Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Time for a little road trip

Two DA's are sitting at the bar. The first one tells the second that there's lots of money to be made from drug forfeitures. The second one tells the first there ain't nothing like a little secret slush fund. The first DA then comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant idea. He finishes off his 3.2% beer and orders another round. Then he leans over and drops his voice.

"I've got it. I know a way to make a fucking killing on this. I'll set up a dragnet on I-40. Then I'll hire some private company to come in, train the officers and give them a cut of the take. We'll make so much fucking money we can roll cigarettes with it!"

After hearing the idea, the second DA decided he had had enough to drink so he put down his glass, dropped a few bucks on the bar, told his buddy goodnight and got the hell out of the bar.

"What a plan! I'm a genius! What on earth could possibly go wrong?" the first DA shouted as his friend beat a path to the parking lot.

Now I'm certain that my version of the genesis of Caddo (OK) District Attorney Jason Hicks' plan is a complete fabrication. I just wish the scheme itself was.

Mr. Hicks found out just what could go wrong when his money-making machine fell off the rails because an employee of Desert Snow LLC thought it would be a good idea to pull over a pregnant woman and question her even though he wasn't a certified law enforcement officer. The controversy caused the DA to put an end to his scheme.

Mr. Hicks' deal with Desert Snow called for the company to get a 25% cut of any funds confiscated on days the company was out in the field training and 10% on any other day. Up until Mr. Hicks suspended the program, over $1 million was seized during traffic stops. Not all of the money was seized from folks arrested for carrying drugs, however. It appears that the police and their paramilitary partners had a bad habit of confiscating money from folks even when nothing illegal was found in the car. All it took for the profit motive to take hold was a drug dog doing some kind of dance around a car.

The entire scheme raises questions about what drives law enforcement decisions in Caddo County. How many of those traffic stops were legitimate? How many of them involved following a car until a driver inevitably broke some traffic law? How many of those stops were motivated by the desire to make some money?

And what does the scheme say about whether Mr. Hicks is fit to serve as the chief law enforcement officer of Caddo County? Just what does it say about his judgment and his motivation?

There is no question that folks are driving around on our nation's roadways transporting drugs. It's an inevitable result of our "got a problem, take a pill" culture. But if we are going to subject people to the long and intrusive arm of the law, that decision should be based on probable cause and not on maximizing profits.

Jason Hicks betrayed the people of Caddo County. He betrayed the good people of Oklahoma. More importantly, he betrayed his office and the oath he took to uphold the law.

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