September 20, 2007 - It is positively Orwellian. Motorists in Colorado are expressing outrage over a weekend stunt in Gilpin County, about an hour's drive west of Denver, where highway checkpoints were set up so a private organization could ask for samples of blood and saliva.
"I don't think they're authorized to do what they're doing, and I view it as a gross violation of law-enforcement protocol," Roberto Sequeira, 51, told reporters for the Denver Post.
He said he and his wife were "detained" for about 15 minutes even after they protested they wanted to get home because of a sleepy child in their car.
Sheriff's officials were apologizing after they helped set up and run five separate checkpoints over the weekend.
They said workers for the Institute for Research and Evaluation were overly persistent in their demands of innocent travelers.
"It was like a telemarketer that you couldn't hang up on," Undersheriff John Bayne told the newspaper.
Sgt. Bob Enney said the deputies' assistance to the organization involved stopping motorists at the sites along Colorado Highway 119 for "surveys" on any drug or alcohol use. Surveyors also requested that motorists submit to breath, blood and saliva tests.
Enney said several hundred motorists were tested, and some later complained.
Sequeira said he repeatedly asked if the questioners were law enforcement officials and said he was not interested in participating in the study, but still was not given clearance to leave.
He told the newspaper that he and his family were approached by two researchers, and even after his repeated refusals, officials offered his wife, who was driving, $100 to get the couple to take part in a breath test.
"I think it's very dangerous," he told the newspaper. "Sometimes at checkpoints, unfortunate things happen."
PIRE spokeswoman Michelle Blackston told WND the deputies "did not stop" any drivers. "It was a voluntary survey. … Nobody approached them. There were signs saying that a survey was taking place. Nobody waved them down."
She said she was unaware whether the private organization reimbursed the county for the expense of having the deputies at the traffic sites. The organization's own researchers get the results of the work, she said.
Also to the newspaper, PIRE officials defended their actions. They said such statistics are important to gauge the impact of laws and enforcement policy. Their questions began over the summer and will continue at other locations around the nation through November, they said.
"We've been literally surveying thousands of people," John Lacey, of the Alcohol, Policy and Safety Research Center, said. It's through that organization PIRE is doing its research.
He said researchers push a few of those who initially refuse to participate to reconsider - even offering incentives.
"If we don't do that, the criticism will come out that we had so many who were refusers," Lacey told the newspaper.
Bayne said a similar study was done in the county several years ago, with no complaints, but he admitted last weekend's effort was aggressive.
"The people were too persistent," he told the Post. "Some people didn't feel it was voluntary."
Officials with the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the fact that sheriff's deputies were on the scene, and surveyors wore blue jumpsuits, could have confused drivers.
Sequeira said his family was directed by sheriff's officials to pull over and he and his wife were greeted by "youthful, college" surveyors.
"We had a 10-year-old in the back who's tired, we tell them thanks but no thanks, we have to get this child back home to bed," he told the paper. But the workers persisted, telling them they would be provided help driving home if needed. Then they offered the $100.
"We say, 'No thank you, we have to get our child home,'" he recalled. "At this point, both clones start chortling at us and ridiculing us."
On a newspaper forum, the opinion was running fairly close to unison:
"The very act of pulling a motorist over subjects him/her and their vehicle (at very least) to a visual search. This means if the motorist was pulled over without suspicion of violating a law, than (sic) they have been subjected to an unlawful search…," wrote Warren Gregory.