Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Mayor Ballard Replaces Chief of Police; Will New Chief Show More Respect for the Constitution?
News out of the 25th Floor yesterday is that the Mayor has appointed Northwest Commander Paul Ciesielski to replace Michael Spears as Chief of Police.
While I am not sure about Ciesielski's approach to law enforcement, he has to be an improvement over Chief Michael Spears. Chief Spears seemed to have a disdain for "trivial things" like constitutional rights.
During Spears' tenure, I have witnessed numerous cases in which officers said that they were under a standing order from Chief Spears to do "inventory searches" of vehicles. Some explanation is in order. The 4th Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, often requiring a warrant for that search. There is an exception to that rule that allows officers to conduct an "inventory search" of vehicles that are going to be impounded. The idea is that the officer should be able to to go through the vehicle and document what is in it just in case he or she is later accused of stealing something from the vehicle. Inventory searches are limited. The classic example is a locked box in the truck can only be listed as a locked box. It can't be opened.
What IMPD officers have been doing under Spears' direction is when a person is pulled over for a minor offense, but the officer suspects the person might have drugs, the officer will announce he will have to impound the car and will do an inventory search. I have seen several occasions when those officers doing the inventory do not even bother to make a list of what is in the car, which is the whole purpose of the inventory search. Rather they are using the inventory search as a pretext to get around that pesky Constitution. If at the end of the search, if the officer can't find evidence of a crime, he or she will let the driver go.
Is the practice unconstitutional? You betcha. But Chief Spears knows perfectly well he can get away with it for years until somewhere down the road a court appeals to the Indiana Court of Appeals to put a stop to IMPD's bogus inventory searches he uses to circumvent the Constitution. Someone with the level of arrogance and disdain for the Constitution Spears has displayed should not be in a leadership position. Good riddance Chief Spears.