Take my 4th Ammendment, I don't want it
June 5, 2001 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Take my 4th Ammendment, I don't want it...I find it amazing that some people will actually sign up for this. Basically you put a decal on your car that tells the police they can pull you over without cause, between 1am and 5am. Ostensibly to prevent car theft, and late-night joyrides by teenagers. Even if I didn't drive late at night all the time, this strikes me as a foolish bargin, giving up far too much, for far little benefit.
posted by nomisxid (41 comments total)
Where do we sign up to volunteer for vigorous frisking?
posted by rcade at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2001

i dont see what your getting at.
If the police pull u over and your in it - then you have got nothing to worry about.
However if your not in it and a bunch of joy riders are, then your likely to get your car back..

If you dont want your car stopped then simply dont volunteer your car to the scheme
posted by monkeyJuice at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2001

Besides the fact that I would not be willing to sign up for this program for a variety of moral, ethical and legal issues: it seems that it would be inconvenient.

You are late for work and you are pulled over only to verify that you are the owner of your own car.
posted by mmm at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2001

I'd like to know more about what's being instructed on the officers' side regarding these stickers. Are they merely allowed to stop the car without probable cause and verify who's driving it? Or, does the sticker give them the right to search the occupants, the interior of the car, and the trunk? If it's the former, I don't really have a problem with it, since it's a voluntary program. If it's the latter, I have massive problems with it, voluntary program or not.

Ultimately though, it seems like a pointless exercise. I wonder, if teenage joyriding is such a problem, why they need a sticker? Are there no curfew laws for minors in Yakima? And conversely, I doubt it'll deter thieves. People willing to force their way into a car to steal it probably won't have a problem with peeling off a couple stickers- or stealing the next car on the street without stickers.
posted by headspace at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2001

This has been going on since 1997?

"...if an officer sees a car without the decals being operated in a suspicious manner and finds it in the Watch Your Car database, the car can also be stopped to determine if the owner of the car is the person driving it."


"The Watch Your Car Program allows car owners to go to bed at night knowing they have done all they can to prevent their cars from being stolen."

I agree, avoid it at all costs, but it does seem to me to be an attempt by law enforcement to extend the circumstances under which they can reasonably pull someone over, hassle them, etc. The articles I've been reading seem to indicate that they hope the decals will have a deterrent effect instead of being a flag to cops: "hey, pull me over!" Can you imagine being a teenaged kid and thinking this was wise to put on your car?
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2001

But, while we're on the subject of ordering cops around, can I have an Ignore This Car decal which basically says that if my car appears to be acting in a suspicious manner, I'm sure I have a very good reason so please leave me alone?
posted by jessamyn at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2001

If I were the malicious teenager I used to be, I would paste these decals on the cars of everyone I hated in high school.
posted by Skot at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2001

"The Watch Your Car Program allows car owners to go to bed at night knowing they have done all they can to prevent their cars from being stolen."

You haven't done all you can until you carry your car battery and hide it under the bed. Also I recommend draining the radiator.
posted by skallas at 8:35 AM on June 5, 2001

'suspicious' is too subjective a word to leave to police officers to define.
posted by tolkhan at 8:39 AM on June 5, 2001

Can I authorize the police to handcuff me (or whoever's driving my car) to the fender and sodomize me with a nightstick?
posted by dfowler at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2001

Thanks, Jessamyn and Skot. I have coffee on my keyboard now.
posted by mimi at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2001

SKOT is the champ. How devious would it be to get a hold of a bunch of those stickers. I would put them on the cops personal cars so they got stopped going to or from the graveyard shift.

I don't think it is a stretch to dream up some "probable cause" to pull you over between 1-5 am anyway. "You were weaving sir" or some other BS is all they need.

I think this is some lame attempt to "include" the citizens in an anti-crime program.

I still like SKOT's idea ;-) MUUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
posted by a3matrix at 8:56 AM on June 5, 2001

I am reminded of one of my favorite Benjamin Franklin quotes:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
posted by jammer at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2001

If my car is out and about between 1 and 5 AM, it's most likely because I'm driving it. Can I have a sticker that reads, "If this car is operating during normal business hours, it's probably been stolen"?

