Oakland Police Department’s letter is careful to avoid
any accusation simply stating that the vehicle was seen in a “high-risk neighborhood.” Of course, since they publicly announced that the letters are designed to dissuade men from cruising for prostitutes, the careful wording in the letter means nothing as it is already known why a person will receive the letter.
The letters are not sent to the driver of the vehicle, because police do not have enough evidence to pull the vehicle over to even identify the driver. They are instead sent to the vehicle’s registered owner based off the license plate, be that the driver, a spouse, or an employer.
As WKMG Local 6 reported
Police said they often do not have enough probable cause to make an arrest of a suspected ‘John,’
However, this lack of evidence will not stop the department from mailing a letter that could very well destroy a marriage or a career. Sanford’s postcard is not as carefully worded as Oakland’s, and informs the recipient of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases if engaging in prostitution.
Sanford Police Lt. Joe Santiago said
If you're loitering in the city at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning or 3 o'clock in the morning after the bars let out and you're in some of these neighborhoods and you're in and out, in and out, in and out, yeah, that would kind of flag it,
The problem with this is that repeated Supreme Court decisions
state that the time of day and the neighborhood alone are not enough to generate reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a legal threshold below probable cause.
Part of the letter in Sanford states that drivers can do their part by avoiding these areas, again reinforcing the statement that unconstitutional methods will be used to determine who receives a letter. The listings of who receives a letter will be public record under Florida law, furthering the embarrassment for someone who wrongly receives a letter.
Police spokespeople have said
that officers will use common sense when deciding who to send the letters to. So, in short; a person’s life, career, or marriage may be ruined based on an unconstitutional policy and an officer’s best guess.
The very reason we have a justice system is to avoid this type of arbitrary and libelous behavior by public servants.