Sunday, July 19, 2009

A letter to the Lake Jackson, TX police chief.

I'm writing in reference to a traffic stop that occurred roughly 2:45pm near the intersection of FM2004 and Old Angleton Road, involving Officer ************.

There were a few things that occurred during this stop that sparked my interest about certain policies within your department.

Shortly after leaving work, I stopped at a local convenience store located at 395 Old Angleton Rd, and purchased a bottle of mineral water. Basic physics tells us that paper, while not the best insulator, really will keep a bottled beverage cooler for slightly longer than a bottle without the light brown I asked for and received one.

Prior to turning into this store, I saw said officer sitting in her parked car, which was partially hidden behind some foliage, presumably to catch those breaking the speed limit. Obviously, no one in their right mind is stupid enough to blatantly drink beer in plain sight of a police officer, especially at a store proudly displaying signs warning that such activity is a misdemeanor offense.

One would think that blatant consumption in front of a police officer, with otherwise flawless driving, would be a good indication that my beverage was NOT of the alcoholic variety. I'm assuming that my driving was flawless, because the officer's stated reason for stopping me was a "reasonable suspicion" of driving with an open container of alcohol, and I was followed for almost a mile before being pulled over immediately prior to crossing the jurisdictional line.

Without further digression, I have a few questions I would like to ask of you, because there are quite a few things I am concerned about. While the officer was very polite, the whole experience really seemed quite Orwellian.

First, I'm wondering why I was followed for almost a mile before I was pulled over, if it wasn't out of hopes that I might be caught swerving/speeding/et cetera in an effort to generate revenue for the department and/or up the officer's citation numbers.

Second, I'm wondering exactly what is necessary to constitute "reasonable suspicion". To the best of my knowledge, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that I am protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. Is pulling my vehicle over and detaining me in the parking lot not a "seizure" of my person, and inspecting my beverage containers not a "search"? Specifically, what creates "reasonable suspicion" when a man is seen drinking a beverage out of a bottle? Does a brown paper wrapper automatically equate with alcohol, merely because some people choose to put them on alcoholic beverages to also keep them insulated? Seeing such a thing, to me, tells me merely that there is a beverage present. Surely, there must be something else in this scenario to give a "reasonable suspicion" that alcohol is present. Perhaps I was being profiled, and an old 4x4 being driven by a grey-haired white guy automatically equates to drunk driving? Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think being seen drinking a cold beverage when it's 90+ degrees outside is grounds for being pulled over by the police.

Third, I am really nervous about the fact that it is (as the officer stated) "part of the ID process" to ascertain a person's home phone number and place of employment. The fact that I am gainfully employed and may or may not have a landline telephone at my residence is of no concern to anyone except myself, my employer, and the phone company. It is certainly irrelevant in the course of a traffic stop, especially after it has been determined that I was guilty of nothing more than taking a swig of mineral water after spending half of my saturday at work. I neither live, nor work, in the city of Lake Jackson...although I do spend quite a good deal of my hard-earned money over there, money that is earned serving many members of your city's police and fire departments.

What troubles me even more than the fact that I was asked such questions, is the fact that I was met with resistance and an almost "harsh" attitude when I asked why such information was necessary. After the officer was unable to answer me, I was told that I could "wait, so the corporal could come out and tell me why" I needed to give up my personal information. Instead of offering a simple and straight-forward answer to my question, I was detained in a very public parking lot on a saturday afternoon, in front of God and everybody, with a patrol car flashing its lights behind me.

As someone who knows my employer personally, I am quite sure that you're aware of the fact that damned near everyone and their uncle has shopped at ******* at some point in the past 30 years. For the past two years, it's been my vehicle they see when they pull into the parking lot, and that's my face they see when I greet them as they walk through our doors. I really don't think it's necessary to be giving the public impression that I am some sort of criminal (because obviously, the police don't stop innocent people for no reason, do they?), when they see me in the Buc-ees parking lot on a saturday afternoon with a lit-up patrol car parked behind me. I don't want the people I come into contact with to be thinking I'm a criminal. Would you want the same for yourself?

I'm not knocking you as the police chief, the department as a whole, or even the officer. I'm just suggesting that your officers may need a little more training, with regards to the fact that the Fourth Amendment of our constitution is not something that can be completely disregarded. I know plenty of cops I would put into the "good" category, that do their jobs appropriately, with professionalism and respect for the rights of the citizen...including a few that work in your department. Unfortunately, I also have dealt with more than my share of "bad" cops, for literally more than half of my life, and these experiences have far outweighed those had with the good ones.

I'm not on some crusade or anything, I just want to get up, go to work, and be able to drive home without having to worry about being pulled over for drinking a bottle of water or have to burn more of my vacation time while waiting to see a judge so another random ticket can be dismissed. Our media is constantly bombarding us with stories about random people being beaten, shot, and harrassed by police officers for no valid reason, and that is already shining a very negative light on our men and women in blue. When we have our police officers pulling people over for taking a drink from a bottle that may or may not be a beer bottle, and after determining it was actually a water bottle, it doesn't help our perspective on the police when citizens are detained for not wanting to sit and play "20 Questions" about our personal business.

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope your doing so will result in some positive changes within your department, so this type of thing does not happen again to myself or any of my loved ones.

Again, thank you for your time.

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