What is wrong with the police in Helmetta, New Jersey?! As you may have heard there was an incident where one of their part-time officers said, “Obama has decimated the frigging Constitution, so I don’t give a damn. Because if he doesn’t have to follow the Constitution, we don’t have to.” But that’s not what I’m talking about. The officer, Richard Recine, has since claimed that he was being sarcastic. And you all know me: I’m not keen on the law enforcement community and I am usually the first to blast them. But I actually believe Recine. Well, mostly.
If you watch the whole video, you can see a situation developing. Steve Wronko is some kind of animal rights activist and he has taken to shooting video inside of animal shelters. And like most politically involved people, he’s passionate and annoying. Actually, he’s more annoying than that. Because he doesn’t seem as interested in doing what he came there to do as he is in having this confrontation with the officer. He has been given the okay to go around and collect his video footage. Yet he doesn’t.
So I can see that Recine is getting more and more agitated. But I’m so used to police agitation leading to choke holds, tasers, and hails of bullets that this confrontation seems downright charming. At one point, the Police Director comes in to see what’s going on. Wronko asks him his name, and the man says, “Bob.” Again, this is not usual for a police department. Usually it is something like, “Police Director Bob Manney!” Or worse: something coarse and belligerent.
Then Manney says that if Wronko is being disruptive, he will have to leave. And Recine comes to his defense, “No. He’s not being disruptive.” But soon enough, it all does get a bit unpleasant as the police escort Wronko out of the building. They had a disagreement about exactly what Wronko’s rights were. But what’s interesting is that earlier on, Recine had okayed for Wronko to record in the building with the animal shelter, but not the offices. As far as I could tell, Wronko was making the argument that if a building was public, he could go anywhere he wants. I think that’s a misreading of the law, but I’m all for people pushing the limits of access. I just don’t see this really being the way to do it: waving around papers with “case law” in front of police officers.
Regardless, I thought the whole thing was handled pretty well. In general, the police are not interested in the Constitution. The Constitution is not a simple document and it has over 200 years of decisions based upon that. I’m sure it is annoying to the police to have people quoting the Fourth Amendment to them. So I think what happens here is that Officer Recine is annoyed and so he says, “We don’t need no stinking Constitution.” Whether Recine actually thinks that Obama has “decimated” or not, I can’t say. He claims to be a Democrat, and he may well have been conflating the conservative ideologues who claim this about Obama and this guy who seems equally extreme. It hardly matters. It is certainly true that Recine did not literally mean that the department didn’t have to follow the Constitution.