Police in at least two cities have been accused of coercing drivers to pull over so a federal contractor could ask them questions and for a swab of their saliva.
A private firm with a federal contract – and backed up by city police – forced motorists off Laurel Street in Reading, Pennsylvania, and into a private parking lot Friday to question them about their driving habits and ask for a swab of their mouth.
“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,” Reading resident Ricardo Nieves, one of those stopped, told City Council Monday.
He said federal and local tax dollars were being used to stop innocent people without probable cause, and allow a private company to hire uniformed police to force citizens to listen to their questions.
He said he wasn’t told what the swab was for, but added, “Clearly it was for DNA.”
The checkpoint was among several being carried out in Pennsylvania by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
City Police Chief William M. Heim said the two federal agencies are trying to see what can be done about crashes and injuries, and the swabs were not to get DNA samples but to test for the presence of prescription drugs.
The checkpoint was supposed to be voluntary, but Nieves said he had to refuse several times over a five-minute period before the woman taking the survey let him go.
What irked Nieves was the presence of city police. He said they were there – including a police car with flashing lights – to intimidate motorists, and gave the checkpoint an air of authority it would not otherwise have had.
“A federal survey with local police help violates my rights,” Nieves said.
Heim said city police were hired for site security only, since the survey takers were paying money for answers and for the swabs.
But he said city police did not pull motorists over, nor ask any questions, and in fact were asked to stay away from the cars.
Asked about Nieves’ statement that the private firm wanted police there for intimidation, Heim responded: “People are not pressured by police presence to do something they don’t want to.
“In the grand scheme of things, I think it’s a pretty innocuous and minor issue.”
Heim said checkpoints are fairly common – for seat belt use, drunken driving, truck safety regulations – and all result in minor inconvenience.
However, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said those checkpoints are legal only to protect public safety.
“A car driver or passenger cannot be required or pressured into providing a DNA sample and, in fact, can’t be stopped at all except on suspicion of a crime or for a properly conducted sobriety checkpoint,” Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the Reading Eagle Monday.
The checkpoint was part of a $7.9 million, three-year survey by the agencies, which has been conducted several times since the 1970s.
The surveys have gained more scrutiny this year because the Obama administration has been heavily criticized over revelations that US spy agencies are tracking phone and Internet traffic, CNN reported in June.
Susan Watson, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told CNN that Alabama’s use of deputies to conduct the survey was an abuse of power.
Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer said neither he nor Managing Director Carole B. Snyder were aware of it, and he needs to understand what role police played before making any comment on it.
Council members also were upset, and said if local police are there, it appears they are operating the checkpoint.
Councilman Dennis M. Sterner was livid that government can’t pick up local drug dealers without a two-year investigation, but can stop motorists at random.
“Our rights are being violated more and more every day,” he said. “It’s another way of government intrusion into our lives.” readingeagle.com
Source: Press TV