Pretextual Searches on the Interstate

Assumptions of racial animus are overshadowing a story that's outrageous enough on its own.

This USA Today syndication of a Delaware News Journal report (“Delaware State University ‘incensed’ after lacrosse team’s bus searched in Georgia“) is making the rounds.

A college women’s lacrosse team feels traumatized after its charter bus was stopped by police while traveling through Georgia, an incident that has left the school’s president “incensed.”

The Delaware State University women’s lacrosse team was traveling north on I-95 in Liberty County, Georgia, southwest of Savannah, on April 20. The Hornets were returning home after playing their final game of the season at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, on April 19.

Bus driver Tim Jones was initially told he was improperly traveling in the left lane when the bus was pulled over, according to DSU’s student publication The Hornet Newspaper and its website thehornetonline.com. The incident was first detailed there in a story that published Friday written by Sydney Anderson, a sophomore lacrosse player who was on the bus.

Video accompanying the story taken by DSU player Saniya Craft shows an officer saying, “If there is anything in y’all’s luggage, we’re probably gonna find it, OK? I’m not looking for a little bit of marijuana but I’m pretty sure you guys’ chaperones are probably gonna be disappointed in you if we find any.”

By that time, Liberty County Sheriff’s Office deputies had begun removing players’ bags from the vehicle’s cargo bay to search after asking Jones to open it. Police had a drug-sniffing dog at the scene.

Deputies knew those on board were on a lacrosse team.

In a public address Tuesday afternoon in Hinesville, Georgia – a small, southeasterncity south of Savannah – Liberty County Sheriff William Bowman defended the stop.

He said after speaking with deputies and reviewing video and other facts of the incident, he does “not believe any racial profiling took place.”

“Before entering the motorcoach, the deputies were not aware that this school was historically Black or aware of the race or the occupants due to the height of the vehicle and tint of the windows,” Bowman said.

“As a veteran, a former Georgia state trooper and the sheriff for this department, I do not exercise racial profiling, allow racial profiling or encourage racial profiling.”

Bowman said Tuesday that “no personal items on the bus or person(s) were searched” – negating the accounts of multiple people on the bus.

The law enforcement personnel on and outside the bus were white in photos and video accompanying thehornetonline.com’s account. Most, but not all, of the players and coaches on the bus were Black. Bowman is Black.

“If there is something in there that’s questionable,” the deputy speaking on the bus said, “please tell me now, because if we find it, guess what? We’re not gonna be able to help you.”

[…]

During the stop, the officer told those on the bus that “marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.” He then mentioned, “anything you can put marijuana in” to smoke it or devices used to weigh it “like a set of scales,” suggesting they are also unlawful without actually saying so.

[…]

“To be clear,” Allen wrote, “nothing illegal was discovered in this search, and all of our coaches and student-athletes comported themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process.” 

In a joint statement, Delaware U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester termed the situation “deeply disturbing.”

“No one should be made to feel unsafe or humiliated by law enforcement or any entity who has sworn to protect and serve them,” the statement read. “That’s especially true for students who have sought out HBCUs like Delaware State University with a long history of empowering communities of color that have far too often faced discrimination and other barriers to opportunity.”

The reporting and commentary are focusing on the racial aspect of the case, which is hardly unreasonable given the history of the rural South. But we have no direct proof of that from the video and it’s not implausible that the officers had no idea that Delaware State was an HBCU when they pulled it over.

But here’s the thing: this would be outrageous if it was the University of Delaware water polo team. Which, having made up, I can stipulate is all-White.

Pretextual stops are simply outrageous. By claiming the driver committed a minor traffic violation (for which he ultimately wasn’t actually cited) the officers are somehow free to have drug-sniffing dogs conduct a search, absent any probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Indeed, as occasional OTB contributor Butch Bracknell pointed out in another forum, if a dog sniffs out drugs under this scenario, that itself constitutes probable cause in a court of law. It stands the 4th Amendment on its head.

Beyond that, even assuming the officers here were not racially motivated, the attempt to intimidate American citizens who were under no suspicion of wrongdoing into handing over drug paraphernalia—or actually opening one student’s wrapped graduation present just for the sheer hell of it—is just bullying that we shouldn’t tolerate from our public servants.

