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Are Police Criminal Profiling Drivers in Oregon?Tim King Salem-News.com
Are police in Oregon practicing criminal profiling?
(SALEM, Ore.) - If you are driving around with a lot of cash in Oregon and your car has California license plates; you might end up in big trouble. Police in Oregon say they don't use "criminal profiling" but some stories are hard to explain as anything else.
Oregon State Police are investigating money laundering charges after troopers discovered over $61,000 cash in a car during a May 20th traffic stop that was actually initiated by a city police officer from Cottage Grove patrolling the freeway.
OSP troopers and drug enforcement detectives say they, "believe the cash is tied to drug trafficking".
But no arrests have been made and now the case is pending review by the Lane County District Attorney's Office for consideration of charges. The people in possession of the money did not have any drugs. Oregon State Police Spokesman Gregg Hastings, says that around 9:30 PM on May 20th, a Cottage Grove City Police officer stopped a 1993 Honda Accord with California license plates that was southbound on Interstate 5 near milepost 186, "for failure to maintain a single lane of travel and suspicion of DUII." The driver was not arrested for driving while intoxicated.
The Cottage Grove officer asked OSP troopers for back up during the stop and Hastings says that after arriving, the troopers, "noted indicators that the vehicle may be involved in criminal activity."
He added that, "Further investigation led to the discovery of $61,340 cash concealed inside the vehicle. No illegal drugs were found. An OSP trooper and drug dog assisted during the investigation."
We asked, but were unable to learn from police whether or not the driver of the Honda consented to a search of the car. The police also did not elaborate on what the suspected illegal activity was.
The car's two occupants, a 38-year old man and 21-year old man, both from Southern California, were detained and later released. Their names are not being released because they have not been arrested in this case.
This is an interesting story in an age when people seem to often be arrested and in trouble for possessing not just drugs and weapons, but "cash" more frequently than ever.
Does anyone else notice anything that might be odd about this? Last time I checked, it is perfectly legal to possess money and people are also allowed to own firearms. They can't own them if they are felons, but that is another matter. The people in this case did not possess drugs or firearms.
It seems that if people want to possess a large amount of money, it is very possibly nobody's business but their own, particularly in this day and age with the nation's economy sagging. In the 20's people who kept money in the bank lost it in a single day as if it had never existed.
I recall being pulled over in Lincoln City several years ago in an aging Ford LTD. The officer's opening line was, "Sir, do you have any drugs, weapons or large amounts of cash?" We always laughed about that later. My reply was, "Man if I had a bunch of cash I sure wouldn't be driving this piece of s..."
It seems a matter of semantics, but the use of words in that way is a psychological tool, and they carry great weight. It only makes sense to take note of that. That is probably why "drugs" and "weapons" and "cash" are so frequently bantered by police when often the weapons are perfectly legal and so is the cash.
I admit that we writers follow suit frequently. Perhaps much of the time the money was acquired through illegal means, but it seems reasonable to assume that is not always the case.
Another tool police sometimes use is an extensive list of charges. It may raise the chances of the police getting a conviction, because the more charges they name, the more a person inadvertently appears guilty before charged. I'm not saying this is deceitful or illegal; the police have a job to do, they have good tools and use them. They want convictions and they get them. But at what point is the public trust at stake?
This appears to be a story about criminal profiling, and that is a subject in itself when you live in a democracy. Do we have freedom and liberty to drive down the road without being accosted by police? I personally have had some odd experiences since I recently began driving an older mini van as both a family and work vehicle. I had no idea that a Plymouth Voyager would double as a "cop magnet" but that is the case.
Mini Van Cop Magnet?
My first strange encounter was with a McMinnville Police sergeant. My family and I were returning home at about 9:00 PM on a weeknight on Highway 18 and the officer paced us for a couple of miles and quite obviously was running our plate. Guess what kind of plate was on the van at that point? You guessed it, my home state; California. the van was a slightly beat up family "hand me down" that I had picked up the week before from my older brother in Sacramento.
Fully aware that I was being paced and knowing I was violating no laws, I had the cruise control locked at 55 mph and was not alarmed by the officer's presence and figured he would do his thing and move on. No way; on came the red flashing lights and I was pulled over!
In retrospect, if I had been doing anything illegal, my number would have been up. If I were a criminal, I would have been busted. The more important thing is that in the end, I had violated no law at all, I was just pulled over and there was not a legitimate reason for it.
He was courteous, but the officer told me that I failed to use a turn signal. Anyone who rides with me knows that I take driving very seriously and I ALWAYS use my turn signals. I don't care if it is the middle of the night in the Arizona desert, I always signal, in fact I'm ridiculous about it and I used to yell at people in traffic for not using their turn signals. (Thank goodness I got past that stage, it is a stressful way to live.)
Anyway, I signed the ticket and said goodnight to the police sergeant and I did tell him that I would see him in court to review the tape.
We had not been there very long, when a Yamhill County, Oregon deputy was at my door. It was a strange thing at 10:00 PM on a school night, but that's OK. The deputy asked for my phone number, saying a sergeant in McMinnville wanted it, he assumed I might know who that was.
I gave the deputy my number and the police sergeant soon called, explaining that he had reviewed the video tape in the police car camera and that I had in fact used my signal, and it was his mistake. He asked me to tear the ticket up and throw it away and forget about it.
I will always believe that this was a simple process and that the traffic cop honestly thought I hadn't used my signal, but I knew I had and even if I hadn't, aren't there more important things for police to do?
I still find it strange and I still run through the factors; older mini van with tinted windows, California plates, driving at night... it is a strange incident that harks of criminal profiling. What if I hadn't been a courteous career reporter? What if I had been defensive? What if I had a bunch of money my wife and I had been putting away in private savings?
I can see the story reading something like: "Police say King was driving erratically and changing lanes without turn signals... "
Answering the question of whether or not police in Oregon use criminal profiling, Gregg Hastings with OSP shared this statement with Salem-News.com.
"No connection. Remember it is dark about 9:20 PM so you usually have no idea who is in the car. We don't criminal profile."
Hastings says they are trained to look beyond the ticket. As far as what the officers saw that prompted them to search the car for money, Hastings said, "We are not releasing any information about what indicators the officer saw. The investigation is continuing."
People like "Tattoo Mike" of the local Gypsy Jokers Motorcycle Club in Salem, say the practice of criminal profiling is alive and well in Oregon.
Mike would know. He and several other Jokers have won two different lawsuits against police agencies in Oregon over criminal profiling. Of course policies and practices vary in every state, and from agency to agency, but the attorney for the Group, Leonard Bernstein in Portland, says police agencies in this state have a long way to go.
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