10.12.2011

Common Sense v. Civil Rights

A recent story out of the Boston area has caused quite a bit of a stir in the Bay State this week. It seems that in Beverly, MA this past weekend, police officers scoured neighborhoods looking for unlocked cars with valuables inside. When they found them, they left behind notes for the owners with tips on how to safeguard their property and locked the doors. About 100 notes were left by officers during the initiative, some found by people on their way to work Monday morning whose keys had been locked in their cars.

We have heard many people sounding off on this topic, and opinions seem divided fairly evenly into two camps:

Pro

1) The police were doing something positive for the community and helping people. The did this with the best of intentions.
2) It was a harmless activity; there was no contraband found or seized. Therefore the activity wasn't unreasonable.
3) Even more resources would be spent on finding criminals if the goods ended up stolen.
4) It is just plain common sense to lock your door in this day and age, having someone point it out is helpful.

Con

1) The whole initiative was a gross violation of the fourth amendment and the police powers.
2) It was a waste of resources to have officers going around pulling door handles.
3) If any normal citizen were caught opening car doors by those same officers, they would undoubtedly have a lot of explaining to do, maybe even in court the following Monday.
4) People should be able to leave their car doors unlocked if they so choose; the state should stay out of their business.

So what do our readers think? Were the police acting as helpful civil servants in this situation? Or were they instead violating citizens' rights? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

5 comments:

  1. The police broke the law; not any criminal law, but they committed a minor trespass to chattel by locking keys inside cars.. "Best of intentions" doesn't cut it--specific intent to interfere with property is not an element of trespass to chattel.

    Should there be a flurry of small claims lawsuits seeking nominal damages? No, but I'd be surprised if they did this again. Quite frankly, it's hard to see how Beverly P.D. would have time for this little stunt if they had a REAL flurry of thefts to investigate.

    Honestly, would anyone appreciate waking up to a "note" on their bedside table: "After trying every window, noticed you left one unlocked. Be safe!"

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  2. Josh Sturtevant13/10/11 16:59

    Thanks for the comment. I, for one, would not appreciate the 'bedside note' from your hypothetical, and I am sure most Americans would agree.

    However it has been striking to me how many people I have heard commenting on this issue don't seem to feel the same way about their cars.

    In any case, I would agree that it is unlikely that the Beverly PD will pull a stunt like this again any time soon.

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  3. Definitely a slippery slope for the police to engage in breaking and entering to prevent breaking and entering. A gross waste of time, resources, and just plain arrogant to interfere in people's lives like that. If police were concerned about thefts of goods inside cars of that area, they could have reached out in many less invasive ways - through the media or even by direct mail.

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  4. I never lock the door to my car, because I don't keep anything valuable in it. It would cost me more money to replace a window than it would to have someone steal things from inside. And if a thief really wants to steal my car, locking the door will not stop him or her.

    Whether to lock my car door is my own choice, and the actions of the Beverly police were unreasonable. Leaving a note is okay, but opening the doors to lock them is unacceptable. What if the officer found some type of contraband tucked between the door and driver's seat?

    If the police want people to lock their doors, they should lobby the legislature to make it mandatory. Until then, do not overstep your authority, officer.

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  5. Josh Sturtevant17/10/11 11:40

    Well it seems that most people (at least among BlawgConomics readers) think that this was at least questionable.

    Does anyone out there believe that what the police did was perfectly okay without any reservations?

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