It’s my longstanding position that local yokel cops like the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department should not be allowed to make traffic stops on Interstate highways. They tend to be poorly trained, corrupt, and mostly to exist for the purpose of revenue extraction. Allowing them to target vehicles with out-of-state tags is essentially giving them a license to steal. Let federal police and state highway patrol enforce the law on the Interstates.

An even more longstanding but less firmly-rooted position I’ve had is that it makes no sense for local law to apply on the Interstate. If the possession of marijuana and various paraphernalia is legal in Florida and in Delaware, residents of one state should be able to travel to the other with their stash without fear of being arrested because it’s illegal in an intervening state. It’s simply absurd to expect citizens embarking on a cross-country trip to research the laws of every state—and locality!—they pass through to ensure there’s nothing in their stowed luggage that could get them arrested.

And, yes, all of this is obviously rendered more outrageous if racial animus is layered on top.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Fourth Amendment, Law and the Courts, U.S. Constitution
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DK says:

    …it makes no sense for local law to apply on the Interstate. If the possession of marijuana and various paraphernalia is legal in Florida and in Delaware, residents of one state should be able to travel to the other with their stash without fear of being arrested because it’s illegal in an intervening state.

    This is a really good point. Maybe only applicable to commerce-related violations, and/or victimless crimes. Wouldn’t local authorities have to handle, say, homicides that happen on the Instertate?

    Don’t know how or where you’d draw such jurisdictional lines, but still think this is a good point.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @DK: It’s not a fully-fleshed-out idea, to be sure. Obviously, if you’re smoking marijuana on the Interstate while driving through Georgia, you’re going to be subject to Georgia law. But it seems bizarre to me that merely possessing it—let alone in a suitcase in the cargo hold of a bus—should be punishable if you’re not a Georgia resident.

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  3. Mu Yixiao says:

    @DK:

    Wouldn’t local authorities have to handle, say, homicides that happen on the Instertate.

    Dispatchers decide who gets sent, and are very aware of the various jurisdictions.

    State police/state patrol would most likely be the LEOs dispatched to the scene. They would then decide if they would handle it or hand it over to local police.

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  4. Chris says:

    This kind of police action subverts trust in law enforcement. However, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to preclude local law enforcement from our interstate highways. I can tell you that state troopers are nowhere to be found in high density traffic areas in Florida. As such, it’s left to county sheriff’s deputies or municipal police officers to patrol and respond to problems on these areas of our interstates. Furthermore, while Florida’s state government is all for funding “election police,” it is not significantly increasing the number of state troopers to handle the heavy work load on our crowded interstates. For now, I’d settle for all police authorities being held accountable for abusing their power and just have them focus on protecting and serving the people.

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  5. KM says:

    On one of the recent threads, I noted that women now have an extra reason to fear BS Pretextual stops in anti-abortion states. This sort of thing happens all the time now and we’re giving power-mad bullies an extra cudgel to smack innocents with? Pretextual stops allow for so much abuse and corruption; they let locals seize your property under the guess of forfeiture if they can wrangle up a good enough “probable cause” out of it…. and sometimes even if they can’t because you aren’t able to fight it effectively. They seized your assets on vacay 5 states away in a bogus stop over a tail light? TS, you need to be in court every Tues for two months to try and get it back or it’s theirs now. It’s a shakedown racket in LEO clothes and now it’s gonna get even worse…..

    It’s simply absurd to expect citizens embarking on a cross-country trip to research the laws of every state—and locality!—they pass through to ensure there’s nothing in their stowed luggage that could get them arrested.

    That being said, some slight pushback here. Before the Interstate, that’s how life worked and with the Internet, one can argue that you should be reasonable aware that if you are bringing something controversial you should know what you’re getting into. We’re not talking about some random BS obscure law but rather something major that makes national news when it changes.

    It’s pretty well known that marijuana isn’t legal in a lot of places so the reasonable default assumption should be “illegal until I know otherwise.” There’s this weird privledge where enthusiasts tend to be willfully blindness to the fact 95% of the world isn’t onboard with their hobby and choose to just take their things everywhere, only to have shocked Pikachu face when the law smacks them down. Accept that you can’t take it with you since you are extremely likely to be breaking the law except under certain circumstances.. which you should know ahead of time if they apply to you or not (medical pot may need a prescription and only apply to local for example). This is one of those things where common sense would save a lot of people some headaches – don’t take your stuff with you when you travel!!! If it’s legal there, you can just get more.

