Arrest, Not Development

Local police are overstepping the bounds of reason while enforcing unjust laws.

It should surprise no one that today's law-enforcement officers are a far cry from the peace officers that once served communities throughout this nation.

It certainly does not surprise us. Actions have consequences. Our puritanical legislators routinely pass laws that are not only draconian but downright obnoxious, and one such law is the prohibition on the consumption of alcohol by "minors" under the age of 21.

Barry McGuire sang in the '60s: "You're old enough to kill, but not for voting." Today, at age 18, you are entrusted both with the vote and with the M-16 to kill people in foreign lands, but your government will not trust you to drink a beer.

Nevertheless, it is still disturbing to see just how bad things have gotten in Tucson. Both the Tucson Police and the Pima County Sheriff's departments are acting beyond the limits of both the reasonable expectations of the community and the constitutions of the United States and the state of Arizona. These overzealous efforts need to be checked by the citizens in our community.

The list of civil-rights abuses is astonishing: police eavesdropping on student chat rooms, obtaining search warrants to bust parties, removing more than 100 people from a restaurant and pulling over a busload of sorority girls to issue tickets. For what?

The last we checked, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable search and seizures ... ." It seems that an argument can be made for an unreasonable police search in each of the situations listed above, especially when taking the specifics of each case into consideration.

One recent party had already broken up by the time the police moved in to bust it. Yet the police broke down the door anyway and carted the occupants off to jail. Why? Any noise complaint should have been resolved by the absence of noise emanating from the apartment. Does someone having a beer a few years before their 21st birthday warrant a forcible entry? It seems excessive.

After forcing more than 100 patrons from El Charro on one occasion, police were able to find two underage drinkers and one person "served past the point of intoxication." Again, surrounding a popular restaurant with a police force in order to bust two minors for possession of alcohol does not seem to be a good expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Furthermore, it would be interesting to know what the busload of sorority girls was pulled over for. Based on the information provided, such an action is clearly unconstitutional; if it is common practice, that just makes everything even more appalling.

Most outrageous however, was the Sheriff Department's use of a stun gun last September to torture Brian Sewell, a DUI suspect, into giving a blood sample. Torture is never acceptable in a civilized society, and the practice of such for the purpose of obtaining evidence to prove a DUI charge is worthy of the civil-rights lawsuit that Mr. Sewell has filed against the Sheriff's Department.

This short list of civil rights abuses by local police against college students and other citizens in our community is very disturbing. Unfortunately, activities like these probably happen every weekend in Tucson.

In an effort to pitch his alcohol enforcement plan to the press, Lt. Mike Pryor of the TPD allowed himself to be interviewed by The Weekly. In Jim Nintzel's article, "Arrested Development" (Dec. 11), Lt. Pryor predicts a tough road toward changing the attitude that currently sees underage drinking as being acceptable. Lt. Pryor refuses to understand what is common sense to the rest of us: That alcoholic beverages, consumed in moderation and within proper limits, result in no reduction in public safety.

Lt. Pryor then falls over himself to make the correlation between underage drinking and sexual assault. And he quite literally falls over himself; He insists the correlation exists, even though he can't point to the evidence.

Police officers only overstep the law when they know that the County Attorney's office is willing to prosecute. There's the rub.

The office of the Pima County attorney needs to re-assess its priorities. It can put a fast halt to the harassment of honest, normal college students looking to blow off some steam. The county attorney has that power. All it requires is for Barbara LaWall to announce: "We would rather prosecute murderers and rapists than underage drinkers who are causing no harm to anyone else."

We have no such reasonable expectations of either Ms. LaWall or Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. They have demonstrated themselves to be more interested in covering up wrongdoing in their respective departments than in enforcing the law fairly and objectively.

The people of Tucson and of Pima County need to demand justice. And justice will never come to us as long as we elect chief law-enforcement officers like Clarence Dupnik and Barbara LaWall.

They are both up for re-election in 2004. Now is the time for the people of Tucson and Pima County to elect true community leaders--leaders with the integrity to work to effectively reduce crime in their jurisdiction, not just harass college students who are easy targets. Now is the time for change.

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