Farewell Cool Cops, Hello Too Much Police Power

Now that the long awaited Johannes Mehserle verdict has been given, folks everywhere can go back to following more important news.

Seriously though, I don’t know how the Mehserle saga was playing out in the rest of the country, but here on the west coast it dominated local news reports for weeks.  And, as is common with police brutality (or should I say involuntary manslaughter) cases, the aftermath culminated with a good ol’ fashion riot.  Naturally of course, the actual rioters consisted of rich over-privileged anarchists and the ever-present opportunists whose motivation for rioting lay more toward scoring a new stereo system rather than any actual outrage concerning a perceived injustice.  But with all the excitement now coming to an end, one lingering question still comes to mind: whatever happened to cool cops?

You know the kind who would visit your elementary school class when you were a kid and hand out free candy or if you were lucky enough, let you hold their gun.  Whatever happened to those cops.  Sometimes it can seem like the only ones left completed their training a Shawshank.

The Mehserle trial got me thinking about how much power police officers can have over us citizens, even those in the legal field.  There are many things cops have the right to do that seem downright unfair, and I don’t mean just commandeering vehicles.

Here are four of the most interesting and strange police powers you may be unaware of:

1)      Give You A Speeding Ticket Without Actually Knowing Your Speed
Pretty shocking right?  I was surprised about this one to when I was researching this post, but it’s true.  However, fortunately right now this police power is only limited to Ohio.  Yep, residents of the Buckeye State can be pulled over by cops for speeding without the use of a radar gun.  The Ohio Supreme Court essentially ruled that trained officers could eyeball speeders and issue tickets based on their own estimates.  It’s a wacky ruling, one that I hope doesn’t spread to the rest of the country

2) Place You Under Arrest For Recording Them
I did a post about this very topic earlier, but it still shocks me every time.  Currently, only 12 states have privacy laws that require consent from all parties being recorded in order for it to be legal.  However, this law only concerns recording on private or government property.  The exceptions are Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts.  These three states have somehow construed their privacy laws to extend to public places as well, meaning a cop can place you in handcuffs for filming him tasering teenage girls in a public park in broad daylight if he didn’t give you the go ahead first.

3) Civil Asset Forfeiture
What does this legalese-sounding gibberish mean?  It’s the police’s way of saying we’re taking your stuff and if you want it back, you better cough up enough cash to win it back when we auction it off.  Essentially civil asset forfeiture occurs when your property is used or involved in the commitment of a crime.  When this happens, the police are allowed to take the property into evidence and after the case has been resolved (even if there’s no conviction or indictment) the property becomes police property and they may do what they will with it.  This power isn’t entirely a bad thing.  Criminals who do wrong shouldn’t be allowed to keep the instrument they used to complete their crimes.  The problem, however, is when an innocent person has their property stolen by a criminal for use in a crime.  When this happens, the innocent person has the burden of proof to show that he or she had nothing to do with the crime and that they are innocent.  There is really no standard that the police use to judge whether a person has given enough proof and often times, property isn’t returned.  This type of situation arises most often with seized cars.  Criminals will steal a car and use it for a crime; then it’s up to the bewildered victim to establish his going for a latte wasn’t a signal for the criminal to take his wheels.

4) Arrest You For Having Condoms Because That Means You’re a Hooker
You heard me!  Better brace yoself foo’, because that pack of Trojans is reasonable suspicion to toss you in the slammer.  In Washington D.C., police officers are allowed to arrest people for carry three or more condoms on their person at any given time.  As mental as this seems, the law was really designed to cut down on the growing prostitution problem going on in the city.  A problem that I’m sure was in no way made bigger by numerous politicians patronizing members of the oldest profession.  Anyway, as expected women’s rights groups everywhere were in an uproar because many of the people being arrested were, you guess it, women.  Some of whom weren’t actually prostitutes.  However, the real problem with this law isn’t that innocent people are being falsely arrested for hooking.  The problem is that the law actually discourages prostitutes (and probably to some extent everyone in the D.C. area) from carrying condoms, which in turn means that johns will have to go bareback. Which is great for hard-up johns looking for human contact, but disastrous in doing important stuff, like, oh I don’t know, prevent the spread of AIDS and other dangerous and deadly sexually transmitted diseases.

So there you have it, four of the oddest overbearing police powers.  Why only four of them you ask and not a traditional number like five?  Because a list of four is irreverent and an attention grabber, as evidenced by you reading this entire post.  That and I couldn’t find a fifth one. . .

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