- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Police warnings have been flooding Washington airwaves of late. The message: Make a wrong move, and the authorities will get you — any time, anywhere.

As part of a multi-jurisdictional crackdown, police agencies have set up checkpoints in Washington, and suburban Virginia and Maryland. Typically, dragnets of patrol cars block off a street and check everyone (and their papers) who happens to be driving down that route. These martial-law tactics are not being used to capture suspected terrorists or even to nab drug kingpins. The extreme measures are to catch drunk drivers, or what passes for drunk in increasingly rigid intoxication laws. Given the security dangers facing the country these days, dedicating so many officers to dubious random searches is a clear misallocation of law-enforcement resources.

Checkpoints do not discriminate; absolutely everyone at a given place, at a given time is stopped and searched despite there being absolutely no cause for the police to do so. Random searches are not simply a theoretical constitutional concern.As a practical consequence, troopers who are harassing commuters to see if they had one-too-many glasses of wine with dinner are not out chasing the real bad guys. Many police districts, especially the District’s Metropolitan Police, routinely plead that they do not have the operating funds for new crime-fighting programs. Perhaps the supposed cash crunch would be less serious if they reassigned the cops manning a night-long checkpoint near Columbia Road NW and sent them to gangland.

Other police-state measures in the area do not even feign the thin pretext that they are enforced to try to save lives. Yesterday, during morning rush hour, a Virginia police cruiser was blocking a high-occupancy-vehicle exit lane on Interstate 395, while three troopers checked cars to make sure none was harboring “HOV violators.” This boneheaded procedure at the busiest time of the day had traffic backed up for miles on one of the area’s most congested thoroughfares — all to make sure that no one in the HOV lane was driving alone. In another precious example of tax dollars being wasted by Keystone cops, the Newport News police department admitted this week that the word “Virginia” was misspelled on at least 30 of the city’s patrol cars — and none of the officers noticed for at least six months.

Violent crime is still a major problem, especially in Washington. This area will always be a prime terrorist target. Local police need to try to at least look more serious about prioritizing serious crimes. Using police officers to randomly stop innumerable innocent passers-by is not an effective use of crime-fighting dollars. Entrapment schemes like these make a mockery of the police mission to serve and protect.

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