Politics

Kop Busters

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In none-Illinois-based news, here’s a story that makes my libertarian heart tingle.

It’s a sting operation carried out against police for the all-too-common problem of questionable-at-best probable cause in drug raids.

The setup:

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.

The police took the attorney into custody.

In 60 days, the police have to release the affidavit saying how they gained probable cause to raid the house, which only KopBusters knew about, and in which nothing illegal was going on whatsoever. It seems pretty reasonable to assume that the police used thermal cameras (which the Supreme Court has ruled are unconstitutional, Kyllo v United States (2001)), and then just flat-out lied to gain entry (vice squads routinely use the tried-and-true and usually non-falsifiable “an informant tipped me off” or “I passed by and smelled marijuana”). Of course, given the conditions of the house and the setup, that will be on-the-face-of-it laughable. And suddenly the police have to account for why they entered an empty residence with two Christmas trees and a glow lamp, and how they knew about it in the first place.

It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. With any justice (and some media rabble-rousing), the DA by all rights ought to be turning his focus on the vice squad. Probably just as likely he’ll try to have KopBusters arrested. Either way, should make for some illustrative copy. And regardless, this is a problem endemic in the drug war, and in law enforcement generally. Probable cause is meant to be a protection for the citizenry against unwarranted searches and seizures. In most police departments, it’s just viewed as a bureaucratic nuisance, a mere lawyer’s formality, and with no inherent value (so what’s the harm in skirting it?). That tension will always exist, and for good reason. But for the system to work, there has to be consequences, lest the law-enforcers get too complacent, too lax, and too outright hostile to their constitutional checks.

For more, check out Barry Cooper’s site. Mr. Cooper is a fairly strident anti-drug bust crusader, and a bit of a personality in his own right. I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Cooper at last year’s Liberty Forum (libertarian convention), where we were both speaking. I gave a dry hour-long seminar on constitutionalism and activism—Cooper, by contrast, had a motivational-speakeresque presentation and was received like a rock star. But there’s no doubting that this guy has brass balls, and it’s a systemic problem that not many are willing to take on.

Maybe with another dozen or so like him around the country, police will actually start having reason to be afraid of not following procedure?

Cross-posted at The CrossedPond