- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pennsylvania police this week were pulling people to the side of the road, quizzing them on their driving habits, and asking if they’d like to provide a cheek swap or a blood sample — the latest in a federally contracted operation that’s touted as making roads safer.

The same operation took place last month at a community in Texas. Then, drivers were randomly told to pull off the road into a parking lot, where white-coated researchers asked if they’d like to provide DNA samples for a project that determines what percentage of drivers are operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol at given times.

With uniformed police in the background, the researchers also offered the motorists money — up to $50 or so — for the blood or saliva samples.

Apparently, next stop: Reading, Pa.

Police there joined forces with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation — a company hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — to conduct the road stops. And even though the drivers were told their provision of DNA was purely voluntary, many complained about the insistent quizzing and overall feeling of pressure — and that they were pulled to the side of the road in the first place for a research project, the Reading Eagle reported.

“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,” said Reading resident Ricardo Nieves, in a complaint to the town’s City Council earlier this week, Fox News reported.

Last month, the police chief of Fort Worth, Texas, actually issued an apology to drivers and residents, and promised to never participate in the federally driven study again. Fort Worth residents had complained about the high-pressure questioning, the intimidating presence of uniformed officers, and what they called a clear hit to their constitutional rights.

Reading resident may not get the same apology, however,

Reading Police Chief William Hein said to the Reading Eagle that federal authorities are only trying to determine the extent of drunken and drugged driving statistics as part of an overall fight to lower road crashes and driving-related injuries. And he said the cheek swab requests weren’t aimed at collecting DNA but rather checking for the presence of prescription drugs, Fox News said. Moreover, he claimed police only served as security and weren’t actually pulling drivers to the side or asking questions.

“In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s a pretty innocuous and minor issue,” Mr. Heim said, in the Reading Eagle.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is watching the operation closely, claiming such checkpoints are only constitutional if they’re aimed at protecting the safety of the public, Fox News reported.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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