Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
When a former music teacher robbed a Wells Fargo bank in Colorado on June 2, little did he realize that not only would he get caught by the local police department within a few hours but would also “force” that law enforcement agency to pretty much destroy the rights of dozens of innocent people. Before getting into this case, let’s first focus on the productivity of this former music teacher since I never knew that these guys could be that productive; I was under the impression that all music teachers did was teach kids to destroy all the music we know and love, and smoke weed. While we should not condone the fact that this teacher used his unusual productivity to rob a bank, one should give credit to his proactive actions. I hope Christian Paetsch continues to remain productive while, simultaneously, staying far away from all financial institutions.
Back to the topic at hand: Law enforcement agencies regularly set up check points to arrest criminals and that, by itself, is nothing new or unusual. What was different about this action is that the local police blocked an intersection, trained their weapons on everyone in that intersection, and ordered everyone to get out, going so far to handcuff some of the innocent civilians. The police took this action because a GPS device was buried among the money Mr. Paetsch had stolen and that device was giving law enforcement a general idea of his location. So, going on this information and an apparently vague description of the bank robber, the Colorado police decided that it was more important to catch a person who had stolen $26,000 than the rights of those who had committed no crime but were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
These included a mother who “was ordered to crawl through a passenger-side door and was then handcuffed in front of her son” and “Crystal Deguzman and her 16-year-old son … who were ordered to keep their hands in the air for over an hour and handcuffed before being released.” The police said they took this action because they only had a faint description of the criminal and, if they were handcuffing mothers in front of their children that must have been an almost invisible description. In their defense, the police did catch Mr. Paetsch, found the money, and discovered two loaded firearms – it’s unclear whether they were licensed or not – in his SUV; by the way, this makes Paetsch even more unusual because not many music teachers have firearms. The arrest, however, only happened after the FBI showed up with a hand-held tracking device an hour later.
The question here is how much leeway law enforcement agencies should have in their attempts to catch criminals? Should these agencies be allowed to put everyone in a certain area under detention because one of them may be a criminal? How much freedom are US citizens willing to give up in order to live in an apparently – not necessarily actually – safe society? Federal prosecutors have argued that the roadblock was the safest option because a high-speed chase through the city would have been more dangerous. I totally agree with this assessment because, given their history, these guys may have ended up chasing the wrong car and shooting an innocent family. That would have caused more hassles since planting guns on an innocent family is a major pain in the ass. Therefore, in such a scenario, the roadblock was definitely a safer option. I am all for ensuring that criminals don’t get away with their crimes but I also believe that our rights are not as disposable as they have become in the past few decades. However, given the positive judgment of the courts and the lack of civic reaction to these actions, I am probably just whistling in the wind.