Friday, March 04, 2011

Cops and Robbers

This morning as I did my 1.75 mile walk around Lake Underhill before heading out to classes on this last day before spring break, I notice what I first presume to be two broken down vehicles. The two SUVs were stopped in the far right lane of the bridge over Lake Underhill, the lane that serves as entrance from Lake Underhill Drive and the exit for Conway Road. One of the SUVs appeared to be brand new, completely black with dark tinted windows, the other an older tan colored SUV that needed a wash.

As I got closer, I see the driver of the black SUV standing at the window of the tan SUV, exchanging something with the driver in the tan SUV then walking back to his car. He’s dressed in t-shirt and sun glasses. Good Lord, I think to myself, is this a drug deal going down in broad daylight right here on the expressway?

It’s only then that I see the flashing lights barely visible at the top of the black SUV’s windshield. So, the cops have taken to using expensive new SUVs and dressing like drug dealers for their traffic stops? Wonder how much that SUV set back the local taxpayers even as our fascist governor seeks to take a meat axe to any program that might actually help Florida residents under the rubric of “We can’t afford that” (as if Republicans somehow speak for all Floridians).

On days like these, the wisdom of my late, crazy cousin, Ansel, comes back to me: “The only thing separating the cops from the robbers is the badge,” he said. And at a very basic level, that was certainly true in this morning’s incident.

Florida criminal law has created a presumption of criminal intent when individuals enter onto property in a stealthy manner. At some level, the presumption makes sense. If someone is hiding in the bushes outside your house, the chances are not good that they’re there to offer you a copy of the Watchtower. But what about cops who disguise themselves as drug dealers, who hide in bushes with radar guns. Certainly these behaviors speak to stealth. Are their intentions criminal? How can we tell?

As I’ve said many times, if a LEO wants the traffic to slow down, all s/he has to do is be visible. A police car in traffic inevitably slows the pace of the traffic to the posted speed limit. A LEO on the side of the highways always prompts drivers to slow down and begin looking around for the speed limit signs. Indeed, how many LEOs have testified that the fronts of vehicles suddenly move downward as the drivers brake them upon spotting the LEO?

If the goal of traffic law enforcement is to get drivers to obey the speed limits, all they have to do is be visible. If, on the other hand, the goal is to collect revenue in a state which has proven criminally irresponsible in creating and maintaining and adequate revenue basis (translation: them rich folks don’t pay no taxes), LEOS engaging in presumed criminal behaviors and dressing up like drug dealers may certainly prove effective fund raising tactics. But at what cost to the credibility of law enforcement? At what cost to the integrity of the state? And what happens when the citizenry no longer see the law, its makers and its enforcers as legitimate?

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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