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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    By claiming the driver committed a minor traffic violation (for which he ultimately wasn’t actually cited) the officers are somehow free to have drug-sniffing dogs conduct a search, absent any probable cause or even reasonable suspicion.

    Perfectly acceptable if the accused is the wrong shade.

    It’s my longstanding position that local yokel cops like the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department should not be allowed to make traffic stops on Interstate highways.

    OK, a couple things here:

    #1 they are entrusted with enforcing state law within their jurisdiction, so saying they shouldn’t be able to on interstate highways within their jurisdictions… Makes absolutely zero sense.

    They tend to be poorly trained, corrupt, and mostly to exist for the purpose of revenue extraction. Allowing them to target vehicles with out-of-state tags is essentially giving them a license to steal.

    And your solution to that problem is “Make it so they can’t prey on me.” because you never get off the interstate in rural areas? How’s about actually dealing with the problems of “poorly trained and corrupt” law enforcement? Yeah, I know, “reforming the police” has been a colossal failure for a very long long time, because middle class to upper class folk by and large want the police to be unhindered in their real job of keeping those people in line. “Blue Lives Matter” doncha know.

    Let federal police and state highway patrol enforce the law on the Interstates.

    Sounds good. Have you ever seen US Marshalls or FBI or any other federal law enforcement patrolling the highways and passing out speeding tickets? Me neither. As far as State Highway Patrols, they would have to at least triple their numbers to cover everything without the additional support of local police. Can you say “higher taxes”?

    I drive into STL at least once a week, and when driving the stretch of I-44 from Eureka to downtown STL, it always feels like I am putting my life at risk just because I refuse to go more than 5 mph over the speed limit while all around me people are doing 10-20 in excess and cutting in and out of traffic, in a tailgating free for all. Recently there was an enforcement “push” on the stretch from Eureka to I-270. It was mostly a joke as rarely did I see any cops, but when I did, it was municipal and county cops doing the job most of the time.

    Yes, some municipalities use speed traps etc to entrap unwary drivers on the interstates (“mining the populace” as one small town cop I know called it), and just ftr, they do it elsewhere too. (Lord knows I have been their victim more times than I can count)

    As long as municipalities can profit from such predatory behavior, they will. If you want it to end, you have to eliminate the incentive to engage in such behavior. One possible solution is to have all fines go into a state administered pool, to be divied up and distributed to the various municipalities on say, the basis of population.

    Yeah, and I want a magic pony too.

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  7. Matt Bernius says:

    James wrote:

    The reporting and commentary are focusing on the racial aspect of the case, which is hardly unreasonable given the history of the rural South. But we have no direct proof of that from the video and it’s not implausible that the officers had no idea that Delaware State was an HBCU when they pulled it over.

    To be clear, this isn’t an unreasonable assumption *anywhere* in the US. Race-based profiling of traffic stops is a well-documented national practice. Here’s one multi-state analysis: https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

    That aside, I completely agree with the rest of the article. The fact that there was no citation issued at all is just a kick in the crotch.

    If the possession of marijuana and various paraphernalia is legal in Florida and in Delaware, residents of one state should be able to travel to the other with their stash without fear of being arrested because it’s illegal in an intervening state. It’s simply absurd to expect citizens embarking on a cross-country trip to research the laws of every state—and locality!—they pass through to ensure there’s nothing in their stowed luggage that could get them arrested.

    You would think. Also the entire category of “drug paraphernalia” is another example of police legislative overreach and overcriminalization (typically traditionally targeted at minorities). You don’t have drugs but you have *non-regulated* items that can be associated with them, therefore you can be fined.

    At the risk of taking us off the thread, this type of interstate prosecution issue will become more of an issue if the SC rules as predicted on abortion. Some of the trigger laws have provisions that are going to raise lots of questions about how much States can regulate the activities of those who pass through them or the behavior of their residents in other States.

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  8. Beth says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Also the entire category of “drug paraphernalia” is another example of police overreach (typically traditionally targeted at minorities). You don’t have drugs but you have *non-regulated* items that can be associated with them, therefore you can be fined.

