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Jun-01-2008 16:32printcomments

Are Police Criminal Profiling Drivers in Oregon?

Are police in Oregon practicing criminal profiling?

car stopped by police
File photo

(SALEM, Ore.) - If you are driving around with a lot of cash in Oregon and your car has California license plates; you might end up in big trouble. Police in Oregon say they don't use "criminal profiling" but some stories are hard to explain as anything else.

Oregon State Police are investigating money laundering charges after troopers discovered over $61,000 cash in a car during a May 20th traffic stop that was actually initiated by a city police officer from Cottage Grove patrolling the freeway.

OSP troopers and drug enforcement detectives say they, "believe the cash is tied to drug trafficking".

But no arrests have been made and now the case is pending review by the Lane County District Attorney's Office for consideration of charges. The people in possession of the money did not have any drugs. Oregon State Police Spokesman Gregg Hastings, says that around 9:30 PM on May 20th, a Cottage Grove City Police officer stopped a 1993 Honda Accord with California license plates that was southbound on Interstate 5 near milepost 186, "for failure to maintain a single lane of travel and suspicion of DUII." The driver was not arrested for driving while intoxicated.

The Cottage Grove officer asked OSP troopers for back up during the stop and Hastings says that after arriving, the troopers, "noted indicators that the vehicle may be involved in criminal activity."

He added that, "Further investigation led to the discovery of $61,340 cash concealed inside the vehicle. No illegal drugs were found. An OSP trooper and drug dog assisted during the investigation."

We asked, but were unable to learn from police whether or not the driver of the Honda consented to a search of the car. The police also did not elaborate on what the suspected illegal activity was.

The car's two occupants, a 38-year old man and 21-year old man, both from Southern California, were detained and later released. Their names are not being released because they have not been arrested in this case.

Criminal Profiling?

This is an interesting story in an age when people seem to often be arrested and in trouble for possessing not just drugs and weapons, but "cash" more frequently than ever.

Does anyone else notice anything that might be odd about this? Last time I checked, it is perfectly legal to possess money and people are also allowed to own firearms. They can't own them if they are felons, but that is another matter. The people in this case did not possess drugs or firearms.

It seems that if people want to possess a large amount of money, it is very possibly nobody's business but their own, particularly in this day and age with the nation's economy sagging. In the 20's people who kept money in the bank lost it in a single day as if it had never existed.

I recall being pulled over in Lincoln City several years ago in an aging Ford LTD. The officer's opening line was, "Sir, do you have any drugs, weapons or large amounts of cash?" We always laughed about that later. My reply was, "Man if I had a bunch of cash I sure wouldn't be driving this piece of s..."

It seems a matter of semantics, but the use of words in that way is a psychological tool, and they carry great weight. It only makes sense to take note of that. That is probably why "drugs" and "weapons" and "cash" are so frequently bantered by police when often the weapons are perfectly legal and so is the cash.

I admit that we writers follow suit frequently. Perhaps much of the time the money was acquired through illegal means, but it seems reasonable to assume that is not always the case.

Another tool police sometimes use is an extensive list of charges. It may raise the chances of the police getting a conviction, because the more charges they name, the more a person inadvertently appears guilty before charged. I'm not saying this is deceitful or illegal; the police have a job to do, they have good tools and use them. They want convictions and they get them. But at what point is the public trust at stake?

This appears to be a story about criminal profiling, and that is a subject in itself when you live in a democracy. Do we have freedom and liberty to drive down the road without being accosted by police? I personally have had some odd experiences since I recently began driving an older mini van as both a family and work vehicle. I had no idea that a Plymouth Voyager would double as a "cop magnet" but that is the case.

Mini Van Cop Magnet?

My first strange encounter was with a McMinnville Police sergeant. My family and I were returning home at about 9:00 PM on a weeknight on Highway 18 and the officer paced us for a couple of miles and quite obviously was running our plate. Guess what kind of plate was on the van at that point? You guessed it, my home state; California. the van was a slightly beat up family "hand me down" that I had picked up the week before from my older brother in Sacramento.

