Monday, June 24, 2013

obtaining a constitutional balance at DUI checkpoints

Anybody that has lived in the northern panhandle of West Virginia (particularly Ohio County) for the past 2 decades is aware of one, singular defining truth - the city of Wheeling is the DUI Checkpoint capitol of the world.

It all started in the early mid-1990's.  Local law enforcement officials learned they could extract grant money from the federal govt. if they set up checkpoints.  It started with about 2 per year.  One over Memorial Day weekend and one over Labor Day weekend.  Then, these geniuses realized that the nights before Thanksgiving and the Christmas are big party nights.  Everyone who fled the area generally schedules a return to visit family and friends.  Somehow, it dawned on the Wheeling police force that if people wanted to reconnect with old classmates, they would invariably hit up the local bar scene.  So it was either Mac's on Washington Avenue, the Alpha or the Swing Club.  Rest assured, even the socially challenged would head to TJ's for a pitiable dining experience and the opportunity to yell at multiple television screens.

However, there was some unintentional fallout.  For the love of j-god, our police force was being mocked and humiliated.  How could all these seemingly normal men and women exhibit such an open level of disdain directed straight at law enforcement?  We need to clean the shit out of this town.  These bastards are flouting the authority of the heroic Wheeling PD.  They are arrogantly drinking and driving.  And they're trying to conceal this unacceptable behavior during the dangerous evening hours... you know, when it's dark outside.  Something must be done!

So more checkpoints started popping up.  More and more.  In the daylight, too.  They even started assigning them names (800 block of National Road (Sheetz), 1200 block of National Road (St. Mike's), 2200 block of National Road (Silver Choppy Chop) and Zane Street in the center of Wheeling Island (for any out-of-townies visiting the Wheeling Island Casino - hey, what a great way to encourage tourism).  For some reason which is not entirely difficult to fathom the cops focused all this newly found energy on the most dangerous 3 mile-section in the entire United States - National Road.  Plenty of homegrown terrorists.  I try to dodge them when I go running.  This terrifying stretch of Rt. 40 includes about 3 gas stations, 5 churches, 10 old folk homes/assisted living facilities, and a few lamentable dining establishments (Long John's - home of the corpulent inbred, Hardees, and the aforementioned choice of the terminally pathetic, TJ's Sportsgarden).

Now here's a good question?  Why wouldn't they set up checkpoints in higher crime areas through downtown (like East Wheeling and South Wheeling)?  Hmmmm... well I dunno... just maybe because they're scared shitless of black guys with nicknames like "Boo Boo" and "T-Bone."  So they go for the jugular instead.  Hey, why exclusively target the drug dealing thugs when there's far more money to be extracted from the college kids who defiantly smoke reefer and drink Coors Light?  The cops unwittingly figured out something which was blatantly obvious - that they could use the checkpoints as a pretext to intimidate and harass the predominantly whiter, upper income kids without fear of reprisal.  Now that was in the mid 1990's.

Now it's approaching the mid-2010's.  And guess what?  There are around 50-75 checkpoints per year.  They've even expanded it to include seat belt checkpoints and every once in a blue moon, a "drug" checkpoint.  I'm sure they're salivating at the prospect of license, registration and/or proof of insurance checkpoints.  Just give them time.  How about emission and tire-wear checkpoints?  Do not fret - they're probably on the way.  And the best part is - if you choose to dodge the checkpoint, they're out there doing continuous concentric circles on the perimeter looking for the slightest violation (headlight out, loud exhaust, etc.)  Hey, any excuse to zone in for the kill and shatter someone's life into a gazillion pieces.  Gotta keep that revolving-door-a-swingin' at the northern regional jail.

So here's the million dollar question.

Under the guise of public safety, will the future amount of DUI checkpoints decrease, increase or stay roughly the same.

Well, if you think the frequency will magically decrease, you're a complete fucking idiot who lacks a fundamental understanding of government inertia and missed the class on  societal intrusion/oppression.  Will it somehow level off?  I doubt it.  If there's even the slightest potential for extracting federal grant money in a stagnant, depressed economy, the police force will march hand in hand.  Plus, the cops are getting paid overtime for this shit.  I can't even fathom the notion of a Wheeling police chief standing up for higher moral, constitutional principles - opposing the invasion of privacy and intentionally forgoing the easy monetary windfall.  So if I had to place a bet, I'd expect the trajectory of local DUI checkpoints to increase even further.  If they were to get "called on it,"  they'd likely just start assigning different names to the checkpoints (insurance verification zone, child car seat safety check, license plate light inspection station, etc.).