    Thanks to a little known back-bencher by the name of Joseph Biden, we can’t bring stuffed animals or blow pops into festivals. Drug paraphernalia…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbDAHdDGTzM

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Hmmmm…white cops harassing people for driving while black.
    This way, it has always been.

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  10. Slugger says:

    There may have been a misogynistic aspect to all this. One of the team members reported that during the luggage search underwear and menstrual hygienic products were thrown about by the police. Any 20 year old woman might find it offensive to have a cop pawing through her personal belongings, and clearly any such search should have to meet strict Constitutional tests.
    While we’re on this subject, I think Brittney Griner was stupid, but it would be a nice gesture to let her go, Mr. Putin.

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  11. Tony W says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    You would think. Also the entire category of “drug paraphernalia” is another example of police overreach (typically traditionally targeted at minorities). You don’t have drugs but you have *non-regulated* items that can be associated with them, therefore you can be fined.

    This brings to mind the idea of open-container alcohol laws. The idea is that “well, we didn’t catch you driving while intoxicated (which is the real problem), but we can see where that open container of alcohol might, maybe, put you in a state of drunkenness at some point in the future when you might, maybe also still be driving – so we’ll cite you”.

    We have also seen people sleeping off a bender in the bar parking lot and being arrested for “drunk driving” because the cop thought that at some point, before they sobered up, the person would drive.

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  12. MarkedMan says:

    it’s not implausible that the officers had no idea that Delaware State was an HBCU when they pulled it over.

    Possible? Maybe. But “not implausible”? C’mon. How often do cops pull over buses for any but the most egregious violations? I can’t recall ever seeing one, and I’ve driven well over a half million miles, probably closer to a million. I would be willing to bet dollars to nickles this bus was targeted because they recognized the HBCU name for what it was, or they saw or got word of the race of the occupants.

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt Bernius: Some of the trigger laws have provisions that are going to raise lots of questions about how much States can regulate the activities of those who pass through them or the behavior of their residents in other States.

    Thank you. I was going to bring that exact fact up.

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  14. Chip Daniels says:

    One reason civil liberties has always been a tough sell to the American voters is that we have a national habit of indulging in hysterical moral panics over crime which lead to a steady ratcheting up of the surveillance and carceral state.

    “Crime is Outta Control!” is a perennial vote getter in almost any jurisdiction. One look at the vicious backlash to even the most modest reformers like Goerge Gascon in Los Angeles or Chesa Boudin in San Francisco shows that even in ostensibly liberal cities, civil liberties is difficult.

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  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Chris:

    Where I lived in StL, the airport was 10 miles away and you passed through 7 cities on the interstate, and IIRC, one twice. One of those cities, that lacked even an entrance ramp in the community and the total freeway in the city was less than a quarter mile. Yet they’d send a revenue enhancement detail out to stop cars (usually driven by Blacks) that exceeded the 55 mph speed limit. Free flowing traffic was around 70. Finally the State Patrol that had jurisdictional control banned all PD’s along the route from patrolling it, except for the StL County PD. So no, it isn’t a good idea for any PD to have enforcement rights on an interstate.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    It’s common in FL to see signs on multi lane sections of Interstate restricting trucks to the two right lanes. I believe GA has similar restrictions. But on checking I see both states define busses as not trucks. If this was six or more lanes the bus appears to have the same right as any car to be in the left lane. If it’s four lane Interstate busses and trucks have the same right as cars to be in the left lane. Unless they’re obstructing traffic. In which case everybody, trucks, busses, and cars, are expected to yield to overtaking traffic.

    Have the cops of inaptly named Liberty County been stopping others for improperly using the left lane? If so, it’s be the first case I’ve ever heard of. And everybody else drives like they have no fear of being pulled over for camping in the left lane. Ever seen anybody pulled over for it? Speeding is about the only thing the cops enforce. Why, because they have an electric box that identifies speeders and provides evidence. And they don’t for anything else.

    I would be very surprised if the cops hadn’t somehow learned the occupants were black. But for the sake of discussion, let’s stipulate they didn’t. The cops are quoted as defending the stop. When and why did they decide to search the luggage? Sounds like they were in the bus by then.

