David Post: Be careful what you wish for

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 26, 2017

Once upon a time, a girl with moonlight in her eyes placed her hand in mine and said she loved me so. I was smitten. Until a friend whispered: Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.

In recent weeks, public comment has consumed City Council meetings, virtually demanding that the city prohibit law enforcement from using no-knock warrants.

Be careful what you wish for.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that a search warrant be issued only upon a showing of “probable cause” that a crime has been committed. Failure to meet that constitutional protection excludes any evidence found and often results in letting the suspect go free.

One exception is the “exigent circumstances” rule if people, including officers, are in imminent danger, evidence faces imminent destruction or a suspect is escaping.

In 1997, The United States Supreme Court permitted the use of evidence obtained in a no-knock entry without any warrant (Richards v. Wisconsin). In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals — the federal court below the U.S. Supreme Court — permitted the use of a no-knock warrant in a Georgia case (U.S. v. Segura-Baltazar). The Supreme Court did not accept an appeal.

Legal authority tends to suggest that the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court when it refuses to accept an appeal. It’s complicated. If a different Circuit reaches a different decision, the Supreme Court may hear the case to resolve the differences. Until then, however, the now 11-year-old Georgia case is the law of the land.

Salisbury’s public commenters argue that the Georgia case is not applicable in North Carolina. But it is worth noting that in 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a conviction when police used a no-knock warrant. The legality of that warrant was not disputed.

The use of no-knock warrants is not abused in Rowan County. Nationally, counties our size average 20-40 no-knock warrants per year. Rowan County averages one per year. One. And a judge approved it in advance. No-knock warrants are part of the constitutional fabric, and my firm belief — as I’ve stated publicly in City Council meetings — is that because federal law is supreme, City Council lacks the authority to redefine or suspend any United States Constitutional standard.

Serving warrants is dangerous. Serving a no-knock warrant is as dangerous as it gets, and can, like serving any warrants, can have disastrous results. But disasters occur when people fail to use seat belts. Or jaywalks. Merely going to work each day is life-threatening for police officers. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, at least 64 police officers were killed in active duty last year.

Be careful what you wish for.

The recent criticism of police has reduced the number of people willing to become police officers. While Salisbury and many communities around the nation face 10-20 percent shortages in their law enforcement departments, police academies have experienced enrollment declines of 60-80 percent in the past five years. All cities are fighting to hire from a shrinking pool of candidates. (What parents today encourage their children to be a law enforcement officers?)

Be careful what you wish for.

Local opponents of no-knock warrants are focusing on one case where the facts have not been made public yet. Though I have no inside information, my bet is that those facts are ugly.

Be careful what you wish for.

Take away law enforcement tools and more officers will quit. Suppose Salisbury suspended the use of no-knock warrants — which I don’t think it can — and, say, 10 more officers quit, would the city be safer?

Be careful what you wish for.

The stridency of the public comment is affecting the city’s efforts to improve the local economy. New businesses, and the jobs they bring, are more reluctant to set up shop here. Good teachers and concerned residents are moving away.

Be careful what you wish for.

Most regrettably — and saying this out loud is risky — the harshness of public comment is widening a racial divide in our city and making it more difficult for all of us to talk to each other.

We need to be very careful what we wish for.

Oh, by the way, I didn’t get the girl.

David Post is a member of Salisbury City Council.