At some point this coming June the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide on a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling for whether or not law enforcement officers can enter a home, without a warrant, based on the exigent circumstances they created. Based on some of the initial comments reportedly made by justices when entertaining oral arguments, one could construe that their ruling might be in support of law enforcement. A January 12th, 2011, article by USA Today titled, Supreme Court hears case on home searches by police (linked below), briefly outlines the facts of the original criminal case; essentially a buy-bust gone awry (which is typically the case in my experience). In short, narcotic officers sought to apprehend the trafficker who sold dope to their informant and in the course of events entered an apartment (using the emergency situations provision), without a warrant and subsequently found contraband on others. Arrests followed; trial, conviction, appeal and now additional appeal based on the obvious significant Constitutional issue.
As a former proponent of the exigent circumstances clause for just these type of proactive policing operations I couldn't be happier (on one level) if the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Kentucky officers actions. That level is limited to cop see’s bad guy and arrests same, with little thought given to the intangibles that most recently are killing us. That's the dog response; the hound chases a rabbit off a cliff without forethought. Applied to policing; the officer chases offender without regard to probable fatal consequences (better known as tunnel vision). I remember a conversation I had with my mentor (Law Enforcement Professor Terry Biddle) ten years ago where he drove home a point I recalled as realism injected into our conversation. He said that when it comes to cops determining whom to arrest, how or when, Nobody deserves to die for a Misdemeanor (or Felony). Experience had shown him that when it comes down to either killing someone, when trying to make the arrest, or being killed yourself, that battle is just not worth fighting at that point. Wait for another opportunity to get the crook, especially when nobody has to die.
As I write this I think about the tragic events of yesterday, where two St. Petersburg Florida Officers were killed inside of a home hunting a fugitive. It's been a tough 24 hours for law enforcement with ten officers being shot (see CNN Blog Rough times for men and women in blue linked below). The St. Pete cops are eternal heroes, no doubt, but I can't help wondering if the dog response contributed to killing them. In the aftermath an investigation will commence, political blame will be affixed somewhere, but in the end two officers died way young, two families are forever changed, and a police agency is permanently scarred. For what? A dirt-bag who hid in an attic with intent to kill the innocent? Maybe this situation, in a perfect world, could have been averted. I don't know, but what I do know (as well as you) is that criminals are more committed to fighting it out with the cops today and arguably ever in our history. We spend an inordinate amount of time training officers to act tactically, but maybe we need to go a step further and assign an officer to the role of safety officer. We do it on the range and in training but why not on the street? Somebody has got to be thinking safety.
When I worked on a Methamphetamine Clandestine Lab Unit we had a Site Safety Officer. That person had the sole responsibility of determining when a scene needed to be shut down for the protection of none-other but the cops working it. When everybody's mind was geared toward finding, preserving, collecting evidence, and building the case for prosecution, the Site Safety Officer was focused on one thing - Officer Safety. In theory this same role can be applied to a policing incident where multiple officers are working an incident. For instance, while several officers are standing outside of a home thinking how do we get in to find the wanted subject, the safety officer better be thinking, Houses are ambush zones, how do we get out; can we do this another way. My point is this, not everyone needs to be thinking, How do we find the crook?. Somebody always better think - How do we stay alive here? I think in order for this to work, there has to be a conscious decision at roll call to appoint someone that task and everyone agrees that person has the authority (much like on the range for a safety violation) to pull the plug on an ongoing operation when it gets too dangerous.
Going back to the looming U.S. Supreme Court ruling impacting the emergency situation entry: if the Court supports the warrantless entry position once again, great. But just because we can legally, should we? I'm pretty sure the Justices are looking at this case with their Constitutional eyeglasses on and not from the viewpoint of a kill zone, otherwise known as a living room, when the offender is holding an assault rifle. Let's keep things in perspective when it comes to getting the bad guy. If it means they get to flush dope down a toilet and you have to wait another day to get them so be it. You don't deserve to die for a Misdemeanor or for any other crime.