Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fishing Tackle for Outliers

I am momentarily out of ideas for things to write about from my own life, so instead I'll tell you a story I was thinking about the other day.

In 2009, I obtained a paralegal certificate from a nearby community college. It was some of the most pointless and least fun education I've ever received, and the less said about it the better. However, one of the classes I took was taught by a district court judge. District court is the "lowest" court, where they deal with misdemeanors and traffic offenses and stuff like that. They're very high-volume, and the work they do is essential, so I'm uncomfortable calling it "low"; however, a circuit court or a state court has jurisdiction over district court rulings, so technically it's a correct term.

The judge told us that she had witnessed, too many times for it to be a fluke, that many if not most cops have a sixth sense. They just know when there's hinky stuff going on. She used as an example an interesting case we read that I still remember, although I admit I don't remember it perfectly.

Maryland cop's driving behind a guy in a van who is going the speed limit, driving safely, ho-hum. Cop sees van guy cross over the solid white line at the edge of the highway once and then twice, and decides to pull him over on suspicion of...something. The guy's paperwork is a little weird; he has an out-of-state provisional license and the van is rented from yet a third state, as I remember, but there's really nothing about him or the setup that's beyond the realm of "a little unusual". I don't remember the subtext as to how the cop manages it, but he finds cause to look in the back of the van, and finds, as our teacher the judge described it, "the motherload." There are suitcases back there full of the wacky tobaccy, some enormous number of pounds of it, and wham-bam, dude goes off to jail.

My poor memory of the actual case notwithstanding, I love thinking about this situation, because to me it proves that sixth sense. The cop had no reason whatsoever to pull someone over for mildly crossing the white line. I cross that white line ALL THE TIME, when I'm doing such normal and law-abiding activities as sneezing or changing the volume on my radio. Yet somehow, this time, he found a giant score of law-breakage.

I thought about it the other day because I drove on 50 during the late morning on a weekday, and found two speed traps where I never, ever find speed traps during normal commuting times. It occurred to me that maybe they catch a lot of law-breakers this way, by setting up speed traps at times when no one at all would normally be going to work. That put me in mind of Mr. White Line and the instinct. Of course, maybe they just find it easier to pull over speeders during light-traffic times. Maybe it has nothing to do with catching the outliers at all.

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