Chief Daryl F. Gates' announced justification for the Los Angeles Police Department's motorized battering ram entry of a Pacoima home in which were found two women and three children, together with ice cream but no cocaine, illustrates the need for constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, which the state Supreme Court the same week restricted under the mandate of Proposition 8.
The chief declared that he was bent on sending a "message," through media coverage of his over-reactive paramilitary mission, that "If you don't want a battering ram breaking down your wall, don't deal dope." In other words, the end justifies the means: to eliminate drug dealing we are free to use storm trooper tactics.
It was just such excesses that the California courts' pre-Proposition 8 expansion of the constitutional barriers between the police and the citizenry was designed to stem. The misguided Pacoima raid dramatically demonstrates how the relaxation of these rules may be greeted.
Before applauding our Supreme Court's bow to a one-sided "law and order" mentality, the public would do well to consider the words of former state Chief Justice Donald R. Wright. Explaining a few years ago why he had joined in the more protective decisions Proposition 8 repudiated, Wright--a Ronald Reagan appointee--said, "My sure guide in judging the constitutional permissibility of police conduct was to think for a moment, 'Is this the kind of country I want to live in?' "
We would all do well to reflect upon that.
LAURENCE F. JAY
Our reaction to the articles on "rock houses" and drug dealing in general was, "Why doesn't someone do something about this?"
So now Chief Gates has decided to do something about that rotten situation. Unfortunately, the bust turned out to be a bust in such a way that only the criminals could have predicted.
So the chief wound up with a little egg on his face as far as the American Civil Liberties Union and a few stupid media commentators are concerned.
But how about the concerned citizen?
I, for one, hope that Gates takes his little tank and busts every suspected "rock house" in Los Angeles. So you win some and you lose some, but at least he is putting the dealers on notice!
It comes down to this. Crimes of all sorts are rampant in our community. It is obvious that the criminals are not abiding by a set of rules. They are laughing at law enforcement because the police have to abide by a set of rules made by a bunch of bleeding hearts who are more concerned with the criminals' rights to do wrong than they are with seeing justice done in the name of common sense.
More power to the chief, Gates that is. If he was an elected official he would probably be in office forever!
JAMES S. BURNETT
There are those who would commend Chief Gates for his long-standing, gutsy opposition to soft judges who try to tie police hands. Indeed, the chief's views finally appear vindicated by the state Supreme Court's turning back the clock 30 years to allow police leeway to violate search and seizure law.
Somehow, though, upon observing the chief's recent deployment of a battering ram into the cocaine-free home of a Pacoima family, one wonders if the good chief may have misunderstood the scope of discretion conferred by the Supreme Court. The new police right to break into homes of innocent people would not seem to include the option to use armored personnel carriers to raze entire houses.
Moreover, the chief's search-and-destroy mission must have caused at least $100,000 in damages. It netted nothing. So even if the people of this state have voted away their constitutional protection against maniacal police attacks, surely there must remain economic grounds for taxpayers to outlaw such unprofitable forays.
But perhaps there is reason to thank Chief Gates and our Supreme Court for battering us into 21st-Century sci-fi law enforcement. What with the advent of wide-screen home TV, a police "Road Warrior" mentality in action certainly makes for vivid viewing on the evening news. Something as stodgy as the Fourth Amendment could never score high Nielsen ratings.
The police are here to "protect and to serve." But ramming the side of a suspected cocaine "rock house" with a war weapon, who is that protecting and serving? Surely not the children inside, not to say anything of the adults.
Obviously General Gates belongs to the military school of thought that "the best defense is a solid offense."
I'm just glad the LAPD doesn't have any nuclear weapons!
Chief Gates, riding in the new armored military vehicle with a 14-inch battering ram is reminiscent of our prehistoric animals. The dinosaurs who once freely roamed our Earth, were large, well armored and forceful but with little gray matter in their heads.
If the "tank" is the best that Gates can come up with to "protect" citizens from the "dope dealers" then I certainly hope his term of office as Los Angeles police chief and his new weapon are soon extinct.
Congratulations, Chief Gates. You have made your point with complete success.
You have demonstrated beyond question to a 5-year-old boy that in America men with tanks and guns can smash his home into rubble and take him away from his mother.