March 29th, 2010

"Your papers, comrade."

The weekend before last, I bought a new car. And I don't mean that I've taken ownership of another mid-90's clunker with six figures on the odometer. No, this is a brand new, 2010 Ford Focus. How I reached that point isn't important to this story, though.

I was driving said new car to Hofstra last Tuesday afternoon, and on the usual route, which has me exit the Meadowbrook Parkway onto Hempstead Turnpike. As I neared the end of the long exit ramp, I noticed three state police cruisers. None of them had their lights flashing. Plus, there appeared to be a trooper in the middle of the ramp, and the cars in front of me were slowing down. In my mind, I was incredulous...a random checkpoint? This feeling intensified when the officer looked at my windshield longer than I would have liked. He then informed me that one of the boxes on my temporary registration card was blank. I replied that it must have been the dealer's mistake - but of course, I had to pull over. Fortunately, I had all the relevant paperwork from the sale in the car, because I had to show them to satisfy the officer that the car was indeed owned by and registered to me. He also made a comment about my windshield-mounted GPS unit. He said that such a mount was illegal. I thought he was...well...I believe the technical team is "blowing smoke up my ass."* But I had to stay calm, and did - the defective registration was a legitimate violation, and so he had me by the balls. I escaped with a warning, and trekked back to the dealership immediately after class to have them correct the error.

I'm not peeved about being called out on so small a technicality, and in fact, I appreciate the trooper's judgment and discretion. Had I been pulled over for speeding and then hit on the registration, I would have no gripe. But that's not why I was originally stopped. I, and dozens of other drivers, were flagged down for no other reason than we happened to be leaving the southbound Meadowbook at exit M4 just after noon on Tuesday, March 23, 2010. In other, more simple words, the initial stop was totally and utterly without probable cause. This raises multiple grave issues. Firstly, setting up a checkpoint to look at registration and inspection stickers seems like a woefully inadequate allocation of resources by Troop L of the New York State Police. As a taxpayer, it is both my right and my responsibility to see that the money extracted from me is put to the best possible use by the State - and here, it's clear that wasn't the case. Much more importantly, the police state tactics employed here are nothing less than un-American. They are something I'd expect to read about in books about the 1960's Soviet Union, not experience in the United States of America in 2010.

In the first day or two after this happened, I was tempted to write my elected representatives in Albany to complain about this. But my emotions have cooled and I no longer see much point in doing so. That said, such a change of heart doesn't change my opinion of what happened. More than anything, I'd like the DMV to get my permanent sticker to me so I don't have to worry about this type of deficiency - well, unless the cops nail me for using Scotch tape to keep the sticker on the windshield.

* Upon subsequent investigation, the officer was correct; it's illegal to have anything non-transparent stuck to your windshield, except for inspection and registration stickers. I immediately reasoned this would render every E-ZPass in the state illegally attached, but the transponder is technically attached to clear Velcro-like tape, so by the letter of the law, it passes muster.