Actually, scratch that - I'm sure the cops won't have any trouble finding an excuse to pull my car over if they really want one.

posted by Mars Saxman at 10:24 AM on June 5, 2001

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2001

Jammer, monju, you beat me to it. Thanks.
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:31 AM on June 5, 2001

I'm glad to see someone(s) brought up the Ben Franklin quote that was on the tip of my tounge when I posted this.

I'm definetly down for SKOT's idea. I'm curious though, since supposedly the cop looks up the car in the Watch Your Car database, before he pulls it over...what does he do, if there's a sticker on the car, but it's not in the database? Is that probable cause to stop someone by itself? The questions roll on....
posted by nomisxid at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2001

anyone know about a similar program in the UK(maybe just Britain?)? i think they have a sticker that reads along the lines of 'the owner of this car is over 30 years of age,' implying that if seen with a younger driver something is amiss. because, of course, all youngsters are criminals. always.
posted by donkeysuck at 10:35 AM on June 5, 2001

Who is that Franklin guy that everyone quotes? Does he work for the GOP?
posted by Postroad at 10:36 AM on June 5, 2001

I heard about this on NPR yesterday and thought, simply, "What keeps a car thief -- or the owner of the car, after having a few drinks -- from simply taping a piece of paper on the outside of the window the sticker is adhered to?"

Er, that's not so hard, is it? It could be a "for sale" sign, it could be a bumper sticker, whatever. It's easy to cover a sticker.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:36 AM on June 5, 2001

implying that if seen with a younger driver something is amiss. because, of course, all youngsters are criminals. always.

Well, if a "youngster" is driving my car, he probably is a criminal.

I really don't see what the problem is. Except in very rare circumstances, if my car is driving around after midnight, it probably has been stolen. I have no issue authorizing a cop to stop my car when I'm not driving it. In fact, that's exactly what I want them to do.
posted by kindall at 10:44 AM on June 5, 2001

We've had this in place where I live since I was a kid (and I did think of that too Skot, but those stickers are suprisingly difficult to get hold of when you're not old enough to drive). They're mostly used from what I've seen by older people who aren't out at those hours 95% of the time, and that's what they're designed for. Most people would welcome the excuse to have their vehicle pulled over when in the vast majority of cases they wouldn't be driving it. As others have pointed out it is a pain in the ass if you DO drive during those hours, but of course you're welcome not to participate in this then. And more power to you either way, that's what choice is about, kids.

I don't have one not because I do drive during those hours, but mostly because if my car is stolen I don't want it back...
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2001

We've had this program in Pittsburgh, PA for more than 5 years. Here, it goes by the name of BAT - Battling Auto Theft. The BAT sticker is affixed to the inside of your windshield next to your state safety inspection stickers, so it would be difficult to sticker someone as a prank (not to mention that the car has to be in the database) and it's really impossible to cover it up in any fashion that wouldn't obscure your safe field of vision. I have no idea as to how widespread it is or how effective it has been, but most of my elderly relatives have the stickers and feel much safer about parking their cars on the street overnight.

I'm not sure how this abridges anyone's liberty. You are free to drive your car anytime you want, and if you are regularly out at those hours or foresee times when you might be, you don't have to participate in this program. If you are driving and you're pulled over, simply showing that you are the owner of the vehicle is the end of the stop. As kindall said, we want the cops to get our cars back if they're stolen. This is a way of helping that to happen which would not encroach on the owner in the vast majority of the cases where it is used. How is that a problem?
posted by Dreama at 11:13 AM on June 5, 2001

I also thought briefly of the Franklin quote, but really, it hardly applies in this case. There are many people for whom the liberties given up in an arrangement like this are not essential, but petty and inconsequential. I myself do rather enjoy the right to drive without interruptions between 1 and 5 in the morning, but it's easy to see how someone with different habits might not consider it important. As for the invasion of privacy implicit in pulling someone over, I think this also depends on personal habit. I tend to assume that anyone can get into my car at any time; I keep nothing private in it, and I don't really view it as my personal space. I know that others feel differently, and I'm sure they've good reason to, but the solution for those people is clear: don't ask the police to pull you over.

I'm not saying that police don't abuse their power, and I'm not saying that the 4th amendment shouldn't apply just as strongly when you're in the car. I just think there are more important things to worry about than a purely voluntary program that won't bother its users at all.

