If you haven’t seen it yet, this week’s video is a fascinating example of police interaction at a DUI checkpoint. I’ve watched it several times now and, frankly, I have to say I’m embarrassed for the officers. It’s pretty clear they want to do a good job and that they take their role as law enforcers seriously.
Unfortunately, they also appear to be poorly trained, not very well supervised, and more interested in using intimidation tactics than they are in following the letter, spirit and intent of the law.
Fourth of July DUI Checkpoint (click on the banner in the middle of the screen to remove it)
First, know that I’m not anti-police, anti-authority, or anything of the sort. I simply can’t tolerate bad behavior by those who are supposed to be protecting and serving our communities. With that in mind, below are my comments about specifics of the encounter:
0:18 The officer’s initial request for the driver to roll his window down further was reasonable, and so was the driver’s question as to why that was necessary. I’m not sure there’s any clear case law on this, but refusing to lower the window at a DUI checkpoint could be viewed by a reasonable person as suspicious behavior.
0:28 The officer’s question about the driver’s age is also reasonable, as is the driver’s question as to whether he’s required to answer. Again, I couldn’t find case law on this, but it appears in this instance the officer is asking the question more as a way to bully the driver than for any legitimate purpose. In some states, however, such as in Ohio, you are required under some circumstances to provide your name, address, and date of birth when in public.
0:49 The driver’s question as to whether he is being detained is also reasonable at this point. This clearly angers the officer, which to me is the beginning of the real problem. The officer has lost control of the situation and of his emotions. This is a perfect example of the “contempt of cop” phenomenon that reflects a training issue for the officer.
1:40 Again, the driver’s question as to whether or not he’s being detained goes unanswered. Given the circumstances, a reasonable person would believe they were being detained. The officer’s tone and manner clearly suggests that the driver is not free to leave and must comply with the officer’s demands. The officer should simply have told the driver that, yes, he was being detained.
2:19 In my opinion, the driver may be correct that he doesn’t have to identify himself under the circumstances. This isn’t a Terry Stop in the normal sense, it’s a checkpoint. There was no articulable reasonable suspicion that the driver had done anything illegal prior to being stopped, or that he was about to. Whether or not the checkpoint itself was legal is impossible to determine without more information.
2:40 The driver is correct that the police cannot search your vehicle without consent, unless they have probable cause to do so. Using a canine to search the outside of the vehicle to establish probable cause may have been reasonable, if not a waste of time in this case. There’s no indication at any point that the driver had any drugs in his possession or that any might be in the car.
3:38 Allowing the police canine to search the vehicle in a way that caused damage was completely unreasonable and unnecessary.
3:50 The dog alert at this point was questionable, in my opinion. It does seem that the officer is causing the dog to focus on the door, which might be a necessary part of directing the dog’s search activity. Without seeing what the full “alert” actually looked like at that point, though, it’s hard to know for sure if it was legitimate.
5:10 The officer’s statement that the driver is “perfectly innocent, and he knows his rights,” is a significant and damning one. Given that, the officer should have behaved differently from the very start. He should always assume that everyone has the same rights, whether they explicitly know them or not, and act accordingly. That’s what a well trained officer would have done in this situation.
5:19 The canine officer’s statement that “it wasn’t a very good alert” is equally damning. This also gives credence to the driver’s claim that the canine search was simply a ruse to gain access to the car for a more thorough search.
5:35 I’m very surprised the officers didn’t attempt to either confiscate the driver’s camera or erase the video once they discovered it in the car. The fact they didn’t is to their credit.
To me, this video highlights several important points. First, officers need to be more carefully trained in Constitutional law and its practical application. Safety is clearly an important goal for the police, but that doesn’t mean they can trod over a citizen’s legitimate rights without cause, as they apparently did in this case.
Second, this is also an example of how some police officers come to believe that the power granted them by the State is somehow a personal power that attaches to them as individuals. A police officer’s authority is not a license to bully or intimidate anyone. Again, a training issue.
Finally, this video provides insight into the relationship between police and citizens. I’ve heard officers lament the fact that the public doesn’t have more trust in the police, or that they refuse to cooperate with or support law enforcement initiatives.
The police behavior depicted in this video is part of the reason why.
Policing in America should be about balancing the legitimate need for social control with respect for the individual rights and liberties of citizens. To the extent that police can build trust with the communities they serve by acting with respect, restraint, and within their legitimate authority, they will also build good will and support that pays benefits in the long run.
Acting like a schoolyard bully will do exactly the opposite and is an embarrassing example that other officers should seek to avoid.
What’s your analysis of the video? Post a comment below!
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