Car-seat Inspection Policy Under Review


In follow-up to my May 19th post, it appears the city council in Boulder City, Nevada is reviewing the police department’s checkpoint guidelines and policy regarding the use of checkpoints to conduct child safety seat inspections. Unlike other child safety seat programs conducted around the country, the Boulder City Police decided to make their checkpoint program mandatory and physically enter stopped vehicles absent reasonable suspicion or a warrant in order to inspect child safety seats without a parent’s consent.

Local resident Matt Ragan first blew the whistle on this unconstitutional practice last year when he discovered the police hadn’t even bothered to develop written checkpoint guidelines as required by law before setting up their suspicionless roadblock enforcement regime. The public attention the story received forced the police to stop the roadblocks while guidelines were developed.

When checkpoint operations resumed several weeks ago however, Matt discovered the police were still in violation of the law. Checkpoint officers were ignoring city regulations and their own guidelines while physically entering vehicles without reasonable suspicion. Once in the vehicle, the police would search installed child safety equipment for deficiencies while inspecting the interior of the vehicle. The protest Mr. Ragan lodged with the city resulted in a promise from the city council to review the practice.

Unlike earlier coverage of the issue, the latest article from the Boulder-City News has the police admitting that many parents have complained about the checkpoints. Unfortunately, the police make it sound like parents are only concerned about the time involved to conduct the check and not the intrusiveness of the program or the implications for individual rights. After all, what self-respecting parent wouldn’t want an armed stranger climbing into the backseat of their car without their consent to man-handle their child and rearrange the interior of their vehicle.

The chief of police, Thomas Finn, also criticized Mr. Ragan for voicing his opposition to the program. Chief Finn stated:

Advance notice is required so people have an opportunity to avoid the checkpoint. That’s the whole issue I have with Mr. Ragan. All you have to do is turn around and go away.

What Chief Finn failed to mention however is the following:

  1. Traffic signs erected at the roadblock indicate the checkpoints are mandatory
  2. Police officers conducting the checkpoints are unaware of the limits of their lawful authority as this video and this video clearly show
  3. The newly written guidelines place motorists at risk of increased police scrutiny if they decide to ‘just turn around and go away‘.
  4. Chief Finn’s philosophy is misguided. The roads belong to the people, not the police. Individuals shouldn’t be forced to plan their travel itineraries around invasive and questionable police practices. Rather, the police should be compelled to conduct their business in a lawful and respectful manner.

We can only hope the city council will make good on its promise to review police policies and put an end to this invasive enforcement practice. If child safety seat inspections are a service the public really wants, there shouldn’t be a problem with the city creating a service where interested parents can voluntarily bring their vehicles by for inspection.

Anything else is little more than an excuse to violate the fourth amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

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