ACLU, NRA Join in Call for Curbs on Federal Police Power
WASHINGTON (AP) _ In an unusual alliance, gun-rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union banded together and urged new controls Tuesday to prevent abuse of power by federal law officers.
The coalition cited the bloody confrontations at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, as examples of increasing misuse of deadly force and military-style tactics by federal agents.
``We want change before there are more Wacos and Ruby Ridges,″ Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington office, told a news conference.
In a letter to congressional leaders, the 14-member coalition called for a national commission to review federal law enforcement policies and reassert constitutional rights.
The group also wants the government to create a permanent oversight board _ akin to the citizens’ review boards that oversee many local police departments _ to watch over federal police agencies.
Justice Department officials say Congress already provides the necessary oversight. The Waco and Ruby Ridge standoffs have been reviewed in several Hill hearings. At a hearing last week, the Clinton administration announced new rules to clarify when federal agents are authorized to shoot.
``The citizens of this country know how law enforcement works and they can speak through the electorate, rather than have another layer of bureaucracy,″ said Justice spokesman John Russell.
He noted that the coalition had brought up many of the same issues in a letter to President Clinton in January 1994, and met with Justice officials. ``We don’t agree,″ he said.
The coalition’s strange bedfellows include the National Rifle Association, the criminal defense attorneys and the National Black Police Association _ groups that are often at odds over law enforcement issues. Last year, for example, the NRA favored a federal ``three strikes″ law mandating life sentences for three-time felons; the ACLU opposed it.
But the informal coalition has been working together for more than two years on issues of common concern.
The members are united in opposition to provisions of the crime and terrorism bills now before Congress that would make it easier to obtain search warrants, expand the use of wiretaps and increase police powers in other areas.
``I come here with a healthy skepticism and a discomfort in being present in a coalition with some of these groups,″ said Gerald Goldstein, immediate past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. ``But the issues that unite us far outweigh the differences.″
William Moffett, treasurer of the defense lawyers’ group, said he hoped the coalition would shed new light on law enforcement abuses that have gone unchecked in minority communities.
``Ruby Ridge-type incidents occur in minority neighborhoods every day,″ said Moffett, who is black.
The 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge ended in the deaths of a deputy U.S. marshal and the wife and son of white separatist Randy Weaver.
Conflicting reports about mistakes made by the FBI at Ruby Ridge prove that law enforcement agencies cannot be trusted to investigate themselves, the group’s letter said.
The group called on Congress and the president to:
_Clarify and tighten rules that govern use deadly force.
_Re-examine laws governing when the military can assist police.
_Allow officers to use ``dynamic entry″ _ bursting through doors without first knocking and identifying themselves _ only under the most critical circumstances.
_More severely punish law officers who lie or mislead the courts when applying for search warrants.
_Pass legislation to void a Supreme Court decision allowing evidence obtained under faulty search warrants to be used in court if police acted in ``good faith.″
_Require law officers to consult qualified scholars when dealing with ideological or religious groups, such as in the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco.