D.C.: An American Police State City?

D.C. has a horrendous homicide rate, but, IMHO D.C. seems to be run like a police state, at least for those in high-crime neighborhoods. D.C. has, or has had, some of the most intrusive/repressive laws on the books, that are found if few, if any other cities (e.g. complete ban on civilians having handguns in their homes for defensive purposes) Very few cities are as controlling as D.C. I am not talking about anti-terrorism or national security concerns. I am talking about measures aimed at ordinary, but very serious, crime. The tactics described below in the Mills v. D.C. case 571 F.3d 1304 (at 1306-9) seem more appropriate for U.S. military forces in Iraq or Afghanistan than for police in the “land of the free.”)

“The neighborhood safety zone (NSZ) program was created by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in response to the violence that has plagued the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C. for many years. Before this case arose, Trinidad had recently been the scene of twenty-five assaults involving firearms, five of which resulted in deaths, and six of which involved the use of vehicles. Shortly after a triple homicide in the Trinidad neighborhood on May 31, 2008, the MPD designated a portion of the neighborhood an NSZ. Pursuant to MPD Special Order 08-06, issued June 4, 2008, MPD implemented the program and erected eleven vehicle checkpoints over the course of five days at locations around the perimeter of the NSZ. This first implementation of the checkpoints took place from June 7 to June 12, 2008. On July 19, 2008, nearly a month after appellants commenced this action in the district court, the Commander of MPD's Fifth District, in response to a series of violent attacks that morning in Trinidad, requested and was granted approval for another NSZ in the Trinidad neighborhood. This second implementation of the NSZ program [***3] originally was to run from July 19 to July 24, but was extended until July 29, 2008.
During the first implementation of the NSZ program, Special Order 08-06 set forth the parameters of the program. According to the Special Order, the original primary purpose of the program was "to provide high police visibility, prevent and deter crime, safeguard officers and community members, and create safer District of Columbia neighborhoods." This Special Order also governed the police officers' conduct at the checkpoints during the first [*1307] [**224] implementation of the NSZ checkpoint program. According to the Special Order, motorists were to receive advance notice of checkpoints, which were to be marked with signs around the borders of the NSZ as well as "barricades, lights, cones, and/or flares." Officers were to stop all vehicles attempting to gain access to the NSZ area. Officers were not to stop vehicles attempting to leave the NSZ area without particularized suspicion. Officers also were not to stop individuals seeking to enter the NSZ area on foot. When motorists attempting to gain entry into the NSZ area were stopped at the checkpoint, officers were required to identify themselves to motorists and [***4] inquire whether the motorists had "legitimate reasons" for entering the NSZ area. Legitimate reasons for entry fell within one of six defined categories: the motorist was (1) a resident of the NSZ; (2) employed or on a commercial delivery in the NSZ; (3) attending school or taking a child to school or day-care in the NSZ; (4) related to a resident of the NSZ; (5) elderly, disabled or seeking medical attention; and/or (6) attempting to attend a verified organized civic, community, or religious event in the NSZ. If the motorist provided the officer with a legitimate reason for entry, the officer was authorized to request additional information sufficient to verify the motorist's stated reason for entry into the NSZ area. Officers denied entry to those motorists who did not have a legitimate reason for entry, who could not substantiate their reason for entry, or who refused to provide a legitimate reason for entry.
Motorists who failed to provide sufficient information were refused entry into the neighborhood in their vehicles, although motorists were not charged with a criminal offense if they failed to provide a legitimate reason for entry. Officers could not conduct a search of a stopped [***5] vehicle unless individualized suspicion developed during a stop. During the first implementation of the NSZ program, only one arrest was made at a Trinidad NSZ checkpoint; the arrest was for driving while in possession of an open container of alcohol. Forty-eight of 951 vehicles stopped during the June checkpoints were refused entry. The record does not indicate whether any arrests were made during the second implementation of the program. See Mills v. District of Columbia, 584 F. Supp. 2d 47, 58 n.8 (D.D.C. 2008).
Between the first and second implementation of the NSZ checkpoints, but after this action commenced, the District revised its Special Order governing the program. Though the six "entry-sufficient" categories remained the same, the District, understandably concerned with running afoul of the Fourth Amendment, tweaked its approach to implementing the program. Significantly, the revised Special Order established that motorists should be asked for identification only if they claimed to be residents of the NSZ in order to verify their residency. The revised Special Order also provided that information given by the motorist need only be "reasonably sufficient" to verify the motorist's [***6] reasons for entry. The primary purpose of the NSZ program remained similar despite the revisions to other areas of the program. The revised Special Order, however, clarified that "[t]he [revised] primary purpose of an NSZ is not to make arrests or to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing, but to increase protection from violent criminal acts, and promote the safety and security of persons within the NSZ by discouraging--and thereby deterring--persons in motor vehicles from entering the NSZ intending to commit acts of violence.
Appellants Caneisha Mills, Linda Leaks, and Sarah Sloan were among the 48 motorists denied entry at an NSZ checkpoint during the first implementation of the [*1308] [**225] NSZ checkpoints between June 7 and June 12, 2008. 1 Each appellant was denied entry in her vehicle on account of her refusal to provide certain information. Mills refused to provide personal information regarding her identity and intended activities in the NSZ, Leaks refused to provide details about her political activity and intended community organizing, and Sloan refused to provide information about a political meeting she wished to attend. . . ."

Finally note the attitude of the Chief of Police, who has probably taken an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S.”
“In a press conference held on July 19, 2008, MPD Police Chief Cathy Lanier stated that she would continue to utilize NSZs "until a judge orders [her] to stop."

You don’t want to tangle with a liberal police chief (of a liberal-dominated city) who only wants to protect you.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, no final decision has yet been made as to whether the injunction will be granted or not.

This case highlights the issue of whether we have more to fear from government or other citizens. Also problematic is the fact that these particular tactics are aimed at a relatively poor and minority neighborhood. Undoubtedly most trying to enter this neighborhood are also poor and minority. Can we justify these tactics on the basis that they will benefit the people whose rights are being violated? Finally is it realistic to think that these tactics will have any meaningful effect on violent crime in the neighborhood? Finally, stealing and paraphrasing a sarcastic/humorous e-mail quip from Steven Jamar: worrying about civil liberties is so pre 9/11.
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