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Resolve pseudo-roadblock issue

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Law enforcement officials need as many tools as possible in order to prosecute and arrest criminals, thereby making society safer for law-abiding citizens. The tools do need to be legal, however, which brings into question a tactic being used by Utah Highway Patrol troopers throughout the state.

The so-called "no-block roadblock," which has resulted in a number of arrests of drivers toting or using drugs or alcohol on the road, has raised eyebrows. Iron County Attorney Scott M. Burns believes the surveillance maneuver violates Utah law and therefore should not be used. Utah law states that police agencies must receive a judge's approval before conducting a roadblock. As such that particular tactic has been temporarily discontinued in Iron County.

The UHP counters by saying that the signs, placed along the highway shoulder with messages such as "drug-sniffing dog ahead" and "narcotics officers, checkpoint up ahead," don't constitute roadblocks but merely trick would-be drug users and dealers. Therefore, a court order isn't necessary.

Is the practice deceptive? Yes. But shouldn't law enforcement personnel be allowed to be deceptive to catch criminals? Criminals clearly are deceptive.

Here's how it works: Troopers watch for drivers who act suspiciously as they pass the sign. Some drug users actually toss drugs out a car window. Others do an abrupt about-face, making a quick U-turn to avoid the "roadblock." Some cars that are less blatant but still suspicious are followed by strategically placed troopers and pulled over if they disobey a minor traffic law. Troopers then conduct a routine traffic stop but are often accompanied by a drug-sniffing dog. If the dog reacts, the troopers then have probable cause to search the vehicle.

Burns believes the pseudo-roadblocks not only violate state law but may be an infringement of constitutional rights involving search and seizure. The difference of opinion between Burns and the UHP needs to be resolved in court.

If the practice is found to be illegal, it will stop. If not, however, the UHP and other law enforcement agencies, assuming they're supported by their respective governing bodies, should be allowed to use unorthodox methods to identify those who break the law.