The following editorial is to be published this weekend in The Citizens’ Voice:
Larksville Police Chief John Edwards undoubtedly won ample public support for a recent letter campaign that apparently drove a woman suspected of drug dealing and prostitution out of his borough.
But while Edwards’ aim – quickly relieving the neighborhood of those alleged unsavory activities – was laudable, he had other options. And, as noted by one criminal justice professor, his approach “has civil rights issues written all over it.”
After fielding complaints from residents, Edwards penned and sent a “welcome” letter to the woman’s apartment and 10 neighboring addresses, noting complaints about alleged drug trafficking and prostitution at an unspecified address on Murray Street. The letter pledged to “use every ounce of lawful police authority” until those responsible “are arrested and imprisoned, or leave Larksville Borough.”
Following the letter and increased police presence in the neighborhood, the landlord issued an eviction notice and the apartment was soon empty.
Edwards defended this law enforcement end run by arguing it could have taken months to secure a warrant to search the apartment, exposing the neighborhood to continued danger and disruption.
But can anyone familiar with the usually cozy relationship between police and the judicial branch believe that is true? What judge would make police wait months if presented with reasonable evidence?
Edwards should have followed proper procedure, investigated the allegations and used whatever police powers were available to him, including search warrants or confidential informants, to build a case that would hold up in court.
The legal system demands that allegations be proven and that the accused be afforded the right to a fair hearing. Those proper procedures are in place not to coddle criminals but to protect the rights of all. When police can take shortcuts in a case like this, they can take shortcuts in any case they like, which can lead to inequitable enforcement and official oppression.
Furthermore, Edwards’ actions could potentially open him, his department, the borough and by extension the taxpayers to potentially costly legal action. And, if the woman was engaged in the criminal acts referenced in Edwards’ letter, she has presumably just set up shop somewhere else, in someone else’s neighborhood.
However noble Chief Edwards’ motives, from now on, he should just go by the book.