By Will Grigg
A bill proposed by the Idaho State Police would give its Director, Colonel Ralph Powell, the ability to create a state-spanning fleet of covert surveillance vehicles. The measure, RS 24032, would apply not only to the ISP but also “Any other department, agency, or entity of the state” whose written application to Colonel Powell is rewarded with “a finding of good cause.”
The proper way to examine a proposed piece of legislation is not to assess it on the basis of what it would supposedly do on behalf of the public, but rather with a view to what it would authorize a government agency to do to the public. The ISP’s “Statement of Purpose” claims that the bill would have the relatively modest objective of using “some unmarked patrol vehicles to address the issue of dangerous driving behaviors that a resulting in an increase in fatalities and injuries” on Idaho’s roadways.
Admirable as the ISP’s concern for Idaho motorists might be, its own official report for 2014 (the year for which the most recent statistics are available) observes that “The number of motor vehicle crashes decreased by 1 percent, from 22,347 in 2013 to 22,134 in 2014.” Fatalities were also down – from 214 to 186 – during the same period, as were the number of serious injuries. The state’s fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled “was 1.15 in 2014, down from 1.35” from the previous year.
While the report catalogs deaths and injuries during accidents in which impairment, distraction, or “aggressive driving” were involved, the over-all trend-line for motor accidents is downward – which means that the claim made in the “Statement of Purpose” for the secret police fleet bill is a falsehood. A far likelier explanation for the ISP’s proposal is the agency’s zeal to conduct marijuana interdiction, and related seizures of cash and contraband.
Police: Marijuana trafficking in Idaho triples in five years
Police: Marijuana trafficking in Idaho triples in five years
As marijuana legalization has taken root in Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado, the ISP and its satellite agencies have escalated enforcement efforts. Idaho drug laws inflict some of the most draconian sentences in the country as punishment for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute – even when the contraband is cannabidiol, a marijuana extract with no mood-altering effects that is used for the treatment of epilepsy and other serious diseases.
Last August, the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) academy in Meridian, which is operated by the State Police, hosted a two-day seminar taught by Joe David, founder of the “Desert Snow” drug enforcement consulting company. For more than twenty-five years, David and his colleagues have toured the United States (and several countries overseas) teaching police officers how to conduct “pretext stops” that are built into searches that lead to seizures of narcotics and, preferably, money that can be confiscated as suspected narcotics “proceeds.” The property is then “forfeited” by the agency that conducts the seizure. This means that the property, not its owner, is sued in a civil proceeding in which the burden is on the owner to prove that the plundered property had no connection to illicit activity.
The whole point of drug interdiction, explains Desert Snow marketing director Roy Hain (a former Kane County, Illinois Sheriff’s deputy) is not to end the scourge of drug addiction, but to profit from it by “pull[ing] in expendable cash hand over fist.”
“The drug trade has proven to be recession proof,” Hain declared in his pseudonymously published book In Roads: A Working Solution to America’s War on Drugs. “Americans have the assets to capitalize on this industry and handsomely support public services during times of strife.” Money confiscated through such government-licensed road piracy “can be spent on “just about anything under a law enforcement agency’s roof.”
Like a vampire lustily examining a potential victim’s bulging carotid artery, Hain is eager to divert money and salable property that flows through America’s highway system.
“The same techniques used by those very few drug trafficking interceptors for detecting bulk drug distribution can be used to interdict the laundering of drug cash,” he insists. He urged police departments to pay Joe David and his Desert Snow tutors to instruct their officers regarding the “identifiable and predictable profiles” of people who are carrying contraband or large amounts of cash – and to convince judges and juries that drug interdiction officers possess a gift of seership allowing them to assessing the hidden thoughts and motivations of the people they encounter.
“Desert Snow urges police to work toward what are known as `consensual encounters’ – beginning with asking drivers whether they mind chatting after a warning ticket has been issued,”observes the Washington Post. “The consensual chat gives police more time to look for indicators and mitigates later questions in court about unreasonably long traffic stops. They’re also instructed in how to make their stops and seizures more defensible to judges.
Desert Snow training sessions include units on “roadside conversational skills” and “when and how to seize currency” — the latter would be “any time you find it.” An expanded ISP fleet of unmarked undercover vehicles would be a huge force multiplier in the agency’s efforts to seize and forfeit whatever they can find.
Although the ISP claims that their secret police fleet bill would impose “no fiscal impact to the General Fund or other funds” for which the state government is responsible, it would have significant costs to the tax victims who reside within the state. Every freeway or highway traffic stop is being treated as a potential forfeiture opportunity; those prolonged encounters increase the risks of abuse on the part of the officers who conduct them with the covert intent of finding money or other property suitable for seizure.
The ISP’s priorities likewise dictate the practice of “license plate profiling,” which creates pretext stops of motorists with plates from state with more enlightened policies toward marijuana. Former ISP Trooper Justin Klitch, a former media darling, has assembled an impressive (and growing) collection of lawsuits arising from pretext stops and harassment of drivers from states such as Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona.
Rather than putting the ISP in charge of a Stasi-grade stable of surveillance vehicles, the Idaho State Legislature should overturn Idaho’s pre-medieval marijuana laws and shut down the engine of misery, murder, and corruption that is the state’s war on drugs.
Will’s well written and informative website is found here.