Vice Squad
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
High School Drug Sweep Fallout

The outrageous drug sweep last week at a South Carolina high school
involving 14 police officers, some with guns drawn, continues to provoke
controversy. (Why should it be controversial? -- it was so clearly wrong-
headed!) Here's the latest story from the Charleston Post and Courier
(registration required). As a reminder, some 100 or more students were
forced onto the ground, some handcuffed, while their bags were checked.
(Vice Squad's original post on this story is here.) School officials continue
to avoid stating the obvious -- this was a dangerous, hamfisted and completely
unnecessary operation. Among other things it will foment a good deal of ill
will towards the police and the school administration.

Though drugs should not be illegal, they are, and in almost any imaginable
regime, they will remain illegal for people of high school age. So if the
school administration believes that there is a drug problem, they should
take steps to address it. Here, the administration suspected certain students,
but instead of dealing with those students directly -- questioning them, searching
their bags and lockers, posting teachers or guards (the school has guards)
nearby their morning hangouts -- they have this general over-the-top search
by police. Terrible judgment.

No drugs were found in the search. This fact played an important role in how the
media fallout has been developing, but I don't think it should. What if a couple
kids were found with a little pot in their bags? Would that have justified this
operation? No. Even if you think underage marijuana use is a terrible thing, the
right approach is the one above -- deal with the students with whom you have
(what you consider) good reason to be suspicious.

Here's a sample from the Post and Courier article linked above:

"Shortly after Sam sat down in the cafeteria, a coach came up and told the students at his table to put their hands on the table. When the students asked why, they were told it was the principal's orders.

Then a police officer came over and bound Sam's hands behind his back with yellow restraints, took him into the hallway and told him to face the wall as a dog smelled his bag. He watched as his binders and folders were dumped out on the floor.

Then the principal, George McCrackin, patted him down, checked his shoes and took out his wallet, asking him where he got the approximately $100 he was carrying, Sam said. The student said he told McCrackin he had just gotten paid at his job at KFC.

'The people I hang out with are not drug dealers,' Sam said. 'We play basketball. We have nice clothes because we have jobs.'

Down the hall, Josh was standing with his friends when he heard a rustling and felt something hit him in the back. When he turned around, he said, he saw a police officer standing behind him with his gun drawn.

'He told me to get down on the ground,' said Josh, who then was instructed to put his hands behind his head and stay down.

Sam and Josh said that when the search was over, police told them that any innocent bystanders in the crowd should blame the search on the people bringing drugs to school. Then the students who had been bound were released and told to go to class."

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