Fully aware that I was being paced and knowing I was violating no laws, I had the cruise control locked at 55 mph and was not alarmed by the officer's presence and figured he would do his thing and move on. No way; on came the red flashing lights and I was pulled over!

In retrospect, if I had been doing anything illegal, my number would have been up. If I were a criminal, I would have been busted. The more important thing is that in the end, I had violated no law at all, I was just pulled over and there was not a legitimate reason for it.

He was courteous, but the officer told me that I failed to use a turn signal. Anyone who rides with me knows that I take driving very seriously and I ALWAYS use my turn signals. I don't care if it is the middle of the night in the Arizona desert, I always signal, in fact I'm ridiculous about it and I used to yell at people in traffic for not using their turn signals. (Thank goodness I got past that stage, it is a stressful way to live.)

Anyway, I signed the ticket and said goodnight to the police sergeant and I did tell him that I would see him in court to review the tape.

We had not been there very long, when a Yamhill County, Oregon deputy was at my door. It was a strange thing at 10:00 PM on a school night, but that's OK. The deputy asked for my phone number, saying a sergeant in McMinnville wanted it, he assumed I might know who that was.

I gave the deputy my number and the police sergeant soon called, explaining that he had reviewed the video tape in the police car camera and that I had in fact used my signal, and it was his mistake. He asked me to tear the ticket up and throw it away and forget about it.

I will always believe that this was a simple process and that the traffic cop honestly thought I hadn't used my signal, but I knew I had and even if I hadn't, aren't there more important things for police to do?

I still find it strange and I still run through the factors; older mini van with tinted windows, California plates, driving at night... it is a strange incident that harks of criminal profiling. What if I hadn't been a courteous career reporter? What if I had been defensive? What if I had a bunch of money my wife and I had been putting away in private savings?

I can see the story reading something like: "Police say King was driving erratically and changing lanes without turn signals... "

Police say this is the money the men were traveling with. Photo: OSP

Here is something else; I think that a large number of people driving a van of this description in Oregon this time of year are Hispanic migrant workers from California, and I guess we will never know why it was important to have to go through that. Nobody likes being pulled over at night when they have little kids in their car. If you have lights and current registration and you are violating no driving laws, then you should be able to drive along without being pulled over.

Answering the question of whether or not police in Oregon use criminal profiling, Gregg Hastings with OSP shared this statement with

"No connection. Remember it is dark about 9:20 PM so you usually have no idea who is in the car. We don't criminal profile."

Hastings says they are trained to look beyond the ticket. As far as what the officers saw that prompted them to search the car for money, Hastings said, "We are not releasing any information about what indicators the officer saw. The investigation is continuing."

People like "Tattoo Mike" of the local Gypsy Jokers Motorcycle Club in Salem, say the practice of criminal profiling is alive and well in Oregon.

Mike would know. He and several other Jokers have won two different lawsuits against police agencies in Oregon over criminal profiling. Of course policies and practices vary in every state, and from agency to agency, but the attorney for the Group, Leonard Bernstein in Portland, says police agencies in this state have a long way to go.

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jamestoday May 7, 2010 1:41 am (Pacific time)

Cops suck! They lie, steal, and cheat the system. The system is more corrupt in Oregon than anywhere else

EX- Government employee June 3, 2008 10:03 am (Pacific time)

After a certain number of years go by, coupled with the varied experience all individuals have, we cannot help but to make decisions based on that experience. I served in numerous positions all over the planet, and it was that accumlative experience that allowed me to keep (relatively) free from great harm. Law enforcement personnel bring into their daily lives experience that simply is not understandable to the average citizen. There are bad cops out there, but at a very small percentage, the more we try to regulate their behavior by standards that are created by inexperienced people, then the good cops will leave and the bad ones will increase in percentage. This is happening in urban area's all over the country. Look how the urban leaders are always settling out of court for very questionable complaints, in effect demeaning the police who say the allegations are false. It will get worse as these cities increase in population. I find that those who have a beef with law enforcement, many of them also have behavioral problems. In effect, this accumlaive experience we all have causes us to act in a discriminating manner, and that's how we survive. Good people are leaving civil service employment (all types), so expect things to get continually worse. In fact those of you who are over 50 may have already noticed that trend.

