Make a wrong turn? Like to check out the gals on the street at three in the morning? Simply choose to be wherever the hell you want to be in this land of the free? Not in Sanford, Florida. From the Orlando Sentinel:
Dear John: If you were hoping to have a quick “date” with the woman standing on the street corner in Sanford, you may want to think again.
Starting this week, the Sanford Police Department will send “Dear John” letters to registered owners of vehicles spotted lingering in areas known for prostitution.
Not engaged in a hand to hand (or other body part) transaction, but merely “spotted lingering” is enough to get a letter from the police to the home of the registered owner of the vehicle. This is bad enough if the car is registered to the person driving, but then some are registered in spouse’s names and others in the name of the company for whom the driver works. That will certainly be special.
But the Sanford cops are on a mission, and if the letter goes to someone who won’t take kindly to your “lingering,” then you shouldn’t be lingering, right?
Sanford police said Monday that letters will only be generated when an officer is confident the driver is circling the block looking for a prostitute, and not, for example, driving around lost.
Officer confidence is always a sure-fire method of determining inchoate criminality. So what if nothing even arguably unlawful has happened yet. Cops know this stuff. Just ask any cop, they’ll tell ya. And they would never abuse their authority, snag a guy because some cop decided to give him a smack for fun. That would be abusive and wrong.
Automated license-plate readers placed on patrol vehicles will be used to capture images of the suspect vehicles, police spokeswoman Shannon Cordingly said.
Not only will the “Dear John” letters include the writing suggesting that a person was cruising for illicit purposes, but a pic as well. After all, without a pic, it didn’t happen, right?
“Cracking down on prostitution is an important step toward ensuring the safety and well-being of our community,” police Chief Cecil Smith said in his agency’s news release.
Carrie Nation is smiling in her grave.
Not only are the Puritans alive and well in Sanford, but they have automated license-plate readers. Thomas Jefferson may not be as happy.
“You can do your part by refraining from bringing your vehicle into this area unnecessarily,” the “Dear John” letter states, in part.
There was once a notion that among the privileges of being an American, one could move freely anywhere in our great nation one chose. From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters, and through the mean streets of Sanford at anytime of the night. Then again, Woody didn’t know that immigration checkpoints extended 100 miles inland when he wrote those words.
On the one side, my pal Maggie McNeil writes persuasively at The Honest Courtesan that sex workers are engaged in an old and honorable profession, despite the prisses who are infuriated at the prospect that it makes others too happy or that they aren’t all evil or victimized women.
On the other side, while the solicitation of prostitution may be a crime, lingering is not. But then, by meting out some shame in advance, perhaps screwing up a marriage or a job, the cops are able to pre-empt the problem while having fun smacking heads.
And what of the voices of reason, crying “no, this is terribly wrong?”
Florida criminal defense attorney Richard Hornsby told the Sentinel that police should expect consequences if they wrongly target someone who only appears to be searching for a prostitute. By committing such a misidentification, police would “likely expose themselves to civil liberty complaints should they send these notices to innocent persons and inadvertently cause marital disruption.”
“If they have sufficient evidence to believe a person is ‘not lost, but in fact, circling the block looking for a prostitute,’ then they have a sufficient basis to make an investigative detention for the crime of solicitation of prostitution,” Hornsby continued.
Huh? There will always be “sufficient basis” if sufficient basis is whatever the cop deems it to be. And absent any objective criteria for what distinguishes a potential “john” from an American exercising his right to move freely on the streets of a town in his country, every driver of every car on every road the Sanford police deem a haven for prostitution is at risk. There will always be a sufficient basis, and there will never be an ability to prove otherwise.
Mapp Terry v. Ohio permits the police to investigate a person when there is a reasonable suspicion that he is about to commit a crime, and merely requires the police to articulate a factual basis for their stop and seizure of the person to investigate, this only permits an investigation. It doesn’t authorize punishment. It certainly doesn’t allow for the police to name and shame.
But the age of anticipatory crime is coming, whether through neuro-scientifically claimed advances (because who doesn’t want the movie Minority Report to be real?) or just to stem the tidal wave of men driving down the streets where they may indulge their manly disgustingness. And if you happen to make a wrong turn late at night in Sanford, don’t piss off the cops unless you can get to the mailbox first.
Ironically, the wrongfulness of cruising at three in morning on a street of nastiness doesn’t apply to police officers, because they would never trade off a quickie for a free pass from a prostitue. Never.