NJ Law Journal: The Problem with Stealth
- On August 11, 2015
This article was orginally published in the NJ Law Journal
High-tech stealth vehicles seem to be the rage for police departments around the state.
Everything from blacked out Dodge Chargers to AWDs with low-profile overhead lights can be seen patrolling highways and towns, as a result of new technology and the end of Crown Victoria production. They also are the product of police departments wanting to go stealth, to replace “cherry tops” and obvious department markings with what are in reality covert cruisers.
This trend reflects a desire to maximize the ability of law enforcement to watch people who don’t know they are being watched, at the same time maximizing officer “productivity” in issuing complaints. Undercover police work obviously serves a legitimate purpose in certain types of police work, such as drug investigations, infiltrating terrorist groups and organized crime, requiring targeted investigations by their very nature. This is not the case in ordinary police patrol work, where the object is to watch everybody.
Stealth cars not only look unlike police cars, they are crammed with equipment increasing the ability to observe drivers. Police cars have been equipped with mobile data terminals (MDT) for some time. These are essentially keyboards that provide instant information about a driver or car owner by providing direct access into the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission computer. Police officers can then punch in a registration and get immediate information about the status of a car and the car’s owner. In one recent opinion, the Appellate Division denied a constitutional challenge to a motor vehicle stop based upon incorrect information as to a license suspension obtained through MDT use.