By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
From coast-to-coast, police departments are starting to crack down on individuals considered “likely” to commit a crime, even if they have yet to do so.
PRE-CRIME: With police targeting those who intend to commit crimes, is “pre-crime” going to be the next thing to make the leap from science-fiction to reality?
No, it’s not the plot of the 2002 sci-fi/action thriller Minority Report — or, if you’re a sci-fi hipster, perhaps you prefer the superior 1956 short story from Philip K. Dick — though it certainly sounds as though it could be.
In the story, police use genetically enhanced mutants who can see the future to stop crimes before they happen, thus opening unanswerable questions about free will and the lengths to which a society should go to ensure safety.
There are no mutants, yet, but police are finding clever ways to determine the “intent” of a would-be criminal before crimes are actually committed.
Suppose you’re a woman in a tight dress walking down the street in Phoenix, and you wave to a passing car.
You’ve just given the police reason to arrest you for prostitution.
A woman waiting on a street corner. A woman in a tight dress. A woman who speaks to someone walking by, waves to a passing car, looks at you too long. Are there clear, unambiguous meanings to these things? Of course not — they could be the actions of someone selling sex, or of someone waiting for a ride, recognizing a friend, flirting, or engaging in thousands of other normal daily activities.
…because these laws against manifesting it are so vague, they don’t have to look far to confirm their biases. Once you’re suspected of being a sex worker, any manner of ordinary actions become not just probable cause but criminal behavior.
And it’s not just a theoretical situation. In 2013, a college student named Monica Jones was arrested for the crime of “manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution,” which can mean up to six months in jail.
MANIFEST DESTINY: Once someone is suspected of being a sex worker, anything that person does can be construed as “manifesting an intent” to commit prostitution. Even asking a police officer to identify himself as a police officer is grounds for an arrest.
She then asked if the cop was a cop — probably because she was trying to determine if she was being set-up or if she was being kidnapped — which is grounds for an arrest because inquiring “whether a potential patron, procurer or prostitute is a police officer or searches for articles that would identify a police officer” counts as manifestating an intent to commit prostitution, under Phoenix law.
The American Civil Liberties Union is fighting Jones’ arrest on constitutional grounds, but she was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a municipal court last week.
Phoenix isn’t the only place where such “pre-crime” efforts are popping up. Similar laws are on the books in eight states, Brown reports.
In Newark, N.J., police are trying to get a handle on decades of violence by arresting suspicious individuals even without evidence they have committed a crime.
The Star-Ledger on Thursday reported that “shaken Newark community leaders and the state’s acting attorney general” have announced a plan to deploy “dozens of state troopers as part of a sprawling anti-crime initiative to combat a rising tide of violence in the city.”
Those state troopers aren’t there to deter future crimes, they’re there to stop them in their tracks.
In Newark, where gun violence often sparks a cycle of vengeful attacks that ends with today’s shooting victim becoming tomorrow’s homicide suspect, police leaders plan to arrest violent individuals before they are killed or kill someone.
“The idea is to identify who may be a future shooter or our future victim. Your victim of a shooting might be your next shooter,” said Newark Police Chief Ivonne Roman. “By using intelligence, we can identify who might be a suspect and we can ensure that our officers are targeting the people responsible for the violence.”
Bars, liquor stores and other private businesses in the city will also be targeted, simply because they exist and the police see them as “havens for crime and violence.”
The city had 111 homicides in 2013, the fifth consecutive year where violence has been on the rise (despite claims to the contrary from former mayor and current U.S. Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., during last year’s campaign), so maybe the police feel only an unconstitutional reaction will stem the tide.
To borrow from a more recent sci-fi/action thriller, this year’s box office smash Captain America: “I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.”
Boehm can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org and follow @EricBoehm87 and @WatchdogOrg on Twitter for more.