Tim King June 3, 2008 8:54 am (Pacific time)

I understand that criminal profiling is part of police work; but we are also a BS nation for trying to beat our freedom drum while consciously aware that nobody has any rights in this country unless the nearest possibly wet-behind-the-ears cop decides not to mess with you.  If OSP or any of these other agencies said "yeah, we use criminal profiling" then we would at least be working at face value.  Instead the do it while saying they do not and I have a problem with that if it is the case.  

Here's the clincher; those two white guys that you  decided didn't have the right to move around unaccosted- you made no difference at all. busting a couple of guys for trying to score at night is some accomplishment, great job.  So then you take your two white guys and throw them in a county jail where the deputies turn their backs on physical abuse of prisoners?  There is horrible stuff going on in the name of police work in this country and this state and your state and there is nothing American about criminal profiling.  But that would have been a great fit in the Soviet Union.

Jim Donahue June 3, 2008 3:49 am (Pacific time)

I've just read the article on Criminal Profiling. I received notice of it via a cops only email discussion group of which I am a member. I live in South Florida and I'm a cop. Previously, I spent my life in Detroit, MI, which is the busiest international border crossing in the world. I think I have some standing to comment because I was born in Bend, OR. Following the attacks of 9/11/01, I worked at the border with U.S. Customs for about a year and a half. Criminal Profiliing? You betcha. That's exactly what the public expects from their cops. We're not firemen who sit at the station and wait for someone to call us in response to an event, i.e. a crime. Nope. Our job -- in the minds of John Q -- is to PREVENT crime before it happens. It's not enough to come and take a report after their wife, sister or daughter is raped. Nope. They want that crime prevented BEFORE it happens. That's the way they feel about most crimes. Much better to prevent that find the perpetrator after it's done. Maybe it's different in your world, but not mine. In the academy, I learned a great phrase from a very wise man about what we do. Cops are looking for "ducks that are off the pond." We're to sense when something isn't right, follow our instincts, and act upon it. BEFORE the crime occurs. The courts and legislatures have told us that there are certain elements that we cannot use alone to gain a sense of impending problems. Race is one of them. Racial profiling is out. That is when race alone is the factor. But, it can be part of the overall consideration. And it should be. I worked for many years patroling a very trouble suburban Detroit community. I was assigned to work the projects where the crimes of murder, drugs, rape, and other horrible acts against people was horrendous. Hand-to-hand drug sales went on constantly. Of about 3,000 residences, one of them was occupied by a white family. The remaining residents were black. If I saw a car in the projects, after dark, occupied by 2 or more occupants who were white, under 30, traveling at a very slow speed, and stopping occasionally to talk with someone on the street -- well, I made the stop. They didn't belong in that area of town. They were literally ducks off the pond. They were there to buy drugs. Pure and simple. Did John Q. Public want that kind of trafficing stopped? You betcha. Did it require profiling on various components to stop it? You betcha. Was it the right thing to do? Again, you betcha. Profiling is defined as using one's experience and training to identify likely actors in criminal behavior BEFORE the crime occurs. Last time I reviewed the academy curriculum, that is exactly what the public expects. It's why cops are given awards for a job well done. Criminal profiling in Oregon? I hope so. Otherwise the state of my birth would become unlivable for all but the worst criminals. Indeed, that would be a shame. My email:

Meh June 2, 2008 12:53 pm (Pacific time)

Is this or some teen's MySpace blog? Don't you have an 'opinions' or op-ed section or something for this stuff? You should add one if you don't...

Bad Cops Should Fry June 1, 2008 6:23 pm (Pacific time)

What about Salem fuzz who trump up charges after falsely arresting people for "interception of communications"? What about cops then causing serious permanent injuries and laughing about it? What about cops saying, when confronted about their misdeeds, "Who do you think people are going to believe?"

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