(Of course, it's altogether possible that there's something I'm missing. Could someone try to express more clearly just why this is so serious?)
posted by moss at 11:50 AM on June 5, 2001

We have had this in NYC for a long time now. We had registered our car with the local precinct to get the decals. My dad often questioned the effectiveness of this service given that I drove the car most of the time, and often at night and never got pulled over. I was in high school back then.
posted by tamim at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2001

I think it has something to do with drawing these scenarios out to their exaggerated extremes. Your town has this program, it goes smashingly, car thefts drop to near-zero. Public opinion shifts to say "hey, this is a great idea, lets give everyone a sticker when they re-register their cars" I decide not to put mine on my car because I like to keep my pornography [name any other legal vice here: gun, liquor, ricochet modem] in my car and I don't like to give the wrong impression to law enforcement that I need further investigating. In a possible future world, I get the fish eye for disallowing random searches of my vehicle. Many people, especially young people, have been pulled over for a "busted tail light" or other nonsense when the police officers simply wanted an excuse to look in the car.

I know this sounds far-fetched, but when people started using envelopes to send correspondence through the mail [old PGP argument, I know, I know] instead of postcards, people would aks them "what do you have to hide?" I think even people with nothing to hide -- especially people with nothing to hide -- need to stick up for everyone's right to privacy, liberty, whatever.
posted by jessamyn at 12:38 PM on June 5, 2001

Moss — the reason this disturbs people is a little subtle. In the US, at least, this sticker might as well read "This car is owned by a white adult." No-one else is going to use the stickers — kids and non-whites get pulled over plenty as it is! — and therefore they represent a further advantage being claimed by an already privileged group, and are understandably resented by some law-abiding citizens who just happen to look suspicious to cops!

(Note: I'm a grown-up white guy, my best friends are cops, and I'd put one of these stickers on my car in a minute if I still owned one.)
posted by nicwolff at 1:09 PM on June 5, 2001

nic-- That's interesting, and a good point, but I wonder if it actually happens that way. I can easily imagine, say, an inner city black woman using it, simply because she's the one getting hit by inner city crime. (I can equally imagine her not wanting the sticker, for the reasons you gave.)
posted by claxton6 at 1:16 PM on June 5, 2001

Here's the problem with this, as I see it. Let me use an analogy. When I lived in NYC 8 or 9 years ago, nearly every car parked on the street used "The Club"--the anit-theft device. Now, think about it. If I'm a car thief, and 19 out of 20 cars has The Club, which car am I going to try to steal? Number 20. That increases a car-owner's chances of having his/her car stolen dramatically, unless he/she runs out and spends $40 on The Club.

Same problem here. If everyone in my neighborhood has volunteered to be stopped, my car, without the sticker, has a much greater chance of being stolen. So, there's even more pressure on me to give up my rights and enter their database.

Is this the cop's fault? No. Is this something they even thought of? Probably not. But it's dangerous nonetheless.
posted by jpoulos at 2:09 PM on June 5, 2001

On the other hand, if 19 out of 20 people have those stickers on their cars, there will be so many cars carrying them that the cops will never be able to investigate all of them. Deterrence value rapidly falls toward zero in this case.
posted by kindall at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2001


I would disagree. Professional car thieves target the most marketable makes and models of cars and whether you have a sticker or the Club is of negligible consequence. The Club, particularly, is ineffective, save possibly for adding about ten seconds of inconvenience to a car thief who would just have to saw through your steering wheel to take it off before he drives it to the local chop shop to be dismantled and sold as parts.

And I'm sure an intelligent car thief will have no problem figuring out a way to beat a measly sticker.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:04 PM on June 5, 2001

When I started with the thread, I thought my feelings on the issue were pretty well settled... but a lot of great (and not so great points) have been made.

Slippery Slope Argument (Jessamyn): I've always been uncomfortable with the argument... it just seems like we're throwing our hands up in defeat, say that we're too lazy/stupid an electorate to differentiate between responsible legislation, and legislation ad absurdum.

Fourth Amendment Argument: This is not tantamount to giving up one's rights... first of all, it's strictly opt-in; second, it's a finite application with clear boundaries; third, chances are that those who do subscribe to the program aren't going to be in the car when it's pulled over... which brings me to the final point: instead of abdicating my right to "probable cause", I'm only giving the police explicit probable cause. The Fourth Amendment isn't even abridged.

