Federal Court Rules DC Checkpoints Unconstitutional

The Washington Post reports:

“In a strongly worded opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit condemned the roadblocks, which police used last summer in the city’s Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington. The checkpoints, which have not been used in about a year, were a response to a spate of shootings, including a triple homicide.”

Council Member Mendelson sent out a press release:

“I am pleased with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision reversing a lower court’s approval of the controversial roadblocks. It is unfortunate that the District’s Attorney General was so wrong to insist that the roadblocks were constitutional. However, today’s decision is no surprise given that the DC Court of Appeals came to the same conclusion regarding roadblocks – ironically, also in Trinidad – in 1991.

All of us want to reduce crime – there is too much of it despite the recent drop in numbers. But the District government should pursue strategies that are proven to work. Roadblocks sound good – they’re a “get tough” approach – but they are controversial and often illegal. There are much more effective strategies, as Police Chief Cathy Lanier has shown, that have the community’s support and reduce crime.

Today’s decision is a triumph over rhetoric.”

I’m curious to know how you guys feel about this issue.

28 Comment

  • If you have to explain yourself to a police officer’s satisfaction before being admitted into a neighborhood, that’s a pretty good indication you’re no longer living in a free country.

    There are plenty of things that can be done to prevent crime; some of those things are unconstitutional, and the Nickles/Lanier team has a knack for finding them.

  • there’s hardly any need for further comment. that one was spot on, buck.

  • Say what you want about Mendelson, but he is usually right on issues like these. He has a cool head and doesn’t just respond haphazardly. Deep down, he probably knows what the real solution to this is. Politically and socially in this city, a white guy just can’t say it.

  • Fenty et al. are long on rhetoric and meaningless gestures like the proposed “gang” law. What they seem to have trouble with is the proper administration of government. I’d love to have Tony Williams (first-term incarnation) back again. More seriously, I’d love for someone decent to run against Fenty.

  • What Turgidson said.
    If we’re gonna go fascist, I say go all the frikkin’ way with it. I want to see urban stormtrooper death-squads shooting folks out after curfew.

    C’mon, cops. All or nothing. Go full-on martial law or shut the hell up.

  • At the Red Derby. Really drunk guy is staggering around the sidewalk harassing everyone that walks by. Not an emergency but needs to be dealt with, since it’s the kind of situation that could easily become an ugly fight.

    I walk to the corner of Spring Road where there’s a cop parked. I tell him what’s going on. He says: “Sorry that’s not in my district, but I’ll call someone.”

    He’s right, Spring Road is the boundary. But really. He wasn’t doing shit. Nor did anyone else show up within the next hour, and it very nearly did get ugly. Someone finally got sick of him and shoved him, luckily other people prevented it from getting bad.

    We don’t need roadblocks.

    We need cops who give a shit.

    Instead of roadblocks, all hands on deck, and all manner of other gimmicky things that make some people feel good but accomplish nothing, how about reinforcing the the cops that at the end of they day they are there TO SERVE. If there is a problem DEAL WITH IT, even if you think it’s a minor one.

    I see cops “stationed” all over the place. Meaning, sitting on the corner of 14th and Spring waiting for a gun to go off. Why are they moving around? Why won’t they even lift a finger to address a potentially volatile sitaution one block away because it happens to be in another district?

  • I would be supportive of the tactic if it actually worked. But what it really does is hold up the law abiding citizens who want to get home/groceries/to work. The “bad guys” will just find somewhere else or some other way around around the check point. Check points don’t really work out of the country (Iraq, Israel etc) what makes anyone think they would work here?

  • I find it interesting that the pollsters favor road blocks (thus far) but the comments are almost entirely against such tactics.

  • To be 100% honest, I quickly voted “yes” without thinking but then read the comments and realized “no” was probably the better answer.

    On another note, I was down in Charleston, SC the other week, sitting buy the pool eavesdropping on a pair of guys talking about Washington DC. One said that his brother was a police officer in Washington, and barely does anything all day. He said they keep a portable DVD player in their cruiser to watch movies while on duty. I presume it is like the one I set up for my daughter on road trips. He also said his brother told him that he often takes “the long way” to a call b/c hopefully someone else gets their first. They were laughing while talking about this, but I was getting angry… I wonder how prevalent this is…

  • I’m in favor of what works. Celebrating fewer triumphs over rhetoric and more triumphs over criminals would be A-OK from my end.

    I haven’t read the DC Circuit opinion yet, but I’m hoping to find the time to do so today. While I fully support ensuring that law enforcement operates within the bounds of the Constitution, it’s somewhat sad that my first thought upon reading this story was that this decision will be leveraged politically (and fully so) by Mendelson to continue to take half-measures to deal with the very real problems of crime in the District.

  • I think it was a good idea – if you don’t want to tell the police why you’re headed into the hood, you’re probably planning to do something wrong.

  • I voted yes, because I view the issue differently. I don’t think there is any American of any background that supports a police state, that’s obvious. I also don’t like going through police checkpoints and feel violated when I do (this was definitely the case while going through a random check point at 6th and Kennedy a few weeks back).

