Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cedar Falls, Iowa: Fourth Amendment Free Zone

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That's the Fourth Amendment.
Everyone agrees it's important.
Everyone agrees it should be respected.
Almost everyone in power believes it never actually applies.
OK, that last isn't exactly fair. But damn, it seems that way.
I've written about the evisceration of the 4th before, of course.  But really, there's so much more.
Take Barnes v. Indiana from last month.  The Indiana Supreme Court (less pompously named than the Supreme Court of Ohio or, the even stuffier Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts [perhaps named to distinguish itself from, say, the Supreme Salem Witch Hunt Court of Massachusetts]) decided that the common-law right to resist an unlawful police entry into one's home, a right stretching back centuries, should be jettisoned because, well, here's what Justice David said (citations omitted and some punctuation modified, all without indication - read the opinion for yourself to see that I haven't changed anything substantive).
We believe however that a right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy and is incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Nowadays, an aggrieved arrestee has means unavailable at common law for redress against unlawful police action. The dangers of arrest at common law—indefinite detention, lack of bail, disease-infested prisons, physical torture—[were] reasons for recognizing the right to resist.  But [there are ] the following modern developments: (1) bail, (2) prompt arraignment and determination of probable cause, (3) the exclusionary rule, (4) police department internal review and disciplinary procedure, and (5) civil remedies. We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest—as evident by the facts of this instant case.
That pesky Fourth Amendment thing?  Hey, that just says the cops can't enter your home unlawfully.  It doesn't say you can do anything about it if they do.
But that's so last month.
This month we turn from Indiana to Iowa, dropping in on the lovely city of Cedar Falls.

"This is the place!" proclaims the web site run by the Tourism and Visitors Bureau.  And while you might be hurrying off to get there in time for the Snozzberries on Friday you might want to think twice before opening up a business or, especially, renting an apartment.  Because by law, you'll have to keep the key in a box on the front door.
Huh?  By law?  Yep.
Monday was the third reading and the CF City Council, seemingly against the wishes of the people, voted 6-1 (same vote at each reading for the last 3 meetings) to enact Ordinance 2740 which (and I have to paraphrase from all the news reports and You Tubes and Tea Party blogs because I can't actually find a copy of the damn thing on line) says that every apartment building with at least three units must have (at owner's expense) a lockbox by the front door with a master key to open the building and every door inside.  The Fire Chief and whoever he deputizes is to have the codes for access to the lock boxes.
See, that's good, because when there's a fire, they don't have to use that ax to get in (or ring the doorbell, say, or knock) but can just open up the door and let themselves in before trashing the place with the hoses and the ax.
Here's how Jon Ericson of the WCF [that's Waterloo-Cedar Falls] Courier explains it.

Seven years ago the Cedar Falls City Council passed an ordinance requiring lock boxes on commercial buildings and larger apartment complexes. Hardly a soul made a peep about it.
On Monday the council voted 6-1 on a third and final reading to expand the ordinance to include more apartment buildings. In the days leading up to the vote, they received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country from people upset about the issue.
Some calls came in the middle of the night. Some writers threatened them and called them scumbags, or worse.
The issue had blown up on the Internet in recent days with message boards, primarily those tilting toward conservative and tea party viewpoints, spreading the story nationwide.
The council was voting to update its fire code from the 2003 International Fire Code to the 2009 version. Cedar Falls had required lock boxes since 2004 for firefighters to access keys to apartment buildings with six or more units and commercial buildings with sprinkler systems or unsupervised alarm systems. The new ordinance will also require the key boxes for apartment buildings with three or more units
Now, this doesn't apply to private residences where "Ax ready! Smash door!" will remain the fire department motto for at least a while longer.  But if you're unfortunate enough to live in an apartment - then the fire department is your friend and always welcome to enter.
Because, see, there's no check.  Oh, they're not supposed just to come in for fun.  And they're not supposed to let the codes for the lock boxes get hacked.  And they're not supposed to do anything wrong.
After all, they're from the government.  And they're here to help you.  Like it or not.
And they won't, because they're from the government, and the government never does anything wrong and can always be trusted - which is why you have to give them your keys.

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