When police in Sarasota, Florida were having a hard time tracking down drug dealers in a run-down apartment complex, they came up with a solution that police departments across the country must now be kicking themselves for not having thought up themselves: Just search everyone.
[T]he agency tried something it had never done before. It sought permission from a judge to search anyone and everyone who parked or set foot in the apartment complex parking lot.
More than a dozen officers and the city’s SWAT team flooded the area. They had permission to detain and pat down anyone they saw in the area.
During the two-hour raid, a dozen people were searched and, even though officers justified the wide search by telling a judge no “innocent persons” congregated in the abandoned lot, only four people were charged with drug crimes. An 80-year-old man was among those detained, then released, during the operation.
A year later, the decision by Sarasota police to use an “all persons” warrant is being questioned by legal experts who say it gave officers unjustified power to search citizens with no evidence they were committing a crime.
In court this week, Judge Rochelle Curley upheld the legality of the search warrant. But an attorney for one of the men arrested outside the Mediterranean Apartments has vowed to push the case to the district court of appeal.
Those involved say a decision by the higher court could lead to a new precedent for police searches in Florida, essentially banning such broad searches or signaling approval for more widespread use.
The good news is that though the searches may have been an appalling violation of the Fourth Amendment, they were also wildly successful. For the last two years, Sarasota has been 100 percent drug-free.