On probable cause

I don’t know if Denver authorities uncovered an actual assassination plot against Barack Obama when they arrested three men in suburban Aurora. Two were picked up in what police say was a “routine traffic stop” (there are so many cops being deployed downtown, that I’m not convinced there are routine traffic stops being made by the few officers left to make them.)

Was it really just luck that they happened to stop a car with rifles in it, and were led to a hotel, where a third man tried to jump out of a sixth-story window to get away?

One of the men was interviewed on local TV today and when asked if his colleagues could kill Obama, he paused for a long time and said, “I don’t want to say ‘yes,’ and I don’t want to say ‘no.’”

The threat sure looked credible. If it was just the luck of a “routine traffic stop,” that’s pretty frightening. If it’s because somehow, someway, the cops “just know,” that’s a little disconcerting, too.

These lads ran out of luck today.

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Somehow, some way, the police knew that the boys had a couple of cases of spraypaint and other paraphernalia in their car. How?

If it’s just a matter of luck, then perhaps there’s the threat of the erosion of probable cause as police stop and detain more people. The more people you detain, the greater the likelihood you’ll get lucky.

There’s a little bit of evidence that ‘s the approach being taken in St. Paul. Last week, my colleague, Tim Nelson, revealed several circumstances in which people were — at least momentarily — detained for no apparent reason other than they were on a public way at the wrong time.

Today, three “independent journalists” were detained by Minneapolis police and questioned about their reporting plans, according to a spokesperson for a group, Glass Bead Collective.

If Denver is any indication, finding out probable cause or finding out how the police knew who to stop is going to be a critical question in the Twin Cities. And, surely, there’ll be a discussion about the balance of individual rights vs. the need to protect society.

What’s your opinion?

Update 4:45 p.m. Law enforcement officials say the Aurora arrest was not a credible threat. They were apparently tipped off by an unidentified woman. Authorities said those arrested were heavily into methamphetamines.

  • Sean

    \\Somehow, some way, the police knew that the boys had a couple of cases of spraypaint and other paraphernalia in their car. How?

    I don’t know how many methheads you have had a conversation with, but its usually pretty easy to tell they are hiding something.

  • MR

    Two points:

    It’s truly amazing how many wanted individuals are arrested as a direct result of routine traffic stops–a taillight being out, speeding, etc.

    Secondly, there are some really experienced police officers who have what seems to be a sixth sense when it comes to traffic stops. They pull over those people who are wanted at a much higher rate, even when there isn’t anything obvious about why they’d pull that particular car over versus another particular car.