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  17. Kathy says:

    It’s time to admit the drugs won and end the effed up war.

    To think I grew up believing American cops, unlike their Mexican counterparts, are not corrupt and won’t harass or shake you down on traffic stops….

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  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Tony W:

    We have also seen people sleeping off a bender in the bar parking lot and being arrested for “drunk driving” because the cop thought that at some point, before they sobered up, the person would drive.

    It’s referred to as “intent to drive while intoxicated”. The key is whether or not you have your keys on you. If you’re going to sleep it off in the parking lot, put your keys in the trunk (assuming you have a trunk latch in the cab). I know a couple people who’ve been busted for it.

    When I walk to the wine bar (and walk home with half a bottle in my backpack), I purposely leave my car keys at home so I can’t get busted for “intent to drive”.

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  19. Michael Cain says:

    Just for the record, interstate highways are built, owned, and operated by the individual states. They receive federal dollars to cover some, but usually not all, of the costs. The roads have to (mostly) conform to federal standards. The flip side of not allowing local law enforcement to operate on the interstates is that there would be essentially no enforcement at all in rural areas. This last is particularly true in the West, where there are vast stretches of empty and the state is not going to “waste” state troopers by putting them there.

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  20. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    #1 they are entrusted with enforcing state law within their jurisdiction, so saying they shouldn’t be able to on interstate highways within their jurisdictions… Makes absolutely zero sense.

    There are all manner of situations where local LEOs don’t have jurisdiction–military bases, Indian reservations, and the like come to mind. Just declare Interstate highways Federal jurisdiction and delegate to state police.

    How’s about actually dealing with the problems of “poorly trained and corrupt” law enforcement.

    Well, sure. But there are thousands of local PDs and reforming them is next to impossible. My solution at least limits the problem to the local communities who have the power to fire local officials and who pay their salaries and bear the brunt of the abuse.

    Have you ever seen US Marshalls or FBI or any other federal law enforcement patrolling the highways and passing out speeding tickets?

    All the time, although mostly the Park Police. But I live in the DC metro area, so it’s a different ball of wax.

    That there are not all that many state troopers in a lot of states is, I concede, a real problem. When I lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, it seemed that the roads were crawling with them. I don’t see all that many in Virginia, though.

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  21. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Cain:

    This last is particularly true in the West, where there are vast stretches of empty and the state is not going to “waste” state troopers by putting them there.

    This is true, and then there’s I-5 in Siskyou County. CHP issues a huge number of speeding tickets there. I mean, speeding tickets are a fair thing. And yet there’s a revenue benefit for Siskyou County, which I understand gets a cut.

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  22. Andy says:

    I think the idea of creating a federal highway patrol and making highways a federal-only jurisdiction has some serious problems. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

    – What legal authority would the federal government have to do this? Highways are owned and managed by states and localities. Your examples are not comparable – Military bases are federally owned property. Native American reservations have some political sovereignty and in terms of law enforcement operate like a state with their own law enforcement personnel.

    All the time, although mostly the Park Police. But I live in the DC metro area, so it’s a different ball of wax.

    Outside of military bases and perhaps the NCR, most basic policing on federally-owned property is done by state and local authorities or by federal personnel on behalf of state and local authorities. One example I’m familiar with is the BLM which manages vast swaths of federal land. It does have law enforcement personnel to enforce federal regulations. But a BLM law enforcement officer has to defer to local authorities on everything else. They have no authority to enforce state and local laws without explicit permission from state and local authorities. Point being, you’d need to fundamentally change the legal framework that underpins the relationship between federal, state and local law enforcement, or make a bizarre exception only for highways.

    – There are a lot of highways in the US. How many personnel are we talking about here, especially if the expectation is that state and local PDs will have, like a military base, extremely limited authority on highways?

    – Federal law still criminalizes marijuana – I do not get the logic that suggests federal law enforcement officers on highways would not enforce federal law if they were given control of highways. Why should we expect them to ignore marijuana possession?

    If the possession of marijuana and various paraphernalia is legal in Florida and in Delaware, residents of one state should be able to travel to the other with their stash without fear of being arrested because it’s illegal in an intervening state. It’s simply absurd to expect citizens embarking on a cross-country trip to research the laws of every state—and locality!—they pass through to ensure there’s nothing in their stowed luggage that could get them arrested.

