Thursday, June 23, 2011

Handing over your rights on a silver platter

FBI crime figures show the rate of crime in the United States has been falling over the last 20 years - with a sharp drop-off since 2008. The BBC took a look at ten theories as to why this is happening despite the recession.

One of the theories is that law enforcement has been policing smarter over the last two decades. As an example, the BBC points to the problem of auto theft in Laredo, Texas. Just google "auto theft laredo" and you'll find out that Laredo was the worst city for auto theft.

That is until the police came up with a new plan to combat the auto thieves.

Car owners in Laredo can register their license plate numbers with the police. The license plate numbers are then entered into a database. Having this information at their fingertips allowed police officers to stop those cars late at night to confirm they weren't stolen.

Just take a second to let that sink in.

The police in Laredo, Texas are free to stop any car whose license plate number comes up in the database if its being driving around late at night. No reasonable suspicion needed. No probable cause to worry about. In the name of security, Laredo found a way to eliminate the Fourth Amendment altogether.

An officer could be sitting behind a car at a light and run the license plate on a whim. Now he can pull over the driver to make sure the car wasn't stolen. But what's that? The owner has the smell of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. So what if there was no probable cause to make the traffic stop - the officer relied on his community caretaking powers and now he's got a DWI on his hands.

Hey, but at least the car wasn't stolen.

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