Thursday, March 09, 2006

Have a Nice Day, Peasant

Via Mark Shea we read about this Texas program to compliment good drivers. Texas police are pulling over drivers to praise their good driving habits:
Deputy Taylor says they're not trying to scare anyone. Deputies will simply wave to good drivers and politely ask them to pull over to the side.

"What I'm trying to focus on, and the only thing I'm trying to focus on, is rewarding someone for good driving. There are going to be some people who are not going to like it because the only experience they have with law enforcement is negative," Taylor said.
What a bunch of baloney. First off, the story itself talks about flashing lights and driver fear of being given a ticket. The police are "politely asking" good drivers to pull over just as they "politely ask" bank robbers and drunks to pull over. But that's not the real problem.

If the Travis County Sheriff wants to compliment good drivers, why not put up a website or publish a congratulatory advertisement in the local paper? Why not have officers take down license plate numbers and send the owners a complimentary letter enclosing free tickets? Because those things won't let the Travis County Sheriff's Department do what it's really out there to do -- shred the Constitution, if only just a little bit of it.

What this department is doing is conducting spot-searches of vehicles and their occupants under the guise of a "traffic safety program." Ordinarily, for the police to detain individuals for any length of time, police must have a "reasonable and articulable suspicion" that the individual is involved in a violation of the law. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). (There are exceptions -- wrong ones, I think -- for random roadblocks which sieze everyone's car in an announced and carefully-regulated manner, but that's not happening here). Under this "howdy good driver" program, the police get to pull people over for doing the right thing -- which means for no reason whatsoever.

While handing out free sports tickets, of course, the deputies get to scan the inside of the car. They get to observe the occupants and see if they're acting "nervous" or "furtively" putting things under the seat. (Just this morning I "furtively" put my cell phone under the drivers' seat because my door locks stopped working and I didn't want my phone snitched). Maybe they'll ask for drivers' licenses so they can record who they spoke to, and run a warrant check or two. And anything "suspicious" they find instantly expands their power to search and detain.

Upon finding something untoward, the officers can order (or "politely ask") the occupants to get out of the car and stand on the side of the road. They can pat down the occupants for "officer safety." They can look inside the passenger compartment to see if there are weapons or trussed-up bank presidents. And again, anything "suspicious" they find instantly expands their power to search and detain.

This is "have a nice day" tyranny, and it bothers me. The usual defense for conduct like this boils down to saying that the guilty have nothing to hide. It's not about whether the guilty have anything to hide. It's about whether our country is governed by laws that restrict power. If it is, then the guilty can hide anything they damn well want to hide until the law lets the police uncover it. If it's not, then look foward to the police entering your house without a warrant in order to compliment you on the fact that they didn't find any marijuana in your dresser drawers.

1 comment:

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