Profile-based policing can take various forms — the “sus” laws in Britain that set off rioting in the early 1980s or New York City’s much more recent “stop-and-frisk” initiatives — but there are a few commonalities between them. The most important is how much solid evidence there is of a crime being committed before the arrest was made: None.
Unlike clear instances of “probable cause,” such as a motorist swerving between lanes on his way home from a bar or a bloodied person being chased by an individual brandishing a weapon, profiling sees police taking citizens into custody based on innocuous characteristics: their age, race, or clothing; the neighborhood in which she lives.
Arrests made on such spurious grounds have often led to civil-rights lawsuits, including the one filed recently against police in Cobb County, Georgia, where sober individuals have been stopped and arrested for drug charges, solely based on a police officer’s “hunch.”
Cobb County Police Officer Tracey Carroll is a “drug-recognition expert,” with 160 hours of training and a certificate to prove it. As TV station 11-Alive first reported, Carroll has stopped and arrested at least three motorists on suspicion of marijuana charges, solely because he believed — through a sixth sense or some “gut feeling” — that they were driving while impaired by cannabis use.
In all three of these instances, the individuals were jailed overnight while their blood was drawn for a test, which showed that Carroll’s hunch was wrong, and they were perfectly sober. They’re all now suing for false arrest after spending months defending themselves from the earlier bunk charges.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Katelyn Ebner, Princess Mbamara and Ayokunle Oriyomi. They’re seeking damages directly from Carroll, the Cobb County Police Department and from Cobb County.
Drug-recognition experts are a real thing — but they need more than a “hunch” to act. These experts are trained to consider 12 data points. These include a verbal interview with the suspect and looking for visual cues such as visible needle marks, and go all the way up to a drug test.
Each of the 12 steps are supposed to completed before a pronouncement that the suspect is on drugs can be made. In each of the three cases in Cobb County, Carroll failed to do that — earning him the unfortunate nickname of the “Drug Whisperer.”
“They’re kind of treating him like the human drug-sniffing dog; he’s the ‘drug whisperer,’” according to 11-Alive’s Brendan Keefe. “He can see impairment in people that other officers can’t see.”
Incredibly, Cobb County police continue to insist that Carroll’s gut is a better indicator than hard data of drug impairment, the TV station reported.
At the same time, Cobb County is releasing other drivers suspected of marijuana impairment until the results of blood tests are received.
It bears mentioning that there are no data-driven tests available to police, prosecutors, or anyone using science to determine whether an individual is truly impaired by cannabis.
Tests detect cannabis metabolites, compounds in marijuana already broken down by the body. Unlike alcohol metabolites, which are present in the body while the effects are still felt, marijuana metabolites can stay present for days or even weeks after use.
It’s not immediately clear how many motorists with traces of cannabis metabolites from long-ago use were also arrested by Carroll, in Cobb County, or in other jurisdictions. Nevertheless, this is a clear demonstration of police’s willingness to overlook common procedure — and the law — in their zeal to pursue drug arrests.
TELL US, how do you think police should assess cannabis use in drivers?