Thursday, September 30, 2010

Traffic stops that aren't what they seem

Via BoingBoing, we learn of a traffic stop technique that's out to con the criminal . . . and perhaps the law-abiding as well.

Returning from a trip along one of our nation’s most highly trafficked interstates, I-20, I happened across this foreboding sign. I didn’t have any bud on me at the time, but if you’re anything like me, you usually take a few bowls with you on road trips. Almost instinctively, I pulled over.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. They were going to shut down the entire interstate to check for suspicious vehicles and persons, as if crossing into Louisiana were crossing the Mexican border? Bienvenue en Louisiane, indeed.

After snapping a few shots of the sign, I pulled back onto the highway, ready to take additional pictures once I arrived at the checkpoint. However, the checkpoint never surfaced. Now I understand why:

The local sheriff’s office had established the signs as a “ruse” to direct motorists to exit off the highway after viewing the warning of the upcoming DUI/Narcotics checkpoint. In fact, there was no checkpoint further down I-40. Instead, the sheriff set up a checkpoint at the end of the ramp of the first exit available to motorists after the posted signs, an exit not frequently used since no services were offered at the exit.

There's more at the link.

A Federal court has found some serious legal issues with such ruses:

We believe that the danger inherent in pretextual roadblocks is the potential for giving police the authority to stop every car on the road, question its driver and passengers under the guise of a legitimate traffic related purpose, and then claim enough reasonable suspicion through, for example, the driver’s expression or answers, to conduct a more thorough search of the stopped individuals and vehicles for drugs with insufficient limitations on police discretion.

Again, more at the link.

I'm sure none of the fine, upstanding readers of this blog would dream of using illegal narcotic substances. Nevertheless, if you come across such a sign on your travels . . . now you know. I have grave reservations about just how big Big Brother's intrusiveness is getting, and this is yet another sign of it.



Jess said...

The set up those "checkpoints" for months on IH 10 near Beaumont, Texas a few years ago. The sign was past the last exit for miles, but before an emergency crossover, which is only intended for authorized vehicles. When someone used the crossover, they were immediately pulled over by a patrol car on the other side of the interstate.

From what I gathered, they probably collected thousands in revenue from people with expired license plates, inspections and insurance. Of course, there was the additional fine of using the crossover and the occassional drunk. Money was made by all of the entities involved, which seems to be a little outside the reason for law enforcement.

These checkpoints were the second phase of actual checkpoints they used before. The last one I knew of was on the interstate, which caused a traffic backup that stretched for miles. There was an ugly reaction by the general public and plenty of threats for lawsuits.

I'm not an attorney, but I'd think there were grounds for tort relief if someone was injured due to a traffic accident in on of these fishing expeditions. The interstate is dangerous enough, without the added distraction of fake checkpoints.

Rich said...

A couple of days ago here in Maine, a county sheriff set up a roadblock on a state highway (route 100 in the town of Gray) to check driver's license status.


I have enough reservations about roadblocks on holidays to stop drunk drivers, but this is an entirely different ball game.

Both of these tactics are simply wrong. "Getting every lawbreaker whatever the cost in freedom" has gone too far.

STxRynn said...

I was on the way to Eagle Pass a few months ago, and ran across a checkpoint on a Farm-Market road. There were 3 types there, local, state, and BP. They were stopping both ways, and were checking driver's licenses. That's was about 0700 local.

Didn't bother me. I had nothing to hide, wasn't a heavily traveled road, just was a little odd.

Jesse, you really need to rethink your comment: "Money was made by all of the entities involved, which seems to be a little outside the reason for law enforcement." My dad was a police officer for over 20 years (62-85), and he saw this coming back then. The police ARE another revenue stream for the locality they serve.

When the recession started impinging on Austin's income, the traffic cops were out in droves. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a motorcycle cop with a speed gun.

HeroHog said...

Yup! They do this all the time between Shreveport and Monroe on I-20. We always laugh at it as it only catches stupid people but it DOES hassle people who actually live/work off of those exits.