It’s important that law enforcement follows the law. While that seems to be an unremarkable statement, it is surprising how often that is not the case. And not just with trivial, minor matters, but often with significant issues that implicate thousands of cases.
The reason it is necessary for law enforcement to adhere scrupulously to all legal procedures is embodied in the old conundrum, who supervises the supervisors? Law enforcement officers swear an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. When they violate that oath, unless the violation is discovered, citizens may have very little recourse.
One area that can be particularly disturbing is the use of wiretaps. Given the ubiquity of cellphones, access to that source is virtually an unlimited window on the activities of individuals.
Because of their tremendous intrusiveness, the federal wiretap law demands that the top prosecutor in a jurisdiction be the person to sign off on any wiretap request. This is to ensure that the person with primary responsibility for the county law enforcement is aware of wiretap requests and knows the types of investigations in which their subordinates are engaged.
A USA Today investigation of one county in California found that hundreds of wiretaps potentially violated the terms of the wiretap law and this failure could compromise the prosecution of cases brought based on evidence obtained from those wiretaps. Riverside County accounted for almost 20 percent of all wiretaps issued in the entire nation.
What is often most disappointing and disturbing about a situation like this is they are so often the result of apparent sloppiness and sloth on the part of law enforcement. Lower level officials in the prosecutor’s office may sign wiretap authorizations when the district attorney is “absent.” But in this case, other persons signed the wiretap authorizations even when the district attorney was in his office.
This type of disregard of the law by the top law enforcement officer in a county is also disturbing as it calls into question all of their activities. After all, if they are so unconcerned with the law with regard to this matter, how many other violations have they committed?
Source: msn.com, “Police used apparently illegal wiretaps to make hundreds of arrests,” Brad Heath and Brett Kelman, November 19, 2015