Phoenix, Ariz. (CBS LAS VEGAS) — Arizona law enforcement organizations are continuing to push legislation that would allow police to search convicted criminals who are on parole or probation – without a warrant.
Spearheaded by the Arizona Sheriffs Association, the issue has created a rift between those saying it would solve safety concerns created by overburdened probation officers, but critics argue that the bill would violate the constitutional rights of parolees and those on probation. According to the Arizona Republic, this is the second effort to push the legislation, after state Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, failed to gather support for it during the last legislative session.
As the law stands today, only probation officers can search a probationer or parolee without cause, Lt. Tom Boelts of the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office told the Republic. In addition to the 3,000 probation officers and 15,000 peace officers in the state, the proposal would expand the same warrantless searches to any law enforcement official.
Parolee and probationer’s vehicles, homes or person would all be subject to warrantless searches without cause under the proposed legislation.
Boelts says he has supported the proposed law since 2010, and has the combined support of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, the Arizona County Attorneys and Sheriffs Association and the Arizona Narcotics Officers Association.
“When you look at the shootings that have taken place just with law-enforcement officers recently … all those people were either on parole or probation,” Jim Molesa, a chief deputy of the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office, told the Republic. “There’s some correlation there, because if you’re a person on probation and you know that every police officer that you run into has the ability to search you, I think you behave differently than if you just know that your probation officer can search you.”
According to the National Institute of Corrections, the crime rate in Arizona from 2011 data is about 25 percent higher than the national average rate, with property crimes accounting for around 90 percent of the crime rate in Arizona, which is about 26 percent higher than the national rate. The remaining 10 percent are violent crimes, which are nearly 17 percent higher than any other states.
The Community Corrections Bureau under the Arizona Department of Corrections supervised an average of 5,668 parolees in 2011, according to NIC data. All Arizona probationers are supervised by county offices which are overseen by the Adult Probation Services Division under the Arizona Judicial Branch. As of November 2011, Arizona had 81,826 probationers.
And there is plenty of ongoing opposition to proposal rooted in questions of constitutional rights.
“We totally oppose that legislation,” Lu Ebratt, president of the Arizona Probation Officers Association and executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Arizona, told the Republic. “The system isn’t broken. There’s no practical need for this.”
“Are they (probationers) suspect because they’re on probation, or are they suspect because they’re actually doing something suspect?” Ebratt questioned, rhetorically. “In that lies the rub where you get overreaching … law enforcement.”
Ebratt noted that he and other detractors of the bill could get behind it if law enforcement officials were required to first notify and obtain consent from the probation department prior to conducting searches of parolees and probationers. He also says that probation officers should be present for such searches.