So what's your point Saf?  Don't you usually suggest a course of action or offer some kind of related system disruption?  Well... kiss my grits.

I actually do have an idea.  Alright, let's start with the obvious.
So I'm at the checkpoint.

The Supreme Court has ruled that these stops are constitutional and justified in the name of public welfare and safety.  I do get that aspect.  So there's little use in fighting this from the "constitutionality" perspective. 

However, I do believe you have a right to make a reasonable determination that everyone "is who they say they are."  Especially in this day and age with so many cases of people misrepresenting themselves as law enforcement.  Also, many of the "undercover" units are confiscated vehicles.  Could be a dumbshit Durango or that Ford Mustang.  Very confusing to know exactly who drives what these days.  You always here these weird stories about people getting pulled over by rogue individuals.  It's usually part of some warped intimidation power trip.

So as I was saying... I believe it's reasonable to ask everyone at the checkpoint to identify themselves IN WRITING.

Here's my idea - I would encourage everyone to drive around with multiple copies of a very brief questionnaire on a 1/2 sheet of paper.  Stick them in the visor.  It would look something like this. 

Name ______________________________________

Rank _______________________________________

Badge # ___________________________  

How many months/years have you been employed as a police officer?  __________

Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?  _________

If yes, please explain _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


The last question is where it becomes a little sketchy.  Personally, I think it's important to know if the individual tasked with upholding the sanctity of the law has ever been an actual criminal in the eyes of the law.  Don't I have the right to know who I'm dealing with?  They are the ones who've arbitrarily decided to impede my movement.  They've made a conscious decision to impose their will on me.  What's even more interesting is if they decide to intentionally lie or purposely omit a past misdemeanor. 

So I would hand out these forms and ask every officer (usually 4-6) at the checkpoint to fill them out to the best of their ability.  After all, they've made a determination to detain me (the matter of duration is not at issue - it could be 5 minutes, it could be 5 seconds).   If they ask me, "Hey buddy, what are you going to do with all this information," I would calmly explain how these forms will be submitted to their supervisor.  If they don't wish to comply and fill out the form, that would be entirely up to them.

Important to note, their specific refusal to comply could become evident.  If some agree and others don't, it establishes this instantaneous litmus test.  My hunches tells me that about 20% of the cops would express an interest in filling out the form.  But they'd be in the minority and bend to the will of the group.  And it would be a pretty stern refusal to cooperate, likely followed by harsh sentiment and possibly threatening behavior.  Hard to comprehend this happening in Wheeling.  But alas, I'm a grim realist.

I think a police chief might find this to be a matter of interest.  Who capitulates and who brazenly defies conventional wisdom.  If someone in his department has something to hide.  If some of his subordinates have a continual problem identifying themselves.  That wouldn't bode well for the transparency of any police department.  And it certainly doesn't embody their mission statement - "to protect and serve the public."

The whole gist of this idea is two-fold.

A.  It reminds the police of something I think most care very little about.  That they are NOT above the law.  That there needs to be some system of checks and balances.  If they are going to conduct random detentions, I believe it's completely reasonable to make sure that everyone is exactly who they claim to be.  This does not seem unreasonable.

B.  It's obviously a move designed to piss off the pigs.  Of course, most of the Wheeling cops would take it as an affront to their authority.  What gives him the effrontery, temerity, impudence, unmitigated audacity, etc.?  Sorry, I'll put it in WPD terms - Who the fuck does this punk asshole think he is?

Now if you could convince EVERYONE to start doing this (keep a few questionnaires in their vehicles), there might finally be a little blowback.  I don't think any of this unreasonable.  Like I was saying, they stopped me.  If you stop me,  I have a RIGHT to know exactly who you are.

The only remaining question is, "Would the amount of time it takes to fill out the form interfere with an officer performing his/her duty?" This strikes me as a somewhat plausible argument.  You'd likely hear the following...  

Hey, we're out here putting our lives on the line.  We don't have time to fill out your stupid, unnecessary forms.

I would counter with.  How long does it actually take to provide written confirmation of the first 4 questions... maybe 5-10 seconds.  I'm willing to wait until you have a spare moment.  And in an ideal world, shouldn't the final question be answered with a "no."

Since I'm the only person on the planet to suggest this course of action, may I also offer some additional guidance?   If you're going along with this, please print the forms out at Wheeling Jesuit University.  They like it when outsiders use their computer lab and printers.  Personally, nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing the following cue...

# of copies  ___.

Oh... I don't know.  How about 270? 
Make that printer squeal like a pigTone the fuck outta that shit.

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