Pre crime policing

This is an outrageous story from Reason Magazine about “pre crime” policing. Here’s the background:

On March 4, [David] Pyles was placed on administrative leave, which required him to work from home. On March 5, 6, and 7, after getting his income tax refund, he made three purchases of five firearms. Pyles describes himself as a gun enthusiast, who had already owned several weapons. All three new purchases required an Oregon background check, which would have prohibited the transactions had Pyles ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving violence, or been committed by the state to a mental health institution. Pyles says he has no criminal record, and says he never threatened anyone in his office. (A specific threat of violence would have likely brought a criminal charge.)

The local authorities suspect that Mr. Pyles might be a nutcase about to go postal. What do they do? Do they go have a talk with the guy to see if their suspicions are valid? Nope – they send in the SWAT teams.

To hear them tell it, the five police agencies who apprehended 39-year-old Oregonian David Pyles early on the morning of March 8 thwarted another lone wolf mass murderer. The police “were able to successfully take a potentially volatile male subject into protective custody for a mental evaluation,” announced a press release put out by the Medford, Oregon, police department. The subject had recently been placed on administrative leave from his job, was “very disgruntled,” and had recently purchased several firearms. “Local Law Enforcement agencies were extremely concerned that the subject was planning retaliation against his employers,” the release said. Fortunately, Pyles “voluntarily” turned himself over to police custody, and the legally purchased firearms “were seized for safekeeping.”

This voluntary exchange involved two SWAT teams, police officers from Medford and nearby Roseburg, sheriff’s deputies from Jackson and Douglas counties, and the Oregon State Police. Oregon State Police Sgt. Jeff Proulx explained to South Oregon’s Mail Tribune why the operation was such a success: “Instead of being reactive, we took a proactive approach.”

There’s just one problem: David Pyles hadn’t committed any crime, nor was he suspected of having committed one. The police never obtained a warrant for either search or arrest. They never consulted with a judge or mental health professional before sending out the military-style tactical teams to take Pyle in.

Imagine if this were to happen to you:

“They woke me up with a phone call at about 5:50 in the morning,” Pyles told me in a phone interview Friday. “I looked out the window and saw the SWAT team pointing their guns at my house. The officer on the phone told me to turn myself in. I told them I would, on three conditions: I would not be handcuffed. I would not be taken off my property. And I would not be forced to get a mental health evaluation. He agreed. The second I stepped outside, they jumped me. Then they handcuffed me, took me off my property, and took me to get a mental health evaluation.”

By noon the same day, Pyles had already been released from the Rogue Valley Medical Center with a clean bill of mental health. Four days later the Medford Police Department returned Pyle’s guns, despite telling him earlier in the week—falsely—that he’d need to undergo a second background check before he could get them back. On Friday the Medford Police Department put out a second press release, this time announcing that the agency had returned the “disgruntled” worker’s guns, and “now considers this matter closed.

“Proactive” policing or police state?

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