Kansas Troopers Shook Down Motorists With Questionable Stops

On July 28, 2023,  a federal judge declared that the “Kansas Highway Patrol has waged war on motorists — especially out-of-state residents traveling between Colorado and Missouri on federal highway I-70.” 

United States District Judge Kathryn Vratil was referencing several anti-freedom practices that the Kansas Highway Patrol routinely uses.

One of the most notable practices is what law enforcement describes as the “Kansas Two-Step.” After a driver is pulled over for a traffic violation and receives a warning or a ticket, a law enforcement officer begins walking away, but then turns around and asks, “Hey, can I ask you something?” 

This seems like a friendly conversation transition but it’s actually a clever ruse by law enforcement to deceive unsuspecting drivers.

Reason writer Jacob Sullum detailed this trick below: 

Police are not supposed to continue detaining you after the ostensible purpose of the stop has been accomplished unless they reasonably suspect you are involved in criminal activity.

The two-step is designed to extend the encounter by making it notionally voluntary, giving the officer a chance to elicit incriminating information, ask for permission to search your car, and/or walk a drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle.

Troopers are generally taught this technique throughout their training, but Judge Vratil said, “the theory that a driver who remains on the scene gives knowing and voluntary consent to further questioning is nothing but a convenient fiction.”

“Troopers occupy a position of power and authority during a traffic stop,” added Vratil, “and when a trooper quickly re-approaches a driver after a traffic stop and continues to ask questions, the authority that a trooper wields—combined with the fact that most motorists do not know that they are free to leave and KHP troopers deliberately decline to tell them that they are free to leave—communicates a strong message that the driver is not free to leave.”

In the decision, Vratil was also critical of pretextual traffic stops. These are stops where law enforcement make up some reason to pull over people with the hope that they’ll find some pretext to arrest them. 

“As wars go, this one is relatively easy; it’s simple and cheap, and for motorists, it’s not a fair fight,” Vratil continued. “The war is basically a question of numbers: stop enough cars and you’re bound to discover drugs. And what’s the harm if a few constitutional rights are trampled along the way?” 

Kansas state troopers disproportionately targeted individuals with license plates from other states. “KHP troopers stopped 70 per cent more out-of-state drivers than would be expected if KHP troopers stopped in-state and out-of state drivers at the same rate…represent[ing] roughly 50,000 traffic stops,” Vratil wrote in the opinion.

She discovered the KHP has been violating precedents established by the 2016 case of Vasquez v Lewis, which rejected searches based on dubious  pretexts such as “status as a resident of Colorado.” Vratil asserted that troopers used “an absurd and tenuous combination of factors” to determine that individuals were suspicious, which consisted of the following: 

  • Having a car with out-of-state plates
  • “Seeming nervous while interacting with law enforcement”
  • “Having fingerprints on the trunk lid”
  • “Going on a trip with one’s nephew”
  • “Having a bag in the passenger seat”

This is the reality of law enforcement in many states across the nation. Law enforcement has degraded in terms of quality due to anti-law enforcement sentiment in the population that has kept many otherwise qualified individuals from entering the profession in addition to diversity standards that have eroded the quality of law enforcement in the field. Many of these officers will blindly carry out their corrupt high-ups’ demands. 

On top of that, many governments are desperate for cash, so they’ll use every trick in the book to raise money, ethics be damned. While law enforcement should not be thrown under the bus, it still needs to receive constructive criticism and be reformed when needed. 

In this case, there needs to be more robust protections of civil liberties in these encounters with law enforcement.

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