Police profiling and fishing

Another old story from my days in Ames, Iowa:

I was making a left turn out of a side road onto a more major (though very sparsely driven) divided road. A highway patrolman was coming from the left and I pulled out with an extremely large and safe amount of distance in front of him. For some reason that I haven’t determined, he whipped around behind me. He pulled me over and told me that my window tint was illegal, my license plate cover made it hard for him to read my rear plate, and he complained that I had no front plate. He said he wasn’t going to ask me to do anything about my tint since it is legal in the state in which my car is registered (Arizona); same thing for the missing front license plate. He said he wasn’t going to write me a ticket but he was suggesting that I remove the rear plate cover. Now I have a few thoughts on this sequence of events. First, I wonder why he flipped around in the first place since my windows aren’t all that dark and he surely couldn’t have seen my rear plate when I turned across his path. Second, I don’t think he would have a case on the window tint considering that it’s legal where the car is registered and it’s hard to imagine Iowa having a law that would basically prohibit visitors from Arizona (the commerce clause might allow the federal government to prevent such a law). As for the license plate cover, sure it’s illegal but it’s not coming off until big brother takes down his ticket cameras.

Now allow me to rant a bit about tint. We supposedly live in a free country yet a person can’t say to himself “You know, I don’t really like the heat from the sun and I don’t like it getting in my eyes so maybe I’ll darken the windows up a bit.” In Iowa the law apparently allows for absolutely no aftermarket tint on the front two windows. Where’s the freedom there? Some people might say that the law exists for the safety of cops. I say that’s bogus. First, anything over 50% tint is barely noticeable. Mine is 35% and you can see through my car with no problem. If I do it again, I’ll probably get the same but I’d be tempted to go to 20%. Second, if the police lock everybody up in prison cells, I’m sure the streets would be safer but that’s just how the tradeoff between freedom and safety goes. How the heck is allowing absolutely no tint a tradeoff of any sort? I probably wouldn’t be complaining if the law was more rational like perhaps 35% or 20%. I can understand that it’s dangerous for people to have windows so dark that they can’t see through them to drive. I also possibly could be sympathetic to the cop safety argument. But no tint at all? That’s the compromise that the legislature came up with? Never mind that factory tint is somehow legal. I can buy a car with dark tint but I can’t put it on myself. Where is the freedom if I can’t even make such basic decisions about my property?

(EDIT August 16, 2015: I found out last week that the officer lied to me about the Iowa tint laws. Some tint is in fact allowed.)

Now let me contemplate why I was even pulled over in the first place. The only thing I can think is that the officer saw my lack of a front license plate (AZ doesn’t have one) and flipped around after me only to discover that I was legal but he didn’t want his effort to be wasted so he found other things wrong. Otherwise he would have to be quite a tint-nazi to waste his time on suspicious tint, particularly since he may not have even been on the correct side of the law given my out-of-state registration.

Here is the real rant. I’ve often said that you can’t drive the number of miles I drive without being pulled over every couple years. That’s about how often I get pulled over and it’s rarely for a good reason. But then I got to thinking a bit deeper. My mom hasn’t been pulled over since the 70s, if I recall correctly. She doesn’t drive as much as I do but surely she has racked up enough miles to get pulled over a few times. She even drives vehicles with illegal tint sometimes. This isn’t that shocking, but the bottom line is that this is police profiling. A lady made a comment about this at a coffee shop one time and it was kind of a new way of thinking about these things. She said something along the lines of “I’m glad I’m not in your shoes because I know how cops target young kids.” Before that, I had never really realized that cops don’t harass everybody. A cop will gladly waste his time with a college kid because there is a statistically good chance that the person is drunk, has drugs, etc. If a cop sees my mom driving with illegal tint he’s not going to think twice because he knows that his chances of getting a real reward are low. In fact, he probably doesn’t even notice the illegal tint until he needs a reason to pull the person over. It’s all about the reward system. Cops aren’t rewarded for illegal tint citations but the system definitely rewards them for a DUI. And if there is no DUI but the person isn’t friendly then the cop can still go ahead and give that tint citation just to assert his authority and raise some funds. The problem is that these are basically illegal stops, yet cops do this every day. I can only assume that it’s way worse for minorities. What really angers me is when it’s the same people who say “well if you did the crime then you deserve to get pulled over” that are also against profiling.

I want to be able to wake up in the morning, get in the car, and make it to my destination without being harassed by police if there aren’t any major foul-ups along the way. A lot of these stupid laws are on the books not because of a real danger but because cops want more reasons to stop people. The legislators get to act like they are doing something because the average person doesn’t see any problem with many of these laws in isolation. It’s when they are used together as part of an enforcement regime that they become a problem. We need to repeal many of these laws to return to a system in which police officers stop people because they did something that was actually unsafe. Really, in an ideal system, we would be able to have 100% enforcement, but that wouldn’t currently be sustainable. If every driver, regardless of age, sex, or political connections, were ticketed every time that a cop observed a violation of one of the thousands of laws on the books, the laws would go away rather quickly. This is a good indicator that we are currently burdened with a bunch of bad laws.

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