From the May 2005 Idaho Observer:
National arrest initiative nets 10,340
Operation Falcon a dress rehearsal for darker police state days in America
compiled by The Idaho Observer
To kick off "Crime Victim Awareness week," The U.S. Department of Justice led a massive dragnet, which resulted in 10,340 arrests during the week of April 2, 2005. Dubbed "Operation Falcon (an acronym for Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), the event is noted as the largest law enforcement sweep in U.S. history to date. An expenditure of $900,000 was underwritten by the US Marshals’ service to pay overtime and coordinate more than 90 state, local and other federal police agencies to go out and take into custody persons with outstanding warrants.
Critics claim that Operation Falcon was a publicity stunt carefully orchestrated to generate maximum media attention. That was certainly true as the federally-coordinated event made the frontpage of every major newspaper in the country and local news stations all over the nation broadcast live-action segments of police busting down doors to make arrests. However, the massive display of coordinated police operations also send a potent message to Americans: The police state has arrived.
Since there has been no unified popular opposition to Operation Falcon, policing authorities are encouraged to increase the militancy of their activities under the direction of the executive branch of the federal government—a direct challenge to the constitutionally-provided checks and balances of political power. It is expected that from here on out, law enforcement will periodically conduct such coordinated sweeps that will eventually lead to warrantless, house-to-house searches.
The initiative was also conducted at a time when Congress was debating whether or not to extend and intensify provisions of the Patriot Act. Civil libertarians suspect that Operation Falcon was a well-timed political ploy to justify continuing the dismantling of civil liberties under the aegis of protecting Americans from terrorists—both foreign and domestic (real and imagined).
Gonzales claimed that the information sharing among state and federal police, made possible by the Patriot Act, is what made Operation Falcon so successful.
Interestingly, Operation Falcon was the subject of the first press conference Alberto Gonzales has held since his controversial confirmation as U.S. attorney general last January.
"Operation FALCON is an excellent example of President Bush’s direction and the Justice Department’s dedication to deal both with the terrorist threat and traditional violent crime," Gonzales said to the Washington, D.C. press corps. "This joint effort shows the commitment of our federal, state, and local partners to make our neighborhoods safer and it has led to the highest number of arrests ever recorded for a single initiative of its kind."
While local media dutifully parroted the "making America safer" mantra coming from Gonzales’ Justice Department, it also reported the numbers of arrests locally. The major media hype aside, spokesmen for some departments of local law enforcement have admitted off the record that the arrests could have been made during the course of normal police work.
Gonzales claimed law enforcement officers primarily targeted "violent offenders." The U.S. Marshals Service reported that, of the 10,430 Operation Falcon arrests, the list of "violent" apprehendees include 162 murder suspects, 638 suspected armed robbers, 553 sexual assault suspects, 154 suspected gang members and 68 suspected kidnappers; only 1,575 of the more than 10,000 arrests were reportedly violent offenders.
By far the largest share of those arrested were minor drug offenders. Narcotics violations accounted for fully 4,300 out of the 10,340 arrests.
In Kootenai County, Idaho, population approximately 110,000, reports approximately 5,000 outstanding arrest warrants, mostly for failing to appear in court for minor violations. This number appears to be consistent with a national trend. Police do not actively pursue leads to arrest these lowest-priority people because jails are already overcrowded.
In several areas of the country, authorities reported that the raids filled local jails to overflowing, adding to an already serious problem of jail overcrowding. Acknowledging the burden of burgeoning prison and jail populations nationwide, Deputy U.S. Marshal Ricardo Guzman commented, "We generally try to focus our resources on the baddest of the bad. We’re going after murderers, rapists, that kind of thing. On the average day, we can’t do every carjacker or person wanted on failure to pay child support."
But routine policing priorities changed for Crime Victim Awareness Week. "We decided to get as many as we can," Guzman said. "We put everybody on the street with a stack of warrants and said, ‘Start knocking on doors.’"
It was rumored that Justice Department officials intended to link the mass arrests to the "war on terrorism." However, the link was not established in the minds of Americans as none of those arrested were accused of terrorist acts. The Justice Department did explain that: "... the exercise was an opportunity to show the benefits of cooperative law enforcement in an age of terrorism."
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