In Mayfield Heights, a middle-class Cleveland suburb of about 19,000 residents, the police department has pulled out all the stops, so to speak, in a war on drug trafficking.
Barred by a 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision from setting up checkpoints to search motorists and their vehicles for drugs, police officers set up a fake one last week in the express lanes of busy Interstate 271. Signs warned drivers about a checkpoint ahead, but there really wasn’t one.
Police officers then watched for motorists taking evasive actions, such as crossing the median, U-turns and stops at the side of the road seen as probable cause. Four were stopped. Three were arrested, drugs detected by trained police dogs.
The exercise lasted a couple of hours and was aimed not at a local problem, but at drug traffickers passing through the city. The city has not decided whether to repeat the practice.
The American Civil Liberties union is investigating the matter, although fake checkpoints appear to be legal. One broader question, most appropriately addressed by the citizens of Mayfield Heights and their elected representatives, is whether they want to divert officers from a 36-member department to the express lanes of Interstate 271.
Another question might be this: Is the police department looking for something to do? Or, with a low rate for violent crime, does a quiet suburban community really need three dozen full-time officers? Perhaps the city’s tax dollars could be spent more wisely in other departments.