It’s been 144 years since Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the first working telephone.
These days, telephones are so common and available to the masses that most people carry actual phones in their pockets!
So there’s no excuse for the state Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services (aided by the U.S. Postal Service) not to have picked up a phone and notified Schenectady police and the operators of a historically Black church in the city about its plans to stage a raid from the church parking lot on a home next to the church.
This type of secrecy and lack of communication with local officials could have created a dangerous situation in the neighborhood.
It would have been inappropriate and appalling under normal circumstances.
But given the fragile nature of race relations in America, particularly relating to law enforcement and its relationship to the Black community, and given the excessive abuse of power by federal officers in quelling Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Ore., this past week, it’s all the more important for all law enforcement to be upfront about their motivations and encounters with citizens in local communities.
At the very least, state officials should have given Schenectady police a head’s-up that they were going to raid a home within the city. Chief Eric Clifford said his office was only notified after the raid had started shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Why wouldn’t the state government at least share information about the impending raid with local law enforcement?
The lack of notification is more than about common courtesy. In fact, it’s not about courtesy at all.
Had the state authorities notified local police beforehand, local officers could have provided important information to them about the home under suspicion and its occupants, about the neighborhood itself and the proximity of civilians who might possibly be endangered if the raid had gotten violent.
They could have helped monitor the home for activity, directed any traffic away from the area and ensured the state team that there was no one in the church or the parking lot who could have been mistakenly identified as a suspect in the raid.
Depending on how vital it was that they maintain absolute secrecy (and judging by the obvious presence of black SUVs around the home prior to the raid, they didn’t), the state Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Service and the U.S. Postal Service also could have notified clerical leaders of Mt. Olivet at Missionary Baptist Church about the use of the church parking lot for the staging of the raid so they could have ensured that no one would be around to interfere.
We’re not saying police need to get on a bullhorn and drive down the road announcing their presence whenever they serve a warrant. The element of surprise is often vital to making an arrest and protecting the public. So we don’t advocate hamstringing police in the execution of their duties.
But in many cases, including this one, notification and cooperation with local authorities could help make their activities go smoother and avoid unintended casualties.
One of the objections raised about the federal authorities’ role in Portland, Ore., and the threat to use these troops in other major cities, is the lack of coordination with local government officials and law enforcement.
Armed, unidentifiable military organizations sneaking into cities and executing raids on private homes without informing local police and elected officials is a dangerous step down a slippery slope.
Everyone from the governor on down needs to demand a change in the way federal and state authorities conduct themselves when they operate in our local communities.