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EDITORIAL: Rein in the 'voluntary' searches
We might as well wrap the U.S. Constitution in the flag and burn the whole package if we sit still for random police searches in any but the most dire of circumstances.
Any time such searches are implemented an alarm should sound in the mind of every American not just those who belong to the American Civil Liberties Union. We should be asking ourselves, Doesnt this violate the 4th Amendment, one of the cornerstones of our free society? If you know your Washington State Constitution, then you know that the right to personal privacy is spelled out even more clearly within the borders of the Evergreen State.
Thus it is with great concern that we view the initiation last week of random searches by the Washington State Patrol of cars parked at the ferry docks. Without any suspicion or grounds for a warrant, people are being asked to show police their personal belongings. The authorities know they couldnt get away with making this a requirement, so its voluntary. However, those who refuse to volunteer to be searched wont be allowed to board the ferry. When theres a punishment for not complying, how can any request be voluntary?
State Patrol searches began immediately after the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11. Circumstances then were indeed dire. We didnt know how many terrorists there were or if they would strike again. But the new series of searches started in June, in the midst of no clear and present terrorist threat. Besides, the searches as conducted wont stop terrorism. Theyll simply force it someplace else.
Citizens are being randomly asked to reveal their private belongings to the police. Theyre looking for bombs, guns and other immediate dangers to the ferries, but anything is fair game. Unbuckled seatbelt? Youre busted. A marijuana joint in your ashtray? Youre busted. Undocumented alien? Youre busted. Pretty easy pickins for the police, who dont have to do any investigate work or even get a warrant. Meanwhile, any real terrorists would be free to turn around and pick another target perhaps a nearby school would do.
We should not allow a general concern about terrorism to erode our individual liberties. Vigilance by the pubic, police and ferry employees is always called for, but If voluntary searches are allowed today, they will likely become mandatory tomorrow.
This is a serious situation, so serious that the Washington State Legislature should make it a priority to rein in the state police.