A last lonely bark in the night?

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted April 1999

The protests of a traveling businessman from Tulsa have brought to light an eight-year-old program -- it even has a name: "Identify, Detect, and Locate" -- under which Las Vegas Metro police officers apparently make weekly rounds of the valley's longer-term residence hotels and motels, picking up photocopies of the drivers licenses which guests present when they check in, and "running" those IDs for "wants and warrants."

A Metro spokesman says the policy does not apply to the major hotels on the Strip or downtown, catering to tourists who tend to stay for shorter periods of time. And District Attorney Stewart Bell says he didn't even know this was going on -- though he presumes it's perfectly legal.

Louis De Silvio, a 52-year-old Army veteran and regional sales manager for a telephone company, says he couldn't believe the response when he asked the desk clerk at the Ramada Limited on Boulder Highway February 28 why she needed to photocopy De Silvio's ID as he tried to check in.

"Because we're going to turn it over to the police. They require us to do this," De Silvio recalled the clerk telling him.

When told if he didn't like it he could go elsewhere, Mr. De Silvio did just that -- and reports he again ran into the same practice.

At the second hostelry, "First he told me it was a state law, then he said it was a county law, then he said it was a police procedure."

It isn't any of the first two, of course. And even if it has become "police procedure," Undersheriff Richard Winget insists the program is entirely "voluntary" -- that in fact it was the owners of such residential inns who "came to us and asked us to assist them to keep their complexes as reasonably safe as possible."

But local ACLU board member JoNell Thomas isn't having any of it.

"We don't live in a police state ... where the police are free to track innocent people just because they would like to or even just because they might have the cooperation of some hotel," Thomas says. "It doesn't matter what the reasons are. We in this country don't allow police to taker these kinds of actions without a warrant, without probable cause."

The issue may not be that cut and dried. If a motel clerk becomes suspicious of a party's behavior nd asks police to "run" a license plate to make sure the establishment isn't harboring the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang, presumably we would want the officers to cooperate.

When questions start to arise is when Clark County deputy district attorney asserts "If you don't want to go through with it (presenting an ID and allowing it to be photocopied for police), you're free not to stay there."

Is that really the case? Once such a process becomes "routine police procedure," are we sure managers of new establishments aren't now told "This is the way we do things here. Have those Xeroxes ready for the officer every Tuesday ... or did you want to not cooperate with your local police?"

It's tempting to argue that guests agree voluntarily to submit to the innkeeper's rules when they check in. But that's always assuming they're able to find someplace with different rules. Is it really still a "free contractual arrangement" to buy a ticket on a non-smoking airline, for instance ... if regulators no longer allow any "smoking airlines" to exist?

Freely traveling the highways is a constitutional right, not a privilege. States already crowd this unenumerated liberty pretty far off to the shoulder when they require virtually everyone to carry a driver's license -- even though courts used to regularly hold that states could only license "driving" in the meaning of the word which refers to commercial hauling.

(Don't tell me the driver's license "merely certifies you've demonstrated you know how to drive safely." Why then am I supposed to inform the state every time I change my residence address -- do people tend to forget how to drive when they move across town? And why do I need to show the thing each time I try to board an airplane? I never ask to fly the plane. No, let's call this thing what it is -- a police identity and tracking card.)

Must we now all show these "travel papers" to find a room, as well as to board a plane or cash a check? What next? In California, drug police are already reported boarding trains, "checking IDs" as a pretext for smoking out nervous drug runners.

American audiences used to boo and hiss at the blatant symbol of fascism when -- in some old black-and-white movie -- the westbound American or English train passenger trying to escape to freedom was approached by the Gestapo man in the sneer and the double-breasted suit, asking "May vee see your papers please? Papieren?"

Sherlock Holmes solved the case of the horse Silver Blaze by noticing "the dog that did not bark in the night." Similarly, our warning klaxon here may be the very fact that most Americans today see nothing strange at all in some supercilious bureaucrat demanding that we "show our papers" before we're even allowed to rent a room for the night.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at $21.95 plus $3 shipping ($6 UPS; $2 shipping each additional copy) through Mountain Media, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127-4422. The 500-page trade paperback may also be ordered via web site http://www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html, or at 1-800-244-2224. Credit cards accepted; volume discounts available.

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