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by Peter Moskos

April 4, 2009

Steve Bierfeldt's Box Full of Cash

In town for a conference, a director of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty is detained by TSA at the St. Louis airport because when asked to explain why he’s carrying $4,700 in cash (it was proceeds from book and ticket sales at the conference), he asks the agents to tell him what law requires him to do so. He managed to surreptitiously record his conversations with TSA officers on a cell phone. The audio is infuriating.
That's from Radley Balko's The Agitator. Radley is a bit too anti-cop for my tastes, but he's on the mark more often than not. And his Cato work on police raids is a classic.

Now I don't fault the cops for asking questions. I would do the same. But I would be a bit quicker to realize that cash isn't a crime, see the Ron Paul campaign link, and understand the man isn't going to answer questions and let him go.

Finally, a smarter officer (different agency?) realizes it's campaign money, sees the red flag, and tries to set the original officers straight:

"Campaign Contributions.... You guys stopped him because the metal box." He doesn't phrase that as a question.

"Well that and the large amount of money that was in there." Ix-nay on the ash-cay, chief! Cash isn't a crime, even if it might give you reasonable suspicion for a stop. But after that, you got nothing.

The complete audio is here. I like how Bierfeldt doesn't say he "knows his rights!" Instead he says he doesn't know his rights.

It all goes back to the war on drugs. And every time the government asks you to give up rights in the name of fighting terrorism, it will be used in the war on drugs. We don't give "implied consent" to be searched at airports because we're worried about people carrying cash. We give up our rights so we're not blown up by a terrorist!

It doesn't take a agitating libertarian to worry about a government that stops a person walking through an airport with cash.

Back in 2004, an astute former police officer wrote in the Washington Post:
What starts as a necessary security measure will quickly become standard law enforcement procedure even for crimes that are nonviolent and not related to terror.
In order to stop and search any suspect, not just a terrorism suspect, law enforcement need only wait for a person to enter an implied consent area such as a subway or a shopping mall.... The true object of the search -- most likely drug possession, but any contraband will do -- is unrelated to terrorism.

The difference between civilian employees searching for bombs in airports and government agents conducting random searches for suspicious objects is the difference between preserving a free society and creating a police state.
The solution -- the balancing of public safety with constitutional liberties -- is surprisingly simple.... Limit the doctrine of plain view.... If the government must search without probable cause, let it search, but only for illegal weapons or bombs.... Any unrelated suspicious or illegal objects found must be ignored.
Read the whole article here.


cap vandal said...

Elliot Spitzer was investigated for withdrawing cash from his bank account. Even though the amounts were below $10,000, it was enough to investigate him which led to his political ruin.

Spitzer made it a habit to use heavy handed tactics, so there was a certain rough justice to his situation. However, the idea that a person can't withdraw cash from a bank account without being investigated is rather chilling.

The TSA bunch are particularly annoying. It seemed like the motivating factor is that the TSA employee didn't feel like he was being shown proper deference.

Watch some old Dragnet reruns. The standard in the "good old days" was to book em for vagrancy.

Trent McBride said...

As a reader of both of your blogs, I am interested to see what you and Balko have to say about each other's work. His blog can be construed as "anti-cop", but a lot of that is in the comments. Balko himself is usually fairly measured, if slightly unbalanced (appropriately so in that the media usually often does not ask the questions he asks).

But in the end, you seem to approach a lot of these issues similarly, and I would like to see you comment more on his posts, especially to get your perspective on specific things you disagree with.

dave h. said...

"Radley is a bit too anti-cop for my tastes, but he's on the mark more often than not."

I don't know. He's more anti-goverment (in general) than anti-cop. In my opinion, there is a difference. Some people, particularly on the far-left, clearly resent the police and military functions of government, yet they get all dewey eyed over the welfare state. Essentially they want the cops and soldiers to go away, and they want goverment to turn into a big ATM. Any problems, apparently will be handled by nice social workers, lawyers and firemen. Handouts for all, responsibility for none!

I may have some disagreements w/ Radley (and more with some of his commenters), mostly over economics, but I agree with you that he is generally on the mark.

PCM said...

When I read things like his New Professionalism Roundup the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Taking bad things police have done around the nation (and I don't think they're all bad--see my "Say What?" post) and listing them is fair game... but it's also a cheap shot. Who doesn't think that some police do bad things? But what's his greater point? Seems to me it's just that cops are bad.

I'm a big government liberal. He's a small-government libertarian. But there's a lot more common ground than most people think there is: neither of us wants stupid government; both of us think that localities better represent their people than the federal government; both of us believe that government should be limited; both of us believe in the concept of freedom and America.

I just think there are more things that we need government for because only government can do certain things well and do them fairly (note I did not say "efficiently"). And a lot of these things cost money.

I don't mind paying taxes on principal. In fact, on principal I rather like paying taxes. I just want to get something in return.

I also think traditional liberals are wrong about a lot of things. For instance I think our welfare system was really broken and is still pretty messed up. But that doesn't mean I think the government (and by extension all of us) should abandon people who can't take care of themselves--even if it is their fault.

I believe there can be both a big government building roads and schools and supporting health care and social programs without that same big government being oppressive and limited our freedom--unless you think that freedom and taxes can't go together.

Is this a pipe dream? Maybe. But no more than the conservative vision of everybody doing and living just like they want or the libertarian vision of everybody minding their own business peaceful when government is out of the picture.

When it comes to police, I believe police are on the side of good. I believe police are here to keep streets safe and defend our freedom and constitution. I'm not sure Balko believes that. And when they're not, well that's why we need The Agitator.

Anonymous said...

This explains Balko's "new professionalism" watch:


Shark Girl said...

Scary. Remind me not to fly. I'm afraid my tampon might be mistaken as a mini missile.

I wonder what's in store for people who have blogs that speak out against stuff like this. Makes me wonder if the FEMA train rumors are true. Red, Blue, Yellow...line em up boys!

My blog would put me in the red zone.