    – Do we apply that to gun laws as well as numerous other things? What about air and train travel?

    – What happens when I leave the highway to get gas, get food, or sleep at a hotel for the night? If one goal is to limit the necessity of citizens researching a bunch of different laws, then adding another layer of enforcement for interstate travel where rules change when you hit the off-ramp results in more complexity, not less.

    – Which highways exactly? Are you going to include things like the DC beltway or the 405 through LA? Like a military base, is the federal government going to now own and maintain them?

    – What about state transportation regulations?

    And I would question the assumption that federal law enforcement agents are inherently more respectful of the rights of citizens compared to law enforcement at other levels. I’d also question the inherent assumption that federal law enforcement officials won’t have similar bureaucratic and management systems that incentivize officers to make stops, make quotas, etc. It’s certainly no guarantee that officers won’t exhibit and knowingly or unknowingly act upon racial and other biases.

    It seems to me the more obvious and achievable solution is greater state-level regulation since policing is a state-level function. The feds can provide incentives for behavioral/policy change how they usually do – by putting strings on federal money. That would seem – to me at least – to be a much more straightforward response to this problem, and the benefit of that is it wouldn’t just apply to a limited area like highways.

    And also to end the federal ban on marijuana.

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  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: There are all manner of situations where local LEOs don’t have jurisdiction–military bases, Indian reservations, and the like come to mind.

    Well yeah, those places are NOT within the jurisdiction of local or state police, henceforth they have their own police forces. You know, MPs? Tribal police?

    Just declare Interstate highways Federal jurisdiction and delegate to state police.

    And then pay for it, because you can be damn sure the staties aren’t just gonna up and say, “Sure! Will do boss man!”

    Well, sure. But there are thousands of local PDs and reforming them is next to impossible.

    So… In other words, you want to “defund” the police by denying them the revenue stream they get from traffic fines on *interstates*? Wow, you are very radical James, I had no idea you were so in synch with BlackLivesMatter. As far as it being “next to impossible,” well yeah, it surely is if one isn’t willing to do anything about it.

    My solution at least limits the problem to the local communities who have the power to fire local officials and who pay their salaries and bear the brunt of the abuse.

    Wow, that is truly naive. You think the people subjected to these abuses have the power to rectify the situation? Someday James I will tell you what it is like when the local police, judicial system, and municipal govts all line up with the local “upstanding citizen” (//s in the extreme) with long family ties against a father trying to protect his sons. Here’s a hint: They are a mafia, and nobody, and I do mean nobody, wants to stick their neck out in the interests of “justice” or the “rule of law”.

    Also, I find your willingness to just abandon people less fortunate than yourself to their fates to be a little disturbing.

    Have you ever seen US Marshalls or FBI or any other federal law enforcement patrolling the highways and passing out speeding tickets?

    All the time, although mostly the Park Police. But I live in the DC metro area, so it’s a different ball of wax.

    After I wrote that it occurred to me that being in DC, you probably would see a whole lot of Park police, but I let the question stand because I was sure you would understand the difference between DC and say Pulaski County MO.

    That there are not all that many state troopers in a lot of states is, I concede, a real problem. When I lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, it seemed that the roads were crawling with them.

    All my years of traveling in TAG, I don’t recall their being a whole lot of state police, but the fact is I rarely used the interstates when I was caving there. Mostly state highways and local roads. Probably not very surprising that all my run ins with police down there were with the local &/ county.

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  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Cain: Your comment reminds me of the time I was driving back from Texas to STL. Drove thru west TX, where there are no speed limits to speak of, somebody else took over in the panhandle and I went to sleep. I woke up in sw MO and took over the driving again, got pulled over a half hour later by a state trooper for doing 87 in a 70.

    My first thought: “I’m fcked.”
    My 2nd thought: “At least he won’t fuck with me. Just a ticket and I’ll be on my way.”

    Oh well. Cop asks if I knew how fast I was going and I said yeah and apologized explaining where I had been driving the night before and that I had just taken over and forgot where I was.

    Much to my surprise, he let me off with a verbal warning. First and only time a state trooper let me off.