The Racial Profiling Issue: Really intriguing idea, and it never really occurred to me. I think I'll have to think about it some more.

The Club Argument: I think JPoulos has a pretty valid point, actually, MS... not every thief is a professional. Where I'm from, a lot of the larceny is random acts by desperate people. Not a lot of crime rings in Provo UT. Even if I were in an area with a little bit more organization to the crime scene, there are still plenty "opportunity" crimes going on.

All that said, I have to comments:

First, were I running this program, it would be state-wide and every single license plate would feature an inscribed (not sticker-based) bar code that could be scanned at a reasonable distance/speed (the idea being that a cop who can't see the driver shouldn't waste their time with a scan, also a cop shouldn't need to scan just to pull over a speeder). The bar code would be mandatorily displayed, and obscuring it would be worthy of a pullover.

The bar code would describe the car, and if the owner opted into the program, the driver(S) -- like the jburka's FL scenario.

This version of the program would address the "Club" phenomenon, the pariah issue (that Jessamyn touched upon), and the problem with just removing/obscuring the sticker (even if a professional replaced the license plate, the chances that the bar code would resolve to a car of the same make/model/description are small).

It wouldn't address, however, the racial profiling issue... which is a terrible problem, but one that seems to be only tangentially involved -- and deserves plenty of attention outside of this smaller discussion.

Second, I just have to say that I think that our modern police forces place altogether too much emphasis on car-related crime. Granted, the car is a deadly weapon, and vehicular larceny is probably a gateway crime... but it just seems that they focus on these issues to the detriment of any holistic approach.

posted by silusGROK at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2001

Another thought: I wonder if the rise in vehicular larceny is more corollary to a rise in conspicuous living... than to, say, increases in the population of people with a proclivity to steal cars.
posted by silusGROK at 6:45 PM on June 5, 2001

Geez, Vis10n, everyone has to display a bar code? Isn't there something in the Book of Revelations about that? :-)
posted by jpoulos at 6:55 PM on June 5, 2001

Nah... the mark of the beast? Probably something else (like an Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt... CK jeans... or maybe that Starbucks coffee stain).

(Humor aside, I actually wouldn't be surprised if it did turn out to be something like that.)

Besides, the only difference between the plate number now displayed and any barcode is that the latter is machine readable... of course, the barcode coudn't replace the numbers now there: "The man that hit my dog... his plate number was bar, space, larger bar, space, smaller bar, space...".
posted by silusGROK at 8:10 PM on June 5, 2001

Hm. Either my comment was so well thought out that no one dares reply, or I have the Medusa Touch... killing any thread I post to.
posted by silusGROK at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2001

We're overcomplicating things.

The "Sticker a Car that Should be Parked in the Middle of the Night" idea is simple. It doesn't require registering the names or physical description of the authorised drivers with the police. It doesn't require that special, individualised codes be devised for every car in the program. It doesn't require that all police cars are outfitted with barcode scanners that can be used to get information at a long distance.

It's a sticker. It's on the window. A cop sees it at 2 a.m. s/he automatically has probable cause to pull the car over. If it's the owner (or their authorised driver) they're on their way quickly and are likely quite glad that the program has functioned properly.

If it's a thief, they're not likely to pull over anyway, so their reaction to the police would only help to validate the decision to investigate further.

I'm not sure where racial profiling fits into this at all. The issue here is not the driver, it is the sticker. No sticker = no pull over. Sticker = pull over. It doesn't matter who you are, it's whether or not you've opted into the program.

MeFi - Making Mountains out of Molehills since 1999.
posted by Dreama at 10:23 AM on June 6, 2001

I don't know about the mountain/molehill thing, dreama... from where I sit, the barcode idea is a solid improvement to the current numbers-only license plates: it would be easier for law enforcement if they could scan a car going by than if they had to type-in/call-in some alpha-numeric... so I see the barcode as a natural evolution of the lisence plate (aside from the program).

That said, the "pull me over after 1am" variable in the database is just as "easy" as a sticker, and doesn't have all the problems talked about above.
posted by silusGROK at 10:47 AM on June 6, 2001

Where do you sit?
posted by rodii at 12:12 PM on June 6, 2001

Down, mostly.
posted by silusGROK at 12:29 PM on June 6, 2001

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