Back in 1970, Congress passed a couple of bills authorizing the “no-knock raid.” This was an issue that President Richard Nixon had pushed during the 1968 presidential campaign. Prior to the late 1960s, police did sometimes enter residences without knocking, but they’d only decide to do so under “exigent circumstances,” such as pursuing a fleeing fugitive or hearing screaming from inside of a house. They would then need to justify their actions to a judge. Nixon wanted cops to be able to get warrants authorizing no-knock raids ahead of time, particularly in drug cases.
This wasn’t something police chiefs or sheriffs were asking for. It wasn’t a tool they thought they needed, at least at the time. Instead, it was the brainchild of Don Santarelli, a young Senate staffer hired by the Nixon campaign to come up with wedge issues to appeal to Nixon’s “silent majority.” Letting cops bust down the doors of suspected drug offenders may have violated a centuries-old principle called the “Castle Doctrine” — the notion that the government should only be able to violate the sanctuary of the home under extraordinary circumstances — but it played well with Nixon’s favorite demographic. (Santarelli has since expressed regret for this policy.) The first bill Congress passed allowed the no-knock for federal agents conducting drug investigations all over the country. The second authorized the no-knock warrant for cops in Washington, D.C. Because Congress has jurisdiction over D.C., Nixon had decided to make the city a guinea pig for his anti-crime policies.
Federal agents embraced the policy, and commenced kicking down doors all over America, often with tragic consequences. But in D.C., it was a different story. Police Chief Jerry Wilson — a man well ahead of his time — thought the policy was dangerous, was reckless and ran roughshod over the civil rights of his constituents. He also feared that it would poison the relationship between police and the city’s residents. So he refused to implement it.
Over Wilson’s tenure, crime dropped in D.C., even as it soared in much of the rest of the country. So the Nixon administration didn’t seem to mind that Wilson hadn’t instituted one of its key policies. It was happy to take credit for the drop in crime. Congress would later repeal both no-knock bills, although the policy would come back in the 1980s and has been with us ever since.
Last week, I thought about Wilson’s stand against an aggressive law-and-order administration when the Trump administration posted the names of police agencies that refused to detain suspected undocumented immigrants long enough for federal officials to take custody of them. This will apparently be a weekly endeavor, an effort to shame local authorities for not sufficiently aiding in deportations. Like the threat to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, President Trump’s aim here is to punish municipalities for not sufficiently contributing to his deportation goals.
It’s also a direct attack on policing and federalism, two institutions Trump and his administration claim to hold in high esteem. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump and his supporters painted him as the candidate who will support cops, who would give police officers the tools they need to do their jobs. Trump would be a stark contrast to the Obama administration, which Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and campaign surrogates reprimanded as too critical of law enforcement and too eager to impose federal authority on local police agencies.
Sessions, for example, called the use of consent decrees between the federal government and police agencies in which the Justice Department has found a pattern of civil rights violations — which increased significantly under the Obama administration — “one of the most dangerous . . . exercises of raw power.” Trump himself has repeatedly argued that the administration’s federal oversight has made police officers afraid to do their jobs, and has blamed President Barack Obama’s Justice Department at least in part for the rise in crime in some American cities.
But the decision among some police agencies to refuse to hunt down or hold undocumented immigrants for federal authorities isn’t a protest for open immigration or a way of undermining Trump. It’s about good policing. First, there’s the problem of complying with the law. As the New York Times argued in a recent editorial, complying with White House demands would likely violate the Constitution:
If a police department is about to release someone who posts bail, it can’t prolong the detention — in essence, arrest that person again — just because ICE asks it to. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the local police cannot be forced to honor a detainer in violation of the Constitution. That is, without an arrest warrant from a judge. Which an ICE detainer is not.
The list appears to have been pretty ad hoc and sloppily assembled. It was clearly designed more to shame agencies that have publicly opposed Trump than to be a comprehensive list of those that haven’t complied. For example, more than 60 percent of the ignored detainers listed for the first week were in Travis County, Tex. That county’s sheriff’s department instituted a new policy last month restricting its cooperation with ICE. But there’s a good reason the sheriff’s department there wants to make its own decisions about when to ask for deportations:
Maj. Wes Priddy, of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, said the agency does detain criminals convicted of serious crimes for immigration officials.
But he said his department does not turn over people awaiting trial.
“We do honor ICE detainers. But we do it selectively and in a manner which we can abide by our policy,” Priddy said, adding that in the past, immigration officials have deported people before trial, depriving defendants of their day in court and, in some cases, denying closure to crime victims. “We want to make sure that justice is served on the local level as well.”
In other words, local officials have determined that in some instances, trying serious crimes in court is more important to the local community than deporting an accused undocumented immigrant. That’s precisely the sort of decision a true federalist would let states and municipalities decide on their own. Instead, Trump wants a one-size-fits-all immigration policy — his policy — for every police agency in the United States.
But it’s worse even than that. Trump also made crime a key part of his campaign. He demagogued and exaggerated the rise in violent crime in some cities. Police officials, especially those in large cities with large populations of undocumented immigrants, aren’t opposing Trump’s immigration policies out of spite or distaste for him. They’re opposing them because they fear those policies will lead to more crime, not less. Over and over, in city after city, law enforcement officials have stated that when you create a climate of fear in immigrant communities, it makes undocumented people, their friends and their families less willing to report crimes, and less likely to cooperate with police investigations. This is why groups such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association have expressed concern about Trump’s threats to sanctuary cities, and why police officers in those cities say Trump is making their jobs more difficult. From the L.A. Times: . . .