    I’m no legal scholar and clearly the courts do not agree with my opinion, but to me there is no difference between a sobriety checkpoint and the checkpoints in Trinidad. If drunk driving gets out of control in a particular community it makes sense for the police to set up reasonable prevention methods such as a checkpoint. If violent crime is out of control in a neighborhood the police should be able to use the same tactic for a similar goal.

    Also, I picked a random corner in the middle of the neighborhood to measure the changes in crime stats (Queen Street & Trinidad Ave NE 1500 ft). Homicides are actually up by 1 YOY (3 to 4), but total violent crime is down 33% (107 to 72). In this case, I think the end justifies the means.


  • > I’m no legal scholar and clearly the courts do not agree with my opinion, but to me there is no difference between a sobriety checkpoint and the checkpoints in Trinidad.

    Weren’t the Trinidad checkpoint set up to exclude those who didn’t have a “reason” to be there? The sobriety (or other random) checkpoints check ensure that you have a license, insurance, aren’t drunk, etc. They don’t keep you from moving.

  • @ Just J in reference to your final paragraph that ‘the end justifies the means’ – the last checkpoint was last summer, so looking at the crime stats for the past year likely has no correlation to roadblocking the neighborhood. those statistics are showing something else….(and crime didn’t necessarily go down during the checkpoints).

    if the police can get out of their cars for a checkpoint assignment, we should expect them to get out of their cars for true beat patrols.

  • “I don’t think there is any American of any background that supports a police state, that’s obvious.”

    See Dee Montgomery Pennyworth’s comment immediately above yours – there are plenty of Americans who see nothing wrong with constant police surveillance and harassment. They may not propose it themselves, but they
    won’t fight it, either.

    They just want to feel safe – no matter how unrealistic their fears are, or how self-serving and ineffective the heavy-handed “solutions” being offered are.

  • I don’t understand all of the fuss. Trinidad is very nice, the white sandy beaches are excellent.

  • To the above poster about watching movies…. I’ve seen cops watching tv/DVDs before too. Several months ago, a cop sitting on Champlain (where several shootings have occurred) was watching Family Guy in his car. And just this past weekend, a car parked in the alley next to the Safeway on Columbia Rd had a baseball game streaming on the computer.

  • M and Jamie brought up good points, which both made me realize that I should have done a little more research before arguing for the checkpoints. According to the Wash times, the NSZ program (checkpoints) “allowed police to bar drivers of vehicles who did not live in Trinidad or have a reason for being there from entering the neighborhood.” I was mistakenly under the impression that they were stopping and questioning, but BARRING definitely crosses a constitutional line and I don’t support that.

    Jamie pointed out that the stats didn’t match the time period of the NSZ program. I again mistakenly thought that the checkpoints were in effect from last year up until now. They were actually only used in June and part July of 2008. The stats still support the benefit of the program though; June 2008 was down 40% YOY, July was down 21% YOY.


  • Last year, I snapped a photo on my phone of a cop sleeping in his car while he was at a rockblock near Eastern Market on a Sunday afternoon. He was hard at work… I should see if I still have it.

  • No, Dee Montgomerry pennyworth ( “- if you don’t want to tell the police why you’re headed into the hood, you’re probably planning to do something wrong.)” It means I’m supporting and enjoying the Constitutional rights of the United States.

  • Man, I hate it when the police goof off when they should be working! It’s like when I’ve got a deadline at work and instead of getting it done, I’m entering comments … in … PoP. Hmm. Nevermind.

  • What’s most depressing about this is the decision by the city to waste taxpayer dollars to litigate something that anyone who has taken a civics class would know is unconstitutional. Much like the similarly stupid fight to keep the old gun ban law, and ironically strike down better written handgun ban laws in the process, what DC residents should really gather from this is that our Mayor and his crack legal staff are happy to spend our taxes on lost causes as long as they get enough publicity for themselves.

  • Buck Turgison is wrong because what he described never happened in Trinidad.

    Anyone care to write about what the checkpoints really were rather than someone’s paranoid fantasy of what they were?

  • Anyone who calls the police checkpoints fascist has no idea what the word fascist means. You all write like you’re 12 years old and Mom won’t let you drive her car.

    Similar checkpoints are legally enacted throughout the suburbs and if I have to live in the suburbs to avoid being shot at I will.

    Nothing in the checkpoints was unconstitutional and I know very well what I’m talking about.

  • I would personally like to have check points in my neighborhood, hell I want them even on my street. I also want that gigantic spot light we sometime have on the corner every night for a year straight. There are too many people coming in/out only to buy drugs, dirty up the streets and harass the people that live here. On a positive note the MPD have been representing these past 4-5 days, police cars, bike cops, and even the segway cops 🙂

  • imoan,
    how much in taxes are you willing to pay for all that? With all you mentioned, we’d be working for paystubs.

  • Let’s see, Neener or a panel of the DC Appeals Court with about 50 years legal experience… hmmm… I wonder who has a better handle on what is unconstitutional?

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