Traffic Safety Administration Takes Its Blood And Saliva 'Survey' To Pennsylvania, With Predictable Results
from the this-isn't-over-yet dept
It appears the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (in conjunction with the White House Office of National Drug Policy) isn’t done turning American citizens against their local police departments with its quest to determine what percentage of drivers are hitting the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The police department of Ft. Worth, Texas, didn’t seem to enjoy the extra attention its assistance of the NHTSA at “voluntary” checkpoints brought with it. After first defending his officers’ actions during the saliva/blood/oxygen draws, the chief later backtracked, offering a sincere apology that actually apologized for his department’s participation rather than simply leaving any contrition left unsaid. (“We apologize if any drivers were offended…” Seriously?)
The claims made by both the NHTSA and Ft. Worth PD about this “survey” didn’t add up. It was supposedly both “voluntary” and “anonymous.” But drivers who refused to participate had their breath surreptitiously “tested” by Passive Alcohol Detectors, which means at least one aspect wasn’t “voluntary.” And those that did agree to give blood or saliva had to sign a release form, which knocks a pretty big hole in the “anonymity” side of it. Furthermore, having law enforcement officers ask nicely for cooperation tends to make “voluntary” experiences feel more “mandatory.” A sign posted before the checkpoint could have pointed out the survey was voluntary, but one would imagine this sort of notification would have eliminated the desired “randomness” the NHTSA was seeking.
I assume we’ll be hearing more about this in the next few days, but it appears the NHTSA Blood n’ Spit Road Show has moved on to Reading, Pennsylvania.
Police there joined forces with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation — a company hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — to conduct the road stops.
This doesn’t seem to have made some locals very happy.
[E]ven though the drivers were told their provision of DNA was purely voluntary, many complained about the insistent quizzing and overall feeling of pressure — and that they were pulled to the side of the road in the first place for a research project, the Reading Eagle reported.
“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,” said Reading resident Ricardo Nieves, in a complaint to the town’s City Council earlier this week, Fox News reported.
But it appears as though the Reading police chief won’t be apologizing any time soon for lending out his officers (and their perceived authority).
Reading Police Chief William Heim said to the Reading Eagle that federal authorities are only trying to determine the extent of drunken and drugged driving statistics as part of an overall fight to lower road crashes and driving-related injuries. And he said the cheek swab requests weren’t aimed at collecting DNA but rather checking for the presence of prescription drugs, Fox News said. Moreover, he claimed police only served as security and weren’t actually pulling drivers to the side or asking questions.
This survey may not be aimed at collecting DNA, but it’s not as though it’s not being collected along with the blood and saliva. Other than protecting the cash box (donors are awarded $10-50, depending on which fluid is volunteered), it would seem a truly voluntary survey wouldn’t need much in terms of “security.” What sending police officers does do, whether intentionally or not, is provide the surveyors with more participants by lightly applying the color of authority. Chief Heim, however, seems either blissfully ignorant or deliberately ignorant of the effect adding a “police presence” has on a situation.
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.
Only a cop could give that answer with a straight face and only a cop would. Every single day people are pressured to do things they don’t want to — or things they don’t feel they should need to — by people in positions of authority. A uniform and an imbalance of power go a long way towards eliminating the resistance shown by average citizens. Only the tenacious escape the hundreds of purely voluntary situations (“would you mind popping the trunk for me?” “would you mind pulling ahead to the inspection area?”) that arise everyday. Most people simply give these officers what they want, even when the officers themselves know they have no right to ask for it.
There will be more fallout from the NHTSA’s latest bodily fluid “survey” stop. There will be more in the future as it continues around the country. And accompanying it all will be the assertion that adding police officers into the mix has zero effect on the public’s perception of these “voluntary” surveys.