Check out this comment on our blog, which accuses Flex Your Rights of compromising police work by helping serious criminals evade prosecution:
“With no physical evidence, no ability to interview the suspect, no ability to conduct a warrantless search, and no ability to develop probable cause for a search warrant, how will an investigator successfully prosecute a rape? a murder? a robbery?”
I understand that concern, but there’s a simple reason why it’s far overblown. The crimes that take the biggest toll on our communities aren’t solved through warrantless searches. Police who are investigating a rape, robbery, or murder aren’t using consent searches to investigate their suspects. Overwhelmingly, consent searches are used to attempt to discover crimes that weren’t known until the search was conducted. They have absolutely no impact on clearance rates for reported crimes.
With regards to the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination, police must give Miranda warnings before conducting a custodial interrogation anyway. Regardless of our information, or the Miranda warning, many guilty suspects will continue to confess when confronted with the evidence against them.
The situations in which our advice to remain silent is more likely to make a difference is in cases in which the police suspect a crime may be afoot, but don’t have evidence and must intimidate the suspect into self-incrimination, i.e. “If you have drugs, we’re gonna find ’em. You might as well just hand it over and we’ll go easier on you.” Again, this will have no effect on clearance rates for reported crimes, except, ironically, to the extent that this type of policing draws resources away from investigating unsolved violent crimes.
There are exceptions, of course, and the possibility that a guilty person may evade prosecution for a serious crime by asserting constitutional rights always exists regardless of our website. That’s a risk our forefathers took when drafting a constitution that’s designed to make it very hard to convict the innocent. Sometimes the guilty must go free in order to preserve the integrity of our constitutional principles and protect law-abiding citizens from the potentially life-changing consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I could go on all day about this, but the best evidence that our work isn’t undermining good police work is that police aren’t opposed to it. Many officers actively support the work that we do here. They do not, for the most part, share this dismal assessment of the potential harms contained in public know-your-rights education, for the reasons listed above, among others. We’ve gotten a few angry emails from law-enforcement, but far more that are appreciative. Our supporters include former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, National Black Police Association President Ronald Hampton, and many other current and former law enforcement professionals.
Good police work seldom requires that the suspect foolishly waive constitutional rights or recklessly incriminate him/herself. We’ve accompanied on-duty law-enforcement around Washington D.C. and observed urban police work first-hand. At no point did 4th or 5th amendment protections become an obstacle to the officers we spent time with, and we dealt with some very serious incidents.
In sum, we’ve put a considerable amount of thought and research into the implications of our work and concluded that the benefits far outweigh the potential costs. Over the past five years, that conclusion has been thoroughly supported by the feedback we’ve received from both police and the public.