Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jan 2005
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2005 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Where should society draw the line between your right to privacy and the 
prerogative of the police to butt into your affairs to maintain law and 
order? Two recent developments - one local, the other national - raise that 

Milwaukee police have announced they are weighing putting cameras on 
streets to monitor activity in high-crime neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the 
nation's top court has ruled that, in the course of a routine traffic stop, 
the police may sic a drug-sniffing dog on your car, so long as they're 
quick about it.

Surveillance cameras in public places are, by now, a fact of life we may as 
well get used to. But law-abiding motorists shouldn't have to get used to 
police canines sniffing at their cars, as they might under the Supreme 
Court's unfortunate ruling.

To judge from some on-the-street commentary, some residents think that 
police surveillance cameras would invade their privacy (while others 
support the idea). The only trouble with that notion is that you shouldn't 
have an expectation of privacy in public. Private surveillance cameras 
inside and outside stores already abound - and for good reason: to combat 

The police, whose mission is to combat crime, may as well get in on the 
act. The relevant question is how effective such monitoring is. Other 
cities have resorted to surveillance cameras, and a few have abandoned 
them, finding them not to be worth the effort.

But if Milwaukee police determine that cameras help in fighting crime, 
qualms about personal privacy need not deter them. Still, the police should 
monitor these monitors - in part to make doubly sure they don't infringe on 

Police, however, should hesitate to have dogs sniff out drugs in cars on 
the highway without any reasonable suspicion the vehicles are carrying 
narcotics, despite the Supreme Court's stamp of approval on the practice.

The court reasoned that, as long as police don't unduly detain a motorist 
to wait for a narcotics-detecting dog, the practice is constitutional, 
overturning an Illinois Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Central to 
the high court's reasoning was that the dogs only sniffed out drugs, which 
are illegal to possess, and thus wouldn't have police rummaging through the 
private belongings of innocent people.

But Justice David Souter noted in a dissenting opinion that the dogs do 
have high error rates and thus could subject the cars of innocent people to 
searches. And noting that the dogs can be intimidating, Justice Ruth Bader 
Ginsburg rightly warned: "Under today's decision, every traffic stop could 
become an occasion to call in the dogs, to the distress and embarrassment 
of the law-abiding population."

Surveillance cameras in public places - yes. Dogs sniffing drugs in cars 
without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing - no.
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