Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Volokh co-Conspirator Orin Kerr describes it as "a rather unsavory undercover scheme". Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds calls it "pathetic". What has them so annoyed? Well, apparently a police officer in Fort Myers, Fla. dressed as an employee at a McDonald's drive-through window and started....looking into people's cars. Whenever he saw something worthy of police attention, he notified his colleagues down the street, who, in the course of a week, made six arrests, handed out 29 citations, and recovered a "significant amount of drugs" and two pistols.

Now, there are several reasons why Profs. Kerr and Reynolds might find fault with this particular police operation. Unfortunately, none of them really makes sense (not that that would ever stop a law professor, mind you).

  • What the police did was illegal. As a matter of fact, it was not--as both Kerr and Reynolds admit.

  • What the police did was ineffective. Apparently the police are satisfied with the results of their law enforcement effort, and would be happy to repeat it. No doubt both Kerr and Reynolds disdain at least some of the laws that the police enforced using the McDonald's ploy. (These seem to have included both drug and gun laws, as well as child safety-seat laws.) But objecting to the laws themselves is hardly a reason for objecting to the method used to enforce them. Educated fellows like Kerr and Reynolds should be able to make this distinction.

  • What the police did outraged the community. Actually, the police were responding to community outrage--specifically, McDonalds employees' frustration at the amount of criminal activity they saw passing by their drive-through window, unhindered.

  • What the police did was an "invasion of privacy". Again, as a matter of law, it was no such thing. Indeed, it's hard to understand how anyone could think of him- or herself as being "in private" while being served by an anonymous fast-food employee.

  • What the police did was effective. I'm afraid that this is most likely the problem, in the eyes of our lawyer friends. Americans in general--and American legal academics in particular--tend to be so intensely distrustful of law enforcement officials that any change that increases the latter's effectiveness is immediate grounds for the former's concerned suspicion. Effective law enforcement can be used, for example, to persecute the innocent, by mistake or out of malice. It can end up enforcing unjust laws or imposing draconian punishments for minor offenses. It can be used capriciously or corruptly. All in all, it seems, many Americans would prefer that the police just go away and stop enforcing the law altogether.

    As I read about the lawless chaos reigning in Iraq, I feel thankful, for Iraqis' sake, that their country is full of American troops, rather than American law professors.
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