FPD and other law enforcement agencies in St. Louis County use a system of “wanteds” or “stop orders” as a substitute for seeking judicial approval for an arrest warrant. When officers believe a person has committed a crime but are not able to immediately locate that person, they can enter a “wanted” into the statewide law enforcement database, indicating to all other law enforcement agencies that the person should be arrested if located. While wanteds are supposed to be based on probable cause, see FPD General Order 424.01, they operate as an end-run around the judicial system. Instead of swearing out a warrant and seeking judicial authorization from a neutral and detached magistrate, officers make the probable cause determination themselves and circumvent the courts. Officers use wanteds for serious state-level crimes and minor code violations alike, including traffic offenses. FPD command staff express support for the wanted system, extolling the benefits of being able to immediately designate a person for detention. But this expedience carries constitutional risks. If officers enter wanteds into the system on less than probable cause, then the subsequent arrest would violate the Fourth Amendment. Our interviews with command staff and officers indicate that officers do not clearly understand the legal authority necessary to issue a wanted. [My underlines]
At times, FPD officers use wanteds not merely in spite of a lack of probable cause, but because they lack probable cause. In December 2014, a Ferguson detective investigating a shooting emailed a county prosecutor to see if a warrant for a suspect could be obtained, since “a lot of state agencies won’t act on a wanted.” The prosecutor responded stating that although “[c]hances are” the crime was committed by the suspect, “we just don’t have enough for a warrant right now.” The detective responded that he would enter a wanted.This right here should land a LOT of people in jail. There is a constitutional requirement for a warrant. Interactions with the justice system rests on probable cause. For a department to officially implement practices that directly contravene the 4th amendment is extremely problematic. Any and every official that wrote up, signed off on, voted for or were otherwise involved with such a policy ought to removed from office AND brought up on Civil Rights violations.