Police in Lakeview, Texas are routinely conducting traffic stops without probable cause that a violation has occurred – and have packaged these unlawful detentions in a way that has earned media approval.
The pretext offered by the department is its “Doing it Right Safe Driving Campaign,” through which officers who lurk in the shadows like rapists stop drivers who appear to be following all of the rules and then given Starbucks gift certificates – but only if a scan of the driver’s license and registration reveals no outstanding warrants or violations. The confused and anxious motorists are not told the purpose of the traffic stop until the officer returns with the surprise gift – which is actually a species of Trojan Horse that permits the officer to sneak a peek at the driver’s record without a legally valid reason.
“Recently, we’ve seen a lot of negative things about the police,” explained Lakeview Police Chief David Hotchkiss to the Baxter Bulletin newspaper. “I just wanted to do something that let the community see us doing something good and let us look for drivers doing good things.”
The idea earned the approval of Lakeview mayor Dennis Behling and the City Council, and attracted the interest of local citizens who donated the money to buy gift certificates ranging in price from $15 to $25 dollars apiece.
According to Chief Hotchkiss, the “Doing it Right” initiative offers “an opportunity to interact with people for a positive reason. For the community, it allowed them to interact with us when there was nothing wrong and we were giving them a gift. That allowed us to start relationships on a positive note and that’s great.” The Chief expressed satisfaction over “looking for someone doing something right.”
If this were the case, of course, police who stopped drivers for the supposed purpose of commending them for their careful and responsible conduct would not be reviewing their records in search of something “wrong.”
There is no such thing as an innocuous contact between a citizen and a police officer, especially when that contact involves a demand for identification and scrutiny of the citizen’s background. In every contact with a citizen, a police officer treats the latter as a potential suspect and a threat to “officer safety.” Police are taught to treat every encounter as a potentially life-threatening situation, and citizens would be wise to do the same. Citizens should also assume that the police officer is not looking for an excuse to commend you, but rather for a reason to arrest you, especially when they refuse to provide any explanation for the stop.
Texas residents, in particular, have reason to understand that reality. Because of the unwarranted actions of the officer who initiated it, Sandra Bland’s encounter with the police escalated from a routine stop to an altercation that led to an arrest, spurious charges of “assaulting an officer,” and the motorist’s still-unexplained death in a jail cell. The officer in that incident treated Bland’s assertion of her rights as a threat to his safety, and a form of “contempt of cop” that supposedly justified summary punishment.
The “Doing it Right” program was brought to the attention of The Free Thought Project by a Lakeview resident – a recent arrival who asked that her name not be used.
“If the police want to reward somebody for doing things right, give the driver the reward without treating them like a suspect first,” she suggested.Reasonable as that recommendation may be, it would vitiate the entire purpose of the exercise. Other
Reasonable as that recommendation may be, it would spoil the entire purpose of the exercise. Other residents of the town of roughly 6,600 – with a crime rate much higher than the national average — might find it curious that the police are spending time on a low-risk, high-profile PR campaign that allows them to rummage through the records of harmless drivers, rather than dealing with the city’s ever-growing number of robberies and burglaries.
Given the choice of trolling for revenue or protecting property, police in Lakeview – like their comrades elsewhere – will always opt for the first alternative.
William N. Grigg writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com