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  25. Matt Bernius says:

    @Andy:

    The feds can provide incentives for behavioral/policy change how they usually do – by putting strings on federal money. That would seem – to me at least – to be a much more straightforward response to this problem, and the benefit of that is it wouldn’t just apply to a limited area like highways.

    You would think, but unfortunately, this just doesn’t work well. Heck, there are lots of police agencies across the US that turn down federal funding because they don’t want to participate in Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. As a result our crime data is, screwed.

    This is part of the ongoing challenge of police reform. Yes, in theory, this should happen at the state level. But even then reform is difficult because of how much of policing is controlled at the municipal level.

    Simply put, our nation’s law enforcement systems are designed to resist change from outside. And, honestly, add in union contracts, and they are also designed to resist change from within as well.

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  26. Matt says:

    When I was much younger I was pulled over for a “broken” tail light. I was searched under the threat of being forced to wait at least an hour for a drug sniffing dog with some vague threats about impounding my vehicle too. The cop spent +20 minutes searching a CRX. After being let go with a “verbal warning” I checked my brake lights and all three were working. This was a common theme in my youth. I was pulled over fairly often for tailights that were out that magically began working after the cop left and such. I was once pulled over for “failure to yield when exiting an alleyway”. Which was rich because I outright stopped before exiting the ally and the cop didn’t even see me leave the alley. That drug sniffing dog? Years later it was retired because it kept hitting on nothing. Drug dogs can be intentionally or accidentally trained to hit on a vehicle via actions of it’s handler. That’s how a lot of searches are excused. “oh the drug dog hit”.. Yeah because you told the dog to..

    The record search length in the CRX was when I was pulled over by a MEG agent for “avoiding them”. Their search was about 40 minutes long. I didn’t even have any subwoofers or anything in the car to impede their view or search. As for the “Avoidance”? Well I drove past them once as they were searching a car on the side of the road on my way to the store in the opposite lane so on my way back I went around the traffic stop to give the cops room to work. That was a grave enough sin to send one of their units after me. They did find a pack of papers and one of them spent most of that 40 minutes grilling me about the papers while their partner tore my car apart. I was legally allowed to possess papers but that didn’t matter.

    When you’re white and poor in a small town that is 97% white….

    Never once did a cop ever actually find anything on me or in my vehicle. Didn’t dissuade them from trying every few weeks.

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  27. Matt says:

    @gVOR08: Trucks are generally defined as vehicles designed for transporting materials or goods (not people). So while a bus isn’t considered a truck a moving van would be as it’s primary purpose is the movement of goods.

    @Mu Yixiao:

    If you’re going to sleep it off in the parking lot, put your keys in the trunk (assuming you have a trunk latch in the cab). I know a couple people who’ve been busted for it.

    Nope not good enough as you technically still have access to the keys. I know this because I know a fellow who did exactly that (was asleep on the passenger seat). Even the guy who put his keys under his car was arrested and fined for drunken driving…

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Heck, there are lots of police agencies across the US that turn down federal funding because they don’t want to participate in Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

    Yep. I’m sure they say it’s all about “FREEDOM” but it’s really all about what corrupt, racist incompetents they are.

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  29. Andy says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Simply put, our nation’s law enforcement systems are designed to resist change from outside. And, honestly, add in union contracts, and they are also designed to resist change from within as well.

    I don’t think that transferring policing responsibility to federal authorities would change any of that.

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  30. Matt Bernius says:

    @Andy:

    I don’t think that transferring policing responsibility to federal authorities would change any of that.

    In terms of the internal side, possibly not. In terms of coordinating and reforming practices across the 4000+ arresting organizations in the US, I have a hard time seeing how there wouldn’t be advantages in terms of reform and consolidation of processes.

    That said, it would definitely be a complex and most likely painful process to make that switch. And I will also admit that it will create many other challenges.

    FWIW, that’s also based on talking with Law Enforcement professionals from outside the US that have more centralized law enforcement systems (for example Canada).

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  31. Gustopher says:

    Limiting police power in traffic encounters to traffic infractions and cases of imminent harm would pretty much stop this sort of thing.

    Is the driver incapacitated? Nope.

    Can you hear someone pounding and screaming in the trunk? Nope.

    Is there blood everywhere? Nope.

