By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — Police agencies shouldn’t be allowed to help research groups and private companies take blood, urine, saliva and other samples from drivers who stop at voluntary checkpoints, some lawmakers say.
The practice of law enforcement officers directing vehicles off the road at so-called voluntary checkpoints creates “fear and intimidation,” said Rep. Jim Runestad, a White Lake Republican and lead sponsor of a new bill that would outlaw such assistance.
Drivers who pull over are then asked to provide cheek swabs to provide data to private companies on alcohol and drug use that can “inhibit their driving,” Runestad said. The information can then be used, for example, to design drugged and drunken driving programs.
Co-sponsor Joel Johnson, R-Clare, said he’s heard from people who learned of the practice on Facebook and “are a little concerned. When you have police participating in a voluntary checkpoint, it doesn’t feel voluntary.”
In addition, Johnson said law enforcement agency participation also ties up limited police resources. “I believe our police officers are spread pretty thin already.”
Co-sponsors include Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City; and Mary Rose Robinson, D-Detroit.
The executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police said the practice — which has come under fire in some other states, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Missouri — could put officers in a “Catch 22” situation if they find illegal activity after helping get drivers to voluntarily pull over.
That’s because the officers wouldn’t otherwise have legal grounds to pull over the vehicle, the association’s Robert Stevenson said. But once a vehicle stops, officers might discover stolen merchandise in plain view or suspect that the driver is drunk.
Stevenson, who said he’s unaware of any law enforcement agencies in Michigan engaging in the practice, said, “I think most police department would not want to participate.”
In Pennsylvania, the deputy legal director of the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter, criticized the practice as unconstitutional.
“Our main concern is when a uniformed officer waves you off the road, that’s not constitutional,” said Mary Catherine Roper, who follows the issue closely.
“You pull a vehicle over. You’re looking into that vehicle. Most people are going to answer questions because they don’t see it as voluntary,” Roper said. “They want to appear cooperative with law enforcement.”
Runestad said he has no objection if private companies want to set up voluntary checkpoints on their own but that drivers feel it’s coercive and involuntary if police get involved.
“They are the authorities. They are the ones who carry guns. They are the ones who write tickets,” he said.
Under the legislation, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t be able to let their officers “participate in, lend assistance to or be present in any official capacity at a voluntary motor vehicle checkpoint or stop conducted by a private company or research group to collect human samples from consenting drives who are stopped at the checkpoint for research or statistical purposes.”
It would apply even to federally funded checkpoints conducted for research.
The bill, which is pending in the House Criminal Justice Committee, would apply to checkpoints that take cheek swabs, blood and urine samples, hair, saliva and other bodily fluids.
The police chiefs’ association has no position yet on the bill, Stevenson said, and the State Police said the department’s Legislative and Legal Resources Section is reviewing the legislation.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS EDITORS:
HB 4870: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/House/pdf/2015-HIB-4870.pdf
By ERIC FREEDMAN