City wise to pull ‘stop-and-identify’
Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:00 AM
Wise move, City of Greenwood. Wise move. The outcry from residents no doubt was deafening.
At first glance, Greenwood City Council’s initial consideration of an ordinance that would require someone to give his name, address and date of birth when asked to do so by law enforcement might seem innocuous enough. After all, if you’re not violating the law, what’s the big deal, right? The so-called “stop-and-identify” ordinance is just another weapon in battling crime, right?
It is a big deal, however, and it is reminiscent of a police state, a time when individual rights and civil liberties are stripped under the auspices of protecting the public welfare. Wisdom was in the voices of two council members who out the door opposed the measure, Betty Boles and Linda Edwards.
Now before you accuse the newspaper or anyone else opposed to this measure of being unsupportive of law enforcement and the risks officers face, make no mistake that we do indeed appreciate law enforcement and all the various agencies’ efforts to carry out their duties while facing daily risks to their lives. Arguing against the ordinance is a little bit like saying you don’t support a particular war. Some will translate that to being against our military, when that simply is not the case. So while we do support law enforcement in general, we also appreciate and want to uphold the Fourth Amendment and all it represents with respect to individuals’ rights and liberties. It reads: “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.”
The ordinance as it was written and passed on first reading would have given law enforcement officers too much leeway. At its core, the ordinance provided that a person in a public place must disclose his name, address and birthdate when requested by an officer who reasonably suspects the person is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime. The same would be required of someone an officer reasonably suspects was a witness to a violent felony. That wording opens to great interpretation what is considered reasonable. An officer might deem it reasonable to apply the “stop-and-identify” ordinance at any time and to anyone on public property.
And as with such ordinances, there was a financial component that might have raised an eyebrow or two. Failure to comply with this supposed reasonable suspicion carried with it a fine of as little as $175 and as much as $1,092.50. That certainly would net the city some bigger bucks than violations of the 2-hour parking rule.
A question raised by Edwards on Monday when the ordinance was first addressed warrants an answer, even in light of the ordinance’s sudden death Wednesday. “What has brought forth all of this?” Edwards pointed out that dangerous criminals have not before and will not now give their name, birthdate and address, so what will this ordinance accomplish? Seriously, if an officer stops a legitimate criminal, is that person likely to give his correct name, address and birthdate? Or is he more likely to run? The fine is not going to be his first concern, after all. And if he runs, do we not already have laws on the books that will result in the person being charged with “failure to stop on lawful command?”
Sadly, it seems, what this ordinance would do is establish a means for law-abiding residents to be hassled and potentially harassed by law enforcement. Merely walking along a sidewalk or sitting on a bench in front of a store on Main Street could easily lead to being questioned for no truly reasonable suspicion. After all, if you think about it, any one of us could be reasonably tagged as suspects by an officer who figures if he shakes enough trees, something will fall out.
Further, will someone satisfy such an ordinance by merely stating a name, date of birth and address? If so, it’s easy to make up such information. What would happen to the person who, while taking a leisurely walk along a public sidewalk, is stopped but cannot prove his answers are accurate? It’s not unusual for people to be in public places without their wallets, driver’s licenses and such. A scared but innocent individual not carrying his license or other form of identification might raise what is considered by an officer to be reasonable suspicion and be hauled into the police department where he will spend a great deal of time before being released.
We want our law enforcement officers to be safe, but we don’t want the city infringing on individuals’ rights, especially when law enforcement already wields a great deal of power in combating crime. Cameras mounted in public places that can help officers identify suspects in response to a crime, or even help them prevent a crime? Absolutely. We have already put our support behind the city’s use of cameras for that purpose. But this ordinance is unnecessary and extremely overreaching. We hope council and city management do more than put the brakes on the ordinance for now. We hope it hits the trash heap.