SALEM — Law enforcement agencies are speaking out against legislation that would require officers to advise people of their right to refuse a search during a traffic stop.
Proponents of the bill say the requirement would be similar to a Miranda warning, when arrestees are told they have the right to remain silent and to access to an attorney.
“The consent search issue is something that is probably going to be controversial because it is used as major part of law enforcement in some places, and we’ve got to figure out how to deal with that in a way that seems fair to the community, not just arbitrary,” said Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who sponsored the bill.
Police officers may search a person or their vehicle with the person’s consent. Some jurisdictions, but not all, require written consent.
Consent searches are “a common tool in a police officer’s repertoire,” said Michael Selvaggio, a lobbyist for the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs. “As such they have, in fact, resulted in a number of harmful or dangerous individuals, substances and weapons being taken off the street.”
Selvaggio said the requirement would result in criminal cases being overturned and additional litigation over convictions.
Kimberly McCullough, legislative director for ACLU of Oregon, said there is no judicially defined standard of proof for officers to initiate a consent search during a traffic stop. That means that consent searches can “effectively facilitate racial profiling and other types of profiling,” McCullough said.
“The ACLU is concerned that what may often be purportedly consensual searches may, in many cases, actually be coercive to individuals who either don’t understand the implications of consent, or that they have a right to refuse a search, or that feel intimidated into consenting,” McCullough said.
Frederick’s proposal was considered for inclusion in a higher profile omnibus racial profiling bill crafted by a Department of Justice task force, but was omitted due to law enforcement opposition.
Similar laws have been passed in Rhode Island and in municipalities around the nation, said McCullough of the ACLU of Oregon.
“Some of the members of the community that I deal with there is a sense of being under siege, and it’s not just the kind of thing that you hear headlines about in terms of any sort of use of force but also sort of drip, drip, drip of harassment or concerns of not (feeling) they’re not being treated fairly,” Frederick said.
Another bill by Frederick aims to reduce the use of traffic citation quotas in law enforcement.