Wednesday, June 01, 2005

More Texas police say written consent no big deal

Jason Collins of the Victoria Advocate reports that several southeast Texas law enforcement agencies and the Texas Department of Public Safety already require written consent for searches at traffic stops. DPS conducted 49,605 vehicle searches in 2004, reported Collins, a statistic which belies claims that police would no longer have access to this law enforcement tool. DPS seems to get along fine requiring written consent. Besides DPS, several other police and sheriff's departments in the region either already obtain written consent or think it's a good idea:

The change would not have a drastic effect on how Victoria police officers conduct searches, said Lt. Kelly Price.

"Our policy may have to be fine tuned," he said. "We pretty much do it along the same lines."

Price said that he understood why the bill was introduced, as some departments in the state might not have policies as current as Victoria's.

"I can imagine some departments, large and small, that may not have a good set policy in place," Price said. ...

The written consent form used by the Goliad Sheriff's Office was similar to that used in Victoria.

Bill Schaefer, with the Goliad County Sheriff's Office, said the department has been using the generic form for years to obtain written consent.

The department, he said, does not have a written policy manual like Victoria, which would detail search procedures.

In Jackson County, Lt. Curt Gabrysch of the sheriff's office said that as with other departments, his deputies use a standard written consent form.

"Written would obviously be better," he said.

Indeed it would. Corpus Christi police have also said requiring written consent for searches is no big deal. More and more, the workaday reality that many police agencies already use written consent forms, to me, seems to take some of the air out of arguments that SB 1195 is soft on crime. Arguably, the opposite is true.

Even the idea's most vehement critics don't claim requiring recorded consent would impact crime. "You are right that in the vast majority of the time, we found nothing," Texas Municipal Police Association representative Tom Gaylor told the Senate Criminal Justice committee earlier this spring, reacting to bill-sponsor Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa's claim that consent searches are a "waste of law enforcement's time." Nobody who testified before the Senate thought there would be a significant law enforcement impact, even to a complete ban. A representative from San Antonio PD defended consent searches by saying it was officers' job "to ask questions," but admitted later that "I don't believe we'll be hindered in the majority of our job. ... The sky isn't going to fall" if the bill passes, she said.

Of course it's not -- isn't it absurd to think the sky would fall if police all began using prosecutors' "preferred" form of obtaining consent to search?


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