    Well, citizen, drive safely and have a good day. You may want to put a seatbelt on that bale of cocaine in the backseat, so it doesn’t fly forward and hit you if you get into an accident.

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  32. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Matt:

    Nope not good enough as you technically still have access to the keys. I know this because I know a fellow who did exactly that (was asleep on the passenger seat). Even the guy who put his keys under his car was arrested and fined for drunken driving…

    Wow. I’m hoping a lawyer got him off of that charge.

    Around here (Wisconsin/Illinois) it’s always been accepted that I know of.

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  33. Andy says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Centralization always does bring some advantages. Whether that actually solves the problem one wants to solve is another question. And you do bring up the pertinent point that it would create other problems. Considering we don’t understand what the tradeoffs of such a big change would be, I’m hesitant to assume centralization would be better.

    As far as other countries go, centralization is easier for smaller countries that are usually more homogenous in various ways than the United States and lack some of the features of our federalized Constitutional system. Canada is geographically large, but has a population less than California.

    Speaking of which, California has significant control over policing in the state, and generally progressive government at the state level and at large municipalities. There is little to prevent California (or any state) from adopting Canada’s policies. Yet they don’t. So it’s not clear to me how federalizing law enforcement would result in reforms that aren’t occurring at the state level.

    And all this is before considering whether it’s even possible to give the federal government general police powers. That would be contrary to how the Constitution has always been interpreted, and there is no real constituency that desires such a massive change. So the whole idea seems academic to me. And as long as that remains the case, then it seems to me that state-level reforms are the best practical option, as imperfect as they may be, assisted by federal incentives when possible.

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  34. Matt says:

    @Mu Yixiao: It was in Illinois where “drunk in charge” is a very real thing. You can be arrested for being anywhere near your vehicle while intoxicated. Even if said vehicle is in your garage.

    If you have the money you have a better chance as you can have a lawyer waiting for you at the station. Of course the majority of people can’t just throw down thousands like that..

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  35. Sleeping Dog says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Traveling through Montana on US 2 in the early 90’s, got stopped by a statie for 75-ish in a 55. He told me my options were to take a ticket and show up in the cty court or he’d give me an ‘energy’ ticket and I’d have to plead guilty and pay the $5 fine to him. Given that momma sleeping dog hadn’t raised any stupid pups, I paid the fine.

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  36. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Matt:

    Wow. Things seem to have changed since I was tending bar.

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  37. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    My brother’s been a truck driver on-an-off. Back then, truckers would keep a stack of $5 bills in the glove box. They referred to it as a “Montana toll”.

    Oddly, the gumballs lit up more just before lunch and dinner. 😀

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  38. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: While the states technically “own” the Interstates, the federal taxpayer paid roughly 90% of the cost ($114.3 billion of the $128.9 billion estimated construction cost). Yes, I want to deprive localities of the revenue stream created by speed traps and to make pretextual stops like the one in this story much harder.

    Would I prefer a mass overhaul of local policing? Sure! But there’s no magic wand that can be waved to do that, in that very little of that is under Congress’ authority. What I’m proposing—and, again, admittedly without detailed implementation analysis—is something within the Feds’ ability to enact relatively easily.

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  39. Matt says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Yeah MADD successfully pushed their drunk driver hysteria into terrible laws. Caused some people I knew who were members to leave including the family that lost a father/husband to a drunk driver.

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  40. Kathy says:

    Question: before the tax cut mania started and spread in the 80s, was policing for profit to make up local/state budget shortfall as widespread? How about states and/or localities, if any, which are adequately funded by taxes?

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  41. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Would I prefer a mass overhaul of local policing? Sure! But there’s no magic wand that can be waved to do that,

    Yeah, it’s gonna take work, at the state level, and entrenched interests are going to fight it every inch of the way. When was any worthwhile change easily done? But if you are looking for a short, sweet and simple little tweak to the system, you are gonna be very disappointed. I can assure you, it is NOT “something within the Feds’ ability to enact relatively easily.” The usual suspects are going to fight it tooth and nail, the same ones who are profiting so richly from the system they created.

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  42. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy: Can’t say, it is something I’d like clarified. The war on drugs was a major justification of the policing for profit model too.

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  43. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The war on drugs (the drugs won) has also amped up the violence in what should be routine interactions like traffic stops.

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