Motorist checkpoint in Reading draws questions

Today from Don Spatz at the Reading Eagle:

A private firm with a federal contract – and backed up by city police – forced motorists off Laurel Street and into a private parking lot Friday to question them about their driving habits and ask for a swab of their mouth.

“I feel this incident is a gross abuse of power on many levels,\” Reading resident Ricardo Nieves, one of those stopped, told City Council Monday.

He said federal and local tax dollars were being used to stop innocent people without probable cause, and allow a private company to hire uniformed police to force citizens to listen to their questions.

He said he wasn’t told what the swab was for, but added, “Clearly it was for DNA.”

The checkpoint was among several being carried out in Pennsylvania by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, hired by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

City Police Chief William M. Heim said the two federal agencies are trying to see what can be done about crashes and injuries, and the swabs were not to get DNA samples but to test for the presence of prescription drugs.

The checkpoint was supposed to be voluntary, but Nieves said he had to refuse several times over a five-minute period before the woman taking the survey let him go.

Read the full article: Motorist checkpoint in Reading draws questions.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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