Pubdate: Sun, 01 Oct 2000
Source: Journal Gazette (IN)
Copyright: 2000 Journal Gazette
Contact:  600 W. Main Street, Ft. Wayne, IN. 46802
Fax: (219) 461-8648
Author: Sylvia A. Smith, Washington Editor


Indianapolis Used Them In Anti-drug Campaign

Police say drug-sniffing dogs and traffic roadblocks are potent weapons in 
their war-on-drug arsenal.

For more than a year, police departments have been reluctant to send 
officers out to flag down motorists on the highway and examine their 
driver's licenses while dogs roamed outside the cars, sniffing for cocaine, 
heroin and other illegal drugs.

The practice was put on hold when a federal appeals court ruled that an 
Indianapolis program geared to stopping drug peddlers was "a pretext for a 
dragnet search for criminals" and is unconstitutional.

Indianapolis officials say there's not much difference between 
drunken-driving roadblocks - which are constitutional - and drug 
roadblocks, and that the minor inconvenience they cause drivers is worth it 
if drug dealers are snagged.

The Supreme Court agreed to settle the dispute and will listen to both 
sides Tuesday. A decision will be months away.

John Krull, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, said 
that if the justices agree with Indianapolis that random roadblocks are 
fair, "you're not going to be secure in your person, in your home. ... The 
Fourth Amendment won't mean anything anymore."

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and 
effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, 
and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or 
affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the 
person or thing to be seized."

ICLU attorneys will argue the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of 
two Indianapolis motorists who were caught in the roadblock but were not 

Indianapolis police developed the program in response to neighborhood 
complaints about drug dealers, said Beth White, deputy corporation counsel 
for the city.

During six roadblocks over three months in 1998, police stopped 1,161 cars 
and ended up arresting 104 drivers; 55 were charged with drug offenses, and 
49 were charged with other violations.

"We believe if the program is random," White said, "it is not an 
unreasonable search and seizure. ... Our position is that the direct harm 
that grows out of the drug trade is sufficient to justify this minimum 

Groups representing the nation's governors, counties and mayors agree and 
filed "friend of the court" briefs supporting Indianapolis' arguments.

But not all police officials embrace random drug roadblocks. Both Allen 
County Sheriff Jim Herman and Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York think 
they're distasteful.

"It certainly smacks of the police state for people to be stopped on their 
way to some place," when there's no probable cause - the car weaving from 
lane to lane, for instance - that something is amiss, Herman said.

"Roadblocks are contrary to my philosophy of law enforcement," he said.

York said he thinks throwing a net as wide as a random roadblock violates 
people's rights. ... "You're stopping so many people and interrupting their 
travel or their business."

The city and county police departments teamed up to operate a random drug 
roadblock once. It was in 1998, about the same time Indianapolis police 
launched their program.

"We got a lot of citizen complaints," Herman said. "They said they weren't 
doing anything wrong and were just stopped because they were driving in a 
particular place. And we didn't get a lot (of contraband) out of it. You 
have to weigh those things."

One of the complaints came from then-Mayor Paul Helmke, who got caught in a 
traffic jam in Indianapolis during one of the roadblocks. He said when he 
returned to Fort Wayne and found out that local police had conducted the 
same kind of roadblock, he put an end to it.

Mark Dobson, a professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort 
Lauderdale, Fla., said that if the Supreme Court decides Indianapolis is 
right, it will open the door to many other ways police could stop people 
when there is no obvious clue that a crime has been committed.
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