminently reasonable, proper and necessary.
With the surety of freedom from unwarranted intrusion, seizure, and deprivation of liberty, or lawful property, defined in the bill of rights, come certain incumbent responsibilities for the citizen in his homestead. One may not, for instance, leave minor children unattended and hazardous materials about, such as fuels or poisons or firearms, which these youngsters may obtain and misuse, possibly injuring themselves or others. And one may not leave a recreational fire unattended which may imperil the property or that of others. No one has such a “civil right.”
And in such instances, the responsibility of police and other officials (Fire, Public Health, CPS, etc.) is clear. To respond quickly and abate the threat by necessary means. This may include the removal of the children or other irresponsible parties, removal of the hazards, and securing the premises if a responsible party is not located to accept custody and prevent occurrence.
This leads reasonably and conclusively then to an imperative for the police where the aforementioned circumstances obtain. Flagrant, continuing criminal activity, which has not yielded to the other police tactics, defined by public complaint, police observation and often information from confidential sources, demands an intervention.
The tactic is straightforward. Uniform police go to the premises, announce and identify themselves and their purpose. Demand a tenant or owner come forward. Specify exactly what the concerns are (trafficking, fencing, gambling, etc.) and request an explanation. Solicit an invitational entry and question any apparent contraband. Request the cooperation of all present, including the surrender of any suspected stolen property, firearms or other means of criminal conduct. And in cases where no one comes forward as a tenant or owner, request the departure of those suspected of conducting the unlawful activity. Seize the contraband if it represents a hazard to the public (drugs, firearms, etc.).
And document the incident in its entirety with a major incident report, making the number available to all present. And, if necessary, secure the premises to prevent resumption of criminal activity until some responsible party is forthcoming.
These actions predicate upon the obvious need to defeat such criminal endeavor, which makes a charade of the sanctity of the homestead. The demand of the police is to document the fair and uniform application of these tactics. And never to use them as a subterfuge to enable prosecution or arbitrarily interrupt the conduct of private lives.
This strategy has brought credit and respect and renewed cooperation to those who have employed it.
It is a dynamic effective proper alternative to the frustrated acquiescence that has so limited police effectiveness in recent times and its result, the abatement of this activity, goes to the most sacred police duty, simply, the prevention of crime.
Copyright June 1986
Sgt. Chuck Pillon
Seattle Police Department