Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The fog of the war on crime

It's a terrible thing to contemplate: Last week, a team of police officers broke into a home in Detroit expecting to arrest a homicide suspect. Instead, a little girl was shot and killed. And this isn't the first time the officer alleged to have been involved in the child's death has been in trouble:

Detroit -- The man who allegedly fired the shot that killed a 7-year-old girl during a raid Sunday spent his free time helping kids in need.

He also is accused in a 2009 federal lawsuit of being part of a team that broke into a home, shot two dogs and pointed a pistol at children, including an infant.

The revelations paint two different pictures of Officer Joseph Weekley, a member of the Detroit Police Special Response Team who was placed on a desk job after his gun discharged during a raid early Sunday, resulting in the death of young Aiyana Jones. [Emphasis added--E.M.]

What actually happened the night of little Aiyana's death may end up being solved by the review of a videotape--because Officer Weekley is one of the Detroit Special Response Team officers regularly featured on A&E's reality show, "The First 48."

Is it a good thing for law enforcement members to be part of a TV show? Not everyone thinks so:

DETROIT — When police burst into a home in search of a murder suspect, a reality TV crew documented the raid — and may have recorded the death of a 7-year-old girl accidentally killed by an officer.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones' death put a spotlight on the growing number of reality shows that focus on law enforcement. A number of big-city departments have used shows such as Fox's "Cops" to attract recruits. Others have shied away from the up-close attention. And critics have questioned whether police behave differently when cameras are watching. [...]

Gary Brown, City Council president pro tem and a former deputy police chief, does not believe there is a correlation between Huff's death and actions of officers Sunday.

"I assume they are going to be professional. I would hope the crew didn't have any impact on policies and procedures," he said.

But criminal defense attorney Marvin Barnett said the cameras probably played a role in how the raid was conducted, especially in the use of a flash-bang grenade designed to stun people inside a building.

Barnett said he could not recall the use of such devices on houses with children inside.

"We are making the police actors in a reality drama, and it might make them decide to showboat," said former Detroit Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, who does not recall reviewing the deal with A&E but said she would have opposed it. "Everybody wants to be John Wayne."

Some say that having TV crews present during raids like this one simply increase police accountability. If video from the raid does prove, as Aiyana's family's lawyer claims, that a shot or shots were fired from the porch of the home before the home was entered, that would certainly be an instance of such increased accountability.

But it won't bring back to her family an innocent child who was asleep on a couch the night her world exploded in burning light and gunfire.


Anonymous said...

May she rest in peace like the other innocents.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I agree. Because I agree, I have to stop and consider some of the opposite extremes, which give rise to application for no-knock warrants. Reaching back to the 1930s, there was the police officer delegated to served a warrant on a house where Bonnie and Clyde were holed up, because that legal procedure had to be followed before an arrest or search. He was shot to death outside the front door, from inside the house.

So, I have some sympathy with police officers who believe their lives are truly at risk. But you are right about the long string of "unfortunate mistakes," including the retired pastor in Boston who died of a heart attack, handcuffed on his own living room floor, because officers went to the wrong apartment, the young couple ordered out of bed in their own home, naked, by officers who didn't realize the targets of an investigation had moved out three months before, the man shot to death by plain-clothes officers defending his home and wife from what he legitimately believed to be a criminal invasion of his property -- on the basis of bald lies from a jailhouse informant desperate for a break in his sentence.

At minimum, there should be very stringent standards for "no-knock" warrants -- detailed accounting of knowledge within the last three days of who lives there, considerably more than some informant's word for what might be going on inside... maybe after a period of close surveillance, detailed information of a serious investigation to confirm what some informant said...

Or, surround the house, from adequate cover, and make a phone call?