Trooper Under Fire For Methods Of Nabbing Drug Smugglers
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A state trooper credited with a long string of drug arrests uses a profile of potential smugglers based on his own experiences in stopping motorists, and that has some defense lawyers worried.
The lawyers don’t like Robert Vogel’s guidelines any more than they do a profile used by the Florida Highway Patrol to target those suspected of carrying illegal drugs in cars.
″I doubt this could withstand constitutional muster,″ says Dan Warren, a Daytona Beach lawyer defending several motorists arrested by Vogel.
Vogel disclosed the use of his own profile last week in a Volusia County marijuana-trafficking case. The agency’s lawyers and the state attorney’s office determined that Vogel’s list would be strong enough to stand up in court.
The patrol’s 2-year-old drug-courier profile has been attacked as vague and racist. Defense attorneys say it affects many innocent people who only fit general characteristics, such as members of ethnic groups driving large rental cars, wearing gold jewelry and carrying large amounts of cash and credit cards.
Except for a six-week period last summer, the patrol’s policy is to make narcotics arrests only after stopping motorists for traffic violations.
All officers draw on their own experiences, but troopers cannot deviate too much from the patrol’s profile, said Maj. Charles Hall of the agency’s Tallahassee office.
Vogel’s guidelines are considered reliable because he is one of the ″most proficient law officers in the state″ at recognizing potential drug smugglers, Hall said.
Critics argue that allowing Vogel to use his own criteria sets a dangerous precedent.
Vogel said there are similarities between his criteria and the patrol’s profile, but said his list was more specific.
He said he has analyzed the common characteristics in 30 major drug arrests he made between March 1984 and April 1985. The cases involved seizures of nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana and 36 pounds of cocaine valued at $2.5 million.
Vogel’s list of major drug busts has since doubled, said Assistant State Attorney Melvin Stack, although he now makes stops only when he sees traffic violations.
Vogel said the common characteristics have remained essentially the same: Men driving rented cars north on Interstate 95 after dark, showing signs of caution or swerving as if on drugs. Most are aged 31 to 35, and 60 percent are black.
Vogel denies that he is violating anyone’s constitutional rights.
He said he stops about four cars each shift, constituting about 1 percent of the cars he sees traveling north on I-95 each workday. Drugs are usually